Giving up the car in a time of change – MaaS and the birth of Uber etc

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It’s been an interesting few years in my life since 24 May 2010.  In a personal sense and a transport sense.

In a personal sense: settled in Edinburgh; daughters have magically grown to 18 and 22; one daughter left home and drives – the other has started living a very independent life and doesn’t want to learn to drive; Mum and Dad both died (I still watch this entry sometimes – it was a lovely day with them (and actually had a big impact on my work)); I met a wonderful woman and fell in love. Constant change.

Plus on 24 May 2010 I gave up the car for a year and started this blog about the experience.  30+ entries later and I still don’t own a car.  I have learned such a lot about the great things in giving up the car, the difficult bits and the impossible bits which face many people.

It’s been an interesting few years in the transport world since May 2010 as well.

In July 2010 Uber was born (7 months later they had raised loads of cash for global expansion. July 2012 they come to London)).

In August 2011 Gett was launched in London.

Lyft was born in August 2012.

Nov 2013-April 2014 Ubigo undertook a 100 people trial of Mobility as a Service – subscription to transport not ownership of transport.  2015 MaaS alliance is formed and there’s been plenty written about the concept in the profession since (one of the best is the July 2016 TSC paper).

What a few years.

The Golden Lessons I have learnt from giving up the car seem aligned to lots of the professional writing and thoughts on MaaS.  I wanted mobility as a service when I started my carfreeness but was actually consuming mobility as a disservice very often.

I really wanted one bill for everything (see Golden Lesson 2 (July 2012)).  Now there are trials out there that would give me that (if they included all the transport spending that me and my family do – ALL of it).

But I also wanted to know very accurately how much I was saving from not having a car: I was asked the question so often (and still am): was it worth it?

To get to the answer I (and MaaS) need two things.  The first is a clear cost estimate of me and my family’s car-free costs against that of the car – but in a very personalised way: for example you can’t just compare the mileage I did in the year I had a car (if I had that info) with the mobility spend of the year without a car: what trips were degenerated at no real cost to my family?  How can we factor in the change of my family’s transport needs? It was a time of constant change in my family and constant change in our travel needs and behaviour.

Secondly, I need some quantification of the unexpected benefits of not having the car.  These are not the “soft” things – they are the real “hard” benefits I experienced.  Probably the biggest learning from my car free life (described in the blog) was the breadth of the unexpected benefits.

To catch on, and work as a solution, MaaS needs to answer me loud and clear:  Was my mobility better or worse from not having a car? Was my life really improved and made easier and better?

This is where the magic of selling MaaS comes.

It is also where the business model can be made – through the monetisation of the benefits.

I promised 10 Golden Lessons to end this blog – I only got up to 8 which is a bit rubbish.  I’ll do the next two – and maybe a few more – but from a professional point of view.

Professionally I was prompted to give up the car and start this blog by some great work done by Erel Avineri and Owen Waygood on a EC project I was co-ordinating.  Their work within the project included work on loss aversion and stimuli for behavioural change.  Plus I enjoy participant observation.

I should also say that another big change taking place since May 2010 was a change of job: a big personal and professional change.  In January 2014 I joined ESP Group  to form an R&D Division: Viaqqio was formed.   In giving up the car I (myself) was desperate for integrated personalised journey planning, booking and payment – I wanted something to make my life easy.  At Viaqqio, with a really talented team, we are designing and delivering mobility to do just this – with young people, older people and people living with dementia.




Reflections on becoming a young driver: Es ist nicht alles Gold was glanzt

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Tess, my lovely 20 year old daughter, is currently in Tokyo.  The first picture she has sent me is of a crowded train.  The first message she has sent me tells me that she has been on the busiest train station in the world.  The second picture she has sent me is of said busiest station in the world. Transportation pics and facts – she knows how to make me happy.

One could argue that Tess and my lovely 16 year old Maddie are a bit more tuned in to transporty issues than many – being part of Carfreefamily and having a Dad that has constantly gone on about public transport, making them look at ticket vending machines and tickets and assess buses in foreign cities, and design smartcards (enjoy the personalised smartcard designs from 2003 developed by Tess, Maddie, Chloe and Lottie during a “Smart Media Design Workshop” we held on a wet day in South Uist in 2003).

Lottie's smartcard: with a remarkably lifelike picture.  The other side had a ice pic of a ....CD

Lottie’s smartcard: with a remarkably lifelike picture. The other side had a ice pic of a ….CD

Tess' smartcard: themed around drama with a pic of a king

Tess’ smartcard: themed around drama with a pic of a king

Maddie's smartcard: sporting a smiley bat

Maddie’s smartcard: sporting a smiley bat

Chloe's smartcard: note useful helpline and spider

Chloe’s smartcard: note useful helpline and spider

Of course, like many parents, I over-egg my own influence on them, though us not having a car has meant that they need to think a bit more about travel options as a lift from me is not possible (see earlier posts). For example Maddie has a demon knowledge of Lothian Bus routes not because of  me, but because she uses them a lot.

So what happens about learning to drive?  During time out from University Tess decided she wanted to drive and driving lessons duly became the present of choice from family and friends.  Getting to a decent level, and having passed her theory test, she ran out of money and time and started University in Leeds as a non-driver.  Coming back from University for Easter she had arranged lessons and a test and aimed just to give it a go.  On 13 April she passed her test.  Wow – well done.

More about motivations in learning to drive some other time – Tess’ mainly governed by having some time on her hands and thinking it would be a useful life skill to have. [She is bucking the trend - driving is declining amongst younger people - see  "Decline in Young drivers" research in the links  - from Beth's great site].

I was interested in what the experience has been like for Tess (eldest daughter in carfreefamily)- how has she found becoming a driver?  Yes she knows how to make me happy – here are her reflections – thanks Tess x


Passing your driving test feels like a mammoth step towards adulthood: this exclusive level of independence which allows you to do what the hell you want and whenever the hell you want to do it.

In the first weeks since I passed my test it was just about the need and desire to drive. Walking to college, to the gym, I was constantly assessing people driving and imagining what I would be doing if I was sat in one of those cars. Lights turn to solid amber, take the car down to second gear!  It was really annoying actually.

On top of this I was obsessing over what car I want – Googling for small cars in which I can just toodle up to Edinburgh from Leeds if I just feel like a nice tea instead of rice and pesto. It’s so stupid -I don’t really need a car but driving is new and fun, that is all it boiled down to. I also was thinking a car seems like the answer to my current life of feeling trapped in Leeds, a City I don’t really want to be in and don’t really know well – a way to get out. However, I think it’s just like when I buy a dress because I feel fat: I don’t need the dress, Its just my mind that needs a wee fix. A consumerist thing..

As time has progressed and now that I have some access to a lovely little car (Thank you Julie and Jenny) my opinion has changed a lot. I don’t want to own a car now. I don’t like the responsibility (haha) of having to make sure it’s safe and well parked.  And I really didn’t like the parking ticket I just got! I don’t like how friends are so keen to go on a drive, like it’s the best thing to do in a day.  It is still somewhat nerve-racking driving which just adds stress to my days.

Overall though, I would say the biggest thing that has put me off wanting a car is how awful I felt when it was just me in there driving along amongst all the other cars with just one person in them. It feels awful, consuming that much energy and resources just for one person, doing routes which could have easily been taken by bus, probably safer and more relaxing too. It really is scary how many of us choose to drive -especially for those when there’s easy alternatives.  For a person who has never really been exposed to daily car journeys (car free family problem!) it was definitely a shock.

Being able to drive and sometimes having access to a car has definitely helped me make my life more flexible. It allowed me to go to my friend’s at 10pm and leave at whenever I wanted (1am) because I don’t have to rely on getting a bus and finding the change.  It allowed me to see my boyfriend but get home in time for tea. And having this license means I can hopefully go drive round Iceland and go on some country walks with my friends.

Looking back at the last months the car certainly hasn’t enabled me to do completely unique things or given me a life line - it has increased the pace of my daily life and my chances of dying.

As my German teacher taught us on one of our first vocab tests: Es ist nicht alles Gold was glanzt (how come I remember that from 1976?) – All that glistens isn’t gold.  Having access to a new mobility option – fantastic: ownership, responsibility, costs (which Tess has been shielded from in borrowing Jenny’s car) – not quite so good.  (There’s a different way to increase mobility channels and services: increase the gain and decrease the pain – but that’s the day job….)

Oh and DEATH….. yes certainly she has an increased chance of dying with traffic accidents being the largest cause of death for 16-24 year olds.  But how fantastic is this as a part of the solution?




Golden Lesson 8: Loss and Gain – Why Abba got it wrong

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Benny wanted to be faithful to the reality of behavioural economics, but Bjorn, always the snazzy one, insisted on the lyric actually rhyming.

“OK” said, Benny.  ”You win, and it’s me that’s standing small! But Bjorn – we’re definitely playing it in F sharp major!”.  And the rest is history and that lyric was agreed: ”The winner takes it all.  The loser’s standing small.”

Benny’s more accurate lyric, written on that crumpled piece of paper in the bin, read:

The winner takes it all, the loser feels at least twice as bad as the winner.

Because that’s just how it is.  We as humans assign much more weight (about twice) to losing, say £100, than we would to gaining £100.  Behavioural economics calls it loss aversion.

And out of all my lessons from Car Free Family-dom it is perhaps the most scary, important and useful- everyone focuses on the LOSS of the car, and not the gains of not having a car – many though they are (direct and indirect – see Golden Lesson 7).  And, as Benny knows, when the focus is loss it will be very difficult to give up.  Benny was a car driver.

I and others always speak about “giving up the car”.  This language will always stress the loss = double the gain.  It makes change difficult to contemplate.

To help people make (an informed) transition there’s a need to highlight the gain and present the loss and gain in different language and in different ways.  It’s called loss framing.  Its the key to helping us make a change – to counter the cognitive bias Benny was so aware of. Of course this links directly to Golden lesson 1.

It’s exciting the think of how to do this (building on some of the other Lessons) – something we’re working on in my day job.

Poker players need to manage the cognitive bias of loss aversion to stay healthy!  A nice insight into loss aversion:


** For a great review of loss framing from two academics who have great insight into this topic check the Behavioural Economics link – from an EC Project I co-ordinated 2009-2012.  Have a look at D1.1 in the Deliverables.  Written by two good friends and colleagues Prof Erel Avineri at Afeka College, Tel Aviv and Prof Owen Waygood at University of Laval in Quebec.




Golden Lesson 7: Tales of the Unexpected and Jam Tarts

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As I try to round off these Ten Golden Rules/Lessons learnt I reflect on what I felt like when we started on our car free life.  I’m not sure what we really expected but there were a few worries and plenty of optimism.

I honestly was not sure if we would last out our trial year without a car, or if we would continue being car free after that year (its now coming up 5 years).

There have certainly been some unexpected consequences of car freeness:  things I didn’t ever imagine would happen.

The biggies:

CAREFREE CAR FREE: How happy I have felt not having to “care” for a car.  The hassle of maintenance gone.  And the unexpected bills – tyres etc.  But the biggest thing is the hassle – taking it to the garage etc etc.   Car stuff.  Not for me anymore.

BYE BYE MONKEY: Not emptying the boot or cleaning the car out when it was full of toys and mess and other little things like that used to get to me. I never washed my car but this didn’t bother me at all.  But I also never really cleaned the car out. (A stag beetle once cockroach crawled into Maddie’s shoe when it was left in the boot.  I felt bad after I had forced it onto her foot ignoring her heartfelt complaints that the shoe felt funny on her toes.) Cleaning out the car and bringing stuff into the house.  It was just ANOTHER job I HADN’T done.  A monkey on my shoulder.  So its bye bye to that particular monkey.

DEMON DRINK: I have drunk more.  I have not been a designated driver.  I have taken  buses and taxis.  An alternative interpretation is that I have relaxed over a beer more often. I’ll go with that version.

WHEN IS A TAXI NOT A TAXI?: The amount of taxis I have taken has surprised me.  There’s been a lot of trip generation there.  I guess I just see taxis as justifiable now – I don’t spend money on a car so taxis aren’t a problem when they fit my need.  I have reconceptualised taxis: they’ve gone from being a bit of a luxury to being a mode of transport which fits into my life.

STATE OF INDEPENDENCE: The independence of Tess and Maddie – especially when they were younger teens.  There is no car available for me to give a lift so they walk or bus.  And they don’t think that strange.  I have not worried about them getting out and about and to their various activities  when I am out of town on work tips. It doesn’t need me to make arrangements for lifts etc and worry if they have worked.   Ok they have asked for taxis every now and then (as they have become older  - if its v late and they want to get home, or if they are v late to get somewhere) but generally they sort out their own mobility. Sweet. Oh and they love their bus passes.

THANKS DAD: Even better – IF I offer to get a City Car Club car and give a lift they are SO grateful.  It doesn’t take much for me to do this – the Car Club car is round the corner – but it is a bit more of an effort than just taking your own car off the driveway.  They know this so it’s a big thank you from them.  Of course my daughters are lovely so they always say thank you, but  I don’t feel like a taxi service.  And they are thankful. You get my point.


So this is the reality of the unexpected – and there are a few more besides.  Some of these are what the transport people like to call in-direct benefits – all the extra things that are quite often discounted by transport modellers who try to explain behaviour and evaluate decisions.  But these things are very real. And they have made a difference to me.

Eccles Cakes 008

Some (transport modellers!) see these as the fluff and extra bits left over – not the main things explaining my car free choice.  But like my Mum who always took the off-cuts of pastry and made them into jam tarts, when you rub all these extra bits together its amazing how important these “extras” can be.  Not fluff – real stuff.  Important in making and continuing a car free decision.

Shopping at Ikea without a car


So we need a sofa bed.

In fact we need a settee; our old soggy one now having been destroyed by the cats, and the detritus of our lives down the back of the settee now starting to overflow.  Nice.

And the bed element will come in handy for visitors to our diddy flat.

Having slept on Dot’s and also snuggled under a blanket watching TV 5 abreast, the decision was made.  From the smorgasbord of sofa beds on offer at Ikea, it had to be the Manstad (L shaped to the right).

So, not having a car, what do we do:

1. Buy on-line.  NO – not an option in Scotland.

2. Ikea Direct (I didn’t know about this, but having called the Edinburgh store they said it would be best).  This involves emailing your request.  Then Ikea gets back to you and gives you a quote.  WE DID THIS.  But no reply and we just couldn’t wait!!  (Audrey and my nephew Chris are visiting this week, as are Chloe and Rebecca…can we have the Manstad sharpish please?)

3. Visit Ikea: Boo.  Not my first option – not even my third…But hey ho.  My main memory of Ikea is of Tess as a little girl throwing up everywhere, especially on Brian: a kind of aversion therapy.  Especially for Brian. Anyway, so we go to the website to find out how to get there…

Ikea website gives us directions BY CAR  - nothing by public transport.  Thought you cared about the environment Ikea? Tess had a look around the internet and found that the Lothian Buses No 47, which goes right past our house, goes direct to Ikea.  Oh joy.

Downloading the iPhone application “edinbus” we could see we had 20 mins to the next bus departure from the stop 5 mins away.

Life was looking up. Seamless lives.

So – we get to Ikea.  We order our bed settee (boo – we have to wait a week or so – Audrey and Chris wil be on the floor), and buy another £150 of “stuff” we don’t need.

Even us public transport users spend money Ikea!!!!!

(Interestingly – well kind of interestingly) when we came home there was an email from Ikea Direct quoting the same price as we paid in store plus £20 delivery.  I wonder if I will have to pay this for our new Manstad?

Wild Child, Poppy & Freddy, Robin Hood & Boggle Hole

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OK this year’s summer holiday has involved hiring a 1972 VW Camper Van and driving over the N Yorkshire Moors and visiting a music festival.

This begs the important question, as posed by a friend: should car free family be hiring a van for a holiday? Good question.

I suppose it’s all about ownership versus use.  But hey, a few facts (and confessions)

Last year’s holiday:

Location: Greece

Operator: Club Med

Cost: Extortionate

Travel: Taxi, train, flight, Bus, bus, flight, train, taxi

Food and locale: Everything you could eat and more,  lager and wine, and lots of green grass (despite heat – lots of watering), plus air con

Entertainment: French Extravaganza (every bloody night)

Celebrity rating: 0

Carbon: Ouch

This year’s holiday:

Location: Robin Hood’s Bay, Boggle Hole, Fylingdale, Buxton

Operator: Cassidys (and my mate Ian)

Cost: 75% less than last year

Travel: Taxi, train, taxi, van (350 miles), lift from Ian, train, taxi

Food and locale: Quorn, pasta, flies, bitter/ale, cold and blustery, drafts

Entertainment: Ian, kids and amazing music (esp The Futureheads and Imperial Leisure)

Celebrity rating: 9 (Emma Roberts had been there once for Wild Child – see link)

Carbon: A lot less than last year!

Summary: I think this year’s holiday was the most relaxing I have had for years, and T&M enjoyed it more than they have a holiday in ages.  Just drive (very slowly – that is the only ption in a 1972 VW Camper) and sit and listen to music. Even cooking on the stove was strangely relaxing (if not for the fly).  Greece was more of a rush and a push to get there and enjoy – at all costs.

So – yeah, we hired a van.  Result all round. Our friends at flightlesstravel (see link) may be onto something.


Wish I knew the full accurate costs of each holiday: money, environment etc

Buses in York – Buses in Edinburgh

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ok – I am obsessing, but this is quite a difference in cost!

It’s the teen thing too.  Tess travels for child fare in Edinburgh, but is constantly challenged for looking older than 15 (the cut off).

When is a teen not a teen – an adult?  Well airlines certainly like to class her as an adult….

And I do occasionally.  Bless her.