People, even people who live here, are always surprised by the fact that I walk places year-round. Shock, admiration, concern...and among all of it, no one seems to realize exactly how much I'm saving in terms of effort, energy, stress, and money.
Don't get me wrong, the car is a great invention. For long distances, it can be great. But just to get around town, it kind of sucks. Even--and perhaps especially--in the winter. Why? Because it really does take up more of your time than walking.
People tend to only think of their vehicles as a time-saving device. After all, you can get from here to there so much faster. But there are all sorts of external costs to owning and running a vehicle which, when taken into account, lead me to realize that my truck really doesn't save me time in most cases. For one thing, there's the time it takes to fill up the tank. Yes, I can do this when I'm getting groceries. Or on my way out of my neighborhood, since there's a gas station two blocks away from me. But it still takes time, and that's still time that's spent doing nothing for me. If you put gas in your car once each week, how much time are you spending? Ten minutes? That's about an hour of your life right there, just getting gas for a year. If you have to go out of your way for gas, how much more time is that?
You also have to get your car checked and your fluids changed regularly. The average is about every three months. If you do it yourself, you're still spending some of your valuable time changing the oil or otherwise maintaining your vehicle. I don't know about you, but I'd much rather spend that time doing something I actually like to do. Even if you like working on mechanical things, does it ever just seem like one more chore you need to complete? And this is all without taking into account the bigger repairs which your vehicle will inevitably need. What if you get into an accident? You must admit, car accidents are not outside the realm of possibility, since there are so many every year. Even minor accidents cause all kinds of problems, and it's more time you need to spend on something car-related. What if you're injured in that accident and need to take some time off work? How efficient is all of that, really?
In Alaska, in the winter, you need to plug in your vehicle. This takes only a few minutes, but it does add to the total time required to maintain your vehicle. In addition, you need to start your car early to give it some time to warm up. I realized a while ago that, even were I so inclined to drive the couple of miles to work, I'd have to wake up earlier to start the truck in enough time to get it warmed up than I do just to walk.
In addition to all of this, you need to remember that all of this costs money. Money for gas (how expensive is it in your area right now?), money for the electricity to plug it in, or for the land to have a garage (and here, the heat for that garage), money for the parts and the repairs and the insurance. Raise your hand if you have to, or would have to, pay for parking? (Mine's up.) Calculate how much money you spend each year on your car. Then figure out how much of your work time it takes to earn that much money. Do you still think your car is worth it? How much could you save by walking or biking somewhere once each week, rather than driving? How much more could you put into your kid's college fund, or toward your mortgage? Is it still worth it?
Yes, it takes an hour each day for me to walk to and from work. But I love my walks. Instead of sitting in a cold vehicle, I warm up as I walk. I wake up, too. I'm doing my health a huge favor. I'm saving money. I'm acclimated to my environment, far more than people who only go from warm house to warm vehicle to warm office. (No wonder they complain so bitterly about the cold. If you live in Fairbanks, get over it. It's cold here. Accept that.) I get to enjoy nature, and the beauty around me. For people who drive, do you really get to enjoy the stars, or the sunrise? Do you get to stop and just say, "Oh!" because the view before you is breathtakingly, startlingly beautiful? I do. I get to see the Northern Lights on my rambles, and have enough time to stop and stare in awe as they dance above me.
I'm not ready to give up a vehicle entirely. It is useful. For some things, I use it simply because I'd be seen as far too odd to do the most logical and useful thing. (I could carry groceries home on a sled instead of taking the truck, but people would probably find me very odd and I haven't quite gotten over that yet.) Getting across town to see friends would be more difficult. But we use our vehicle less than half as much as most people do, and we don't feel a lack. When we do drive, there are almost always at least two people.
Anything you can do to make yourself less dependent upon your vehicle will ultimately save you time. If you can bike, great. Especially if you're the type who "never has time" to work out. You're doing that during your morning commute! If your only option is public transportation, go for it! The last summer I lived in Washington, I lived with my parents in an area outside of Seattle but worked in the city. I had about 45 minutes on the bus each way, but I kind of loved it. It gave me time to read and listen to my music. (The music mostly gave me an excuse to ignore creepy men who tried to speak to me.) I read so many books that summer, the bulk of them on my commute.
And I do realize that there are some lifestyles that don't make it feasible to walk, bike, or take public transportation. My dad works in Seattle, and it would take him about an hour and a half to bike, or three different buses. So he's found a friend to carpool with. Wherever you are, there's a solution that will make you less dependent on your car.
In other (personal) news, our weekly total for last week was $107. Ick. Summer, with all its bounty, cannot arrive fast enough. I'm ready to start producing my own food again, pronto.