1 Aug 2016

Living without a car in a car-heavy city

Without a car, getting to work, the concert or a friend’s house becomes a game of strategy where there are a whole bunch of options that work in different contexts. As more people have given up their cars, more mobility options have appeared, and getting around is much easier than it used to be.

I’ve been getting around without a car in Texas my entire time here (a famously car-dependent state), and here are some alternatives to consider if you’re thinking about giving up your four wheels in a city.


When I first started working in Austin after graduating from the University of Texas, I took the bus everywhere. A monthly transport pass in Austin runs anywhere from around $40 to $100 depending on whether you use the local or express buses and the train.

While taking the bus in Austin can be slower, with frequent stops and a few delays, taking the bus everyday also means getting to know the regulars. I made some great friends on the bus, especially when it came to professional relationships, as I often rode with coworkers heading in the same direction.

Outside of work, the bus was always easy during the day, but getting home after a night out was always a game of jostling for space and observing the drama that intoxicated people crammed into a small space could create.



Two years ago, I bought a bike. There’s so much more you can do on two wheels than two legs.

All of a sudden, the commute that took 20-30 minutes by bus went down to about 8 minutes. On a bike, you quickly develop an idea of where the quiet neighborhoods are and discover things you’d never know about by taking the normal street route.

There are some downsides: when it gets hot, you sweat. When it rains, you’re drenched.

You absolutely have to wear a helmet… which makes for some interesting hair days. I’ve been doored by a pickup truck and even went full Tokyo Drift in the rain once and slid across the road.

My advice: wear a helmet, it’s good for your health.


Ridesharing and taxis are great gap-fillers. After a night out, it’s almost always the only way home. You meet some cool drivers on the way, too. If you haven’t been asking drivers to tell you stories, you’ve been missing out on some good stuff.

I’ve heard tales of picking up train-hoppers, traded stock tips and heard countless other shenanigans. Aside from the wait time for a pick up, it’s relatively quick and easy, but it can add up really fast, especially with surge pricing. And sometimes you just want to be alone.

Using a car

From my limited experiences of renting a car and occasionally driving someone else’s, I’ve found that one of the worst parts of having a car is needing to take it back where you got it from.

I’m used to just figuring things out on the fly and not having a plan, but when I did drive a car somewhere, I always had to take it home or drop it back off at the rental office.

Although that comes with a bit of peace of mind, it can become a problem when you want to stay longer or need to leave a concert early so that you don’t spend an hour getting out of the parking garage.

Owning a personal car

Next month, I’ll be moving to a new place that’s a bit farther from work, so I’ve been considering a personal car. Recently, I got a quote for car insurance that was so astronomically high, it dwarfed the cost of the vehicle I was looking to lease. It was the equivalent of about half my rent.

After all the different factors: filling up gas, parking passes and the astronomical cost of insurance, I’m not sure if it’s the best idea.

After all, I’d be saving about $400 a month (insurance + lease + gas – current monthly spend on transport) which means I can theoretically do the responsible thing and put that in a 401k, or just have more of a buffer for the illogical spending that comes with being in my twenties.


loading a car2go

At first, without a car, getting from A to B can feel like a bit of a struggle.

After a while, it becomes a lot more enjoyable when you meet people on the bus, or start to live a healthier lifestyle from biking, or being able to grab a car2go when you need it.

With one-way carsharing, there are so many options, even without a car: it’s really easy to drive to happy hour and take the bus/rideshare home, or bike to the store and take a car2go home.

Also, if you’re running late for work, no one knows the shortcuts like you do, so getting there on time is a lot more manageable when you’re at the wheel.

Saving money is a great motivator too, and the environmental impact of giving up a vehicle is quite substantial.

For me, not owning a vehicle has allowed me to travel at my own pace, being able to go where I want, leave when I want and explore an ever-expanding city at my own leisure – a pretty good return for that extra money I’m saving.

How about you – how do you get around and why?