College Connect Fall 2018: Why Ditching Your Car is the Right Choice, and Easier than You Think

By Kristoffer Tigue

Six years ago, my car got towed for being parked four inches — rather than five — from someone’s driveway. In Minneapolis, where I grew up, that can run you a hefty fine of about $150 for the first day. The problem was that, as an undergrad at the time living in a college town, I didn’t check up on my car for a week. My bill? More than $500, and not to mention another towing charge because the engine wouldn’t start.

I told them to keep it.

Owning a car, especially as a broke college student, is a total money suck. Parking tickets, insurance, flat tires, oil changes, gas. Even the easiest, routine maintenance adds up quickly. Owning and operating a new car today will run you an average of $8,849 a year, or about $737 a month, according to AAA’s annual Your Driving Costs study. That’s up from an average of $8,469 a year in 2017. Used cars run cheaper, but still in the several-thousands a year.

That’s money you could be spending on beer. Or food. Like real food, not cardboard dressed up as “ramen.”

Transportation also generates the most greenhouse gas emissions by category, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And today, experts point to devastating environmental effects from climate change happening as early as 2040.

With everything considered, isn’t it time to ditch your car? It’s easier than you think.

As a college student, chances are you won’t need to travel more than 3 square-miles most of the year. Everything you need is likely packed snuggly around you and conveniently located. So why not buy a bike?

According to TIME, bicycles will cost you an initial investment of $525 or more, depending on your investment choices. But after that initial cost, annual upkeep is dirt cheap. Think maybe $100 to $300 a year, if even, for maintenance. I found my current bike on Craigslist for $300, and it’ll last me ten years while occasionally needing some lube or a new air tube. For a spendthrift college student, that’s some serious savings.

And for the extra-lazy — no judgement here — there’s a chance you now have some kind of electric scooter service on your campus. Bird scooters, for instance, will charge you a flat fee of $1 per ride and then 15 cents per minute used. While that can add up in the long run, it’s still far cheaper than owning a car and paying for insurance alone, just to occasionally drive to class because you woke up late.

If you live in a cold, or wet, environment during the winter, you may need to invest in further equipment. Things like proper gloves, a winter-ready helmet, or a poncho for rain. That’s another $80, sure. But let’s be honest: You’re in college, and class is still walkable even if you must leave 30 minutes earlier.

Finally, the one complaint I carry real sympathy for is grocery shopping. Easy grocery shopping is the hardest convenience to give up when you ditch your car. Lugging heavy groceries home even half a mile, or on a city bus, can be a nightmare. But as someone who has lived car-free for six years, I’m telling you it’s doable and there are ways to mitigate the trouble.

First, the easiest way to manage this is to prioritize living near a grocery store when you pick a place to live. Most people, because they own cars, think of things like rent, or being near a good night life. But commuting in from a suburb, or living downtown, may not be the best option for you if you’re going carless. Rather, find a spot just blocks from a good grocery store and settle down there.

Additionally, if you need to walk longer distances and don’t want to throw out your back, do what Europeans do: Buy less groceries more often. Consider re-upping on perishables, for instance, every other day or so, versus once a week or twice a month. Fruits, vegetables and milk all go bad relatively quickly, anyway. So, buying them in bulk can often be a gamble, despite perceived savings.

But in the end, don’t the benefits outweigh the costs here? C’mon, ditch your car already.

Kristoffer Tigue  is a graduate student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

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