It’s a long way from Brussels: The End

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This blog started in April 2010.  There were 10 inches of snow in Brussels.   Me, Tess and Maddie (then 14 and 11) battled to the supermarket with rucksacks.  We were having lots of fun but it was a decent walk for our weekly shopping.

I got to thinking that we should give up the car for a year: to see what we could learn, to have some fun recording our events and to embarrass my two teen daughters. But really, deep down, to see if we could do it.

Well we did do it  – but the things I learnt on the way were unexpected.

This blog has captured the experience.

I did say, a good few months ago, that I would distil what we learnt into 10 Golden Lessons from my Car Free Year (well, 10 years!).  I only got to Golden Lesson 8, which is a bit rubbish. So, in order to close the decade AND finish this blog, here is a summary of Lessons 1-8 (a v brief summary of that blog post)…with Golden Lessons 9 and 10 thrown in!

  1.  Car Club Wanker: People assume you’re super green when you say you have given up the car.  They go into a guilt and justification phase because they have a car.  And some people just think you’re a wanker.
  2. In your face benefits: The financial savings from not having a car are not easy to estimate accurately.  They need to be made obvious to help more people make the change.  People asked me if I saved money (yes!) and how much (well, that depends….)
  3. Life events are opportunities: It is so much easier to get rid of the car if it is linked to a life event.  Mine was moving to a new country and house.  Of  course there are other life events where you redefine your life and re-evaluate a few things (see Lesson 5).  BTW I do not underestimate the fact that my life event involved moving to a high-density city and I could choose a central location close to regular buses, the railway station and City Car Club (now Enterprise Car Club (which has been very important in our car-free lives)).
  4. Car non-ownership is cultural: Buses and bikes were a big part of my young life – I was given a car free culture early.  I think my kids have now got it.  Watch this space.
  5. Shoe Culling Principle: If you stand back and get some context on your mobility life you see some things that need addressing (see Lesson 3).
  6. Personalising Mobility: Non-car-based mobility (ie buses, trains, taxis, tickets, costs, timetables, restrictions, peak/off-peak, Sunday services, bus passes, railcards, multimodal trips etc etc) takes some graft to understand and therefore work out what works for you!  This needs to be a personalised easy experience.  If you do get “Mobility as a Service”, it is amazing the things you tune into.  This is not lost on the car industry.
  7. In-your-face lifestyle benefits: Ok ok Golden Lesson 2, I hear you!  How much you save IS important. BUT that’s not the whole story – believe me, the reduction in stress levels and other non-cost benefits of not owning a car were an eye-opener.
  8. Change the language: “Giving up the car”.  “No car”.  This is all about loss.  To catch on, there needs to be a new language which stresses what you GAIN.  ….. NOW LESSONS 9 and 10:
  9. Lesson 1 is wrong: Madonna was also wrong: time actually goes by so quickly.  It’s 10 years since I started this blog.  In that time people have become so tuned in to climate change.  I am convinced, in conversations I have, that people want to do the right thing.  Instead of calling someone (well, me) a wanker, people are more inclined to investigate how they could give up the car and/or reduce their impact on the planet.  I’m not convinced that giving people a carbon calculator will change travel behaviour (as some research shows).  BUT – there has been a shift, and if there is a real option, sold in the right way, people are willing to change.  Perhaps I am just optimistic, but this really is a unique time. Lesson 9: Views can change, and quite quickly.
  10. Let it snow let it snow let it snow.  10 years on from that snow in Brussels and Maddie recently called me “such a Boomer” for something I had said.  This is not true.  (My views were not typical of Boomers actually Maddie (so there) AND I am actually a very late Baby Boomer – on the cusp in fact.  So there again.)  But it inescapable that a new generation is slowly taking over.  In the last 10 years the emergence of the “snowflakes” is upon us (though I DETEST the term and the negativity it implies). I think this new generation promises so much.  It’s a generation that thinks about the environment and inclusion and equity much more naturally than my own.  Fantastic – let it it snow!  Lesson 10: Generational traits bring shifts, as they mature. (Check out this great article by Sara on the topic – especially the diagram.)

And finally….

I have learnt more about transport by giving up the car, and really experiencing and thinking about my mobility, than I have from 30 years as a transport professional.

This experience has been instrumental in the establishment of Fuse Mobility, a company we have set up to personalise mobility (thanks Lesson 6!).  We’re making shared transport (like car clubs, taxis) and public transport services, and their inherent complexities, much more simple and integrated for the user.  Hopefully, through our products and services we’ll be helping more people to become comfortably car-free.

The next phases of our car free journey? Well, Tess is in London and cycles A LOT and has no desire for a car.  She was glad to get rid of hers.  Maddie is in Glasgow and has chosen not to drive and loves the express bus between Glasgow and Edinburgh.  My own next car free challenge concerns how I easily get to rural Highland Perthshire for extended weekends without a car to work on our “project”/house and manage there without one…..we’ll see!





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