30 August 2008
In which I decide to buy a car
Patrick Crozier

For six years now I’ve been a member of the great unautomobiled masses.  It hasn’t been so bad but living on the outskirts of London (as I do) there have always been minor inconveniences: having to plan late nights in London, having to think twice about what to buy in Tescos because I might not be able to carry it home etc.

And then I got a new job.

Which was fine.  It was further away but I could commute.  The trains in my corner of south-west London are a joy being both punctual and clean.

But as Alan Clark pointed out trains never start from where you want to start and never take you where you want to go.

(Actually, in my case that’s not quite true - at one end of the journey the station is nearer than where I can park but that’s another story.)

The real problem was time.  Even with the trains running perfectly my commute would take an hour and a bit.  The equivalent car journey would normally take 40 minutes and sometimes as little as 20.

Worse still, there was no train or bus at all that could get me to work on time on a Sunday.  I quickly tired of taking taxis.

So, I did some sums and drew up a budget.  And then threw it away.  Sure it would end up a bit more expensive but (apart from the time-saving) it would give me something else.  Call it freedom, call it responsibility - but it would be that whole adventure (even the boring and expensive bits) of owning a car: buying insurance, getting it serviced, deciding for myself when to go, seeing what repairs/modifications I could do myself, going for a drive, getting lost…

So, a car it was.


  1. As you are saying, the direct trip by trip cost comparison between running a car and using public transport isn’t comparing apples with apples.
    It doesn’t put a value on your time, freedom and convenience.
    Another point, and this is on freedom again, when you get old and can barely walk to the end of the street, a car is a marvel. My grandfather would be practically house bound without one. He may be a menace in the eyes of the modern risk averse PC types, but he isn’t really. At least he looks like an old person coming at you so you are forewarned, whereas the rest of us, much less obviously, can be equally as bad on an off day, or even just for a moment. Small price(if any) to pay I say.
    I hope that freedom is still be available when I get old. The car prolongs independence.

    Posted by Rob on  03 September 2008 at 11:54 am

  2. That is the problem with public transport. It’s just not suited to travelling from door-to-door. It’s fine for travelling across towns but if you actually factor in the walking and waiting time from your home to where you’re going it becomes increasingly time-inefficient (not to mention the general discomfort of public transport).

    Posted by YourParkingSpace on  06 September 2008 at 05:05 pm

  3. As a matter of course, like most Americans, I had my driver’s license by age 16 and was granted privileges to use the family car.  But living, attending college, and working in proximity to Chicago, I was not averse to using buses and commuter trains to get around.  Even when I took an engineering job at Ford Motor in Dearborn, Michigan, I made use of a bus service to the extent I could.

    The real shift was attending graduate school in the Los Angeles area.  I had enough free time to pursue that British sport of ice dancing, and that is when I had to get a car, regardless of the expense. 

    You see, to make any serious progress, one had to practice on at least a daily or every-other-day basis, and the available practice times were slotted in among the times devoted to public skating, hockey, and free-style figure skating.  There would be an hour-and-a-half in Burbank across from the Disney Studios on Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings, two hours Saturday afternoon in Santa Monica, Monday night in Paramount, and there was a Thursday morning session in West Covina.  Based out of Pasadena, which at the time was considered a somewhat “square” and less fashionable LA Basin venue, I joked about the convenience of Pasadena, that it was “Centrally located, uniformly far from everywhere.”  But it was—all of those skating practices were for the most part accessible with “reverse commutes” that sailed over that vast LA Freeway network with hardly any traffic delays to speak of.

    Upon finding work in Madison, Wisconsin, the ice dance sport required even greater amounts of motoring.  There were trice-weekly trips to Janesville, Wisconsin, sometimes weekly or twice-weekly trips to Rockford, Illinois, perhaps a weekly trip to Milwaukee.  Skating tests required farther journeys, ranging from the North Side of Chicago to the North-Central zone of Wisconsin.

    All told, 300,000 km of driving over a twenty year period (there were skating-free hiatuses in that stretch) got me as far as the Quickstep ice dance step—the Viennese Waltz and Argentine Tango proved beyond my grasp, and the Westminster Waltz was something I was still trying to coordinate with a dance partner (these are International ice dances so you may have acquaintences in England to fill you in on what I am talking about).

    I had reached an age-related plateau of muscle flexibility and aerobic conditioning, although I retained enough youthful daring to take the necessary spills in practice.  Passing those dance tests would have required more social favor with the dance judges, which would have required becoming a dance judge myself, which would have required even more motoring to attend those far-flung dance test sessions.  Furthermore, my professional dance-test skating partner and my professional ice dance coach departed Wisconsin for their native Canada, and the driving in pursuit of the USFSA Gold Ice Dance Test vanished with my Canadian friends.

    I hung up the skates 10 years ago to achieve a significant reduction in my “global warming footprint”, both from reduced driving and not making use of those giant electric refrigeration facilities called indoor skating rinks.  I will probably never return to it because I have taken over the operation of my parents’ tree farm to atone for my CO2-emitting sins.

    The abandonment of transit for the car takes place as a result of some need for the flexibility of car transport, and when this happens, one never looks back or never gives a second thought to the enormous financial expenditures involved.  This has happened famously and first in the U.S., but it is happening in most other places in the world when people can start affording cars.

    Posted by Paul Milenkovic on  08 September 2008 at 06:03 am

Post a Comment

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.