Cutting Car Use
Simon Baddeley

University lecturer Simon Baddeley describes how he minimized his dependence on the automobile:

I recently answered a questionaire on how I was reducing my use of my car. I thought others might find this personal material from England interesting. Note the moral ambiguities: I still own a car but I'd love to be free from my occasional need for it.

1. How did you cut your car use?
By switching in one year almost entirely to cycling, walking and public transport. I can choose my working hours and have always lived close to the city centre. My children go or went to schools in walking distance. My wife uses her car for the main shopping. I help her carry it once she gets home. I use my car for heavy carrying errands.

2. What is your top advice for others wanting to drive less?
I'm hesitant to advise anyone about this. No one has sought my advice. It is far too easy to be very boring about this especially as my wife likes and needs her car. I realise I'm making some sort of statement at home and at work by cycling nearly everywhere. I'd rather leave it at that especially as I still own and occasionally drive my car. I wonder sometimes if some people think I have been given a long driving ban for crime on the road and so are embarrassed to ask why I am “reduced to cycling or taking the bus”.

3. By approximately how much have you cut your car use?
By about 90%, using my car to cart heavy items to the dump or when moving furniture or when we go to our cottage in Gloucestershire which is not on a rail route. Once I'm there, having put my bike on the roof of my wife's car and travelled with her, I ride only with her and go by bus or bike if travelling solo.

4. What motivated you to cut your car use?
I was first prompted by the growing impracticality of car travel, especially in the city, but I have become increasingly unfriendly towards “car-culture” and the assumptions within that culture that cars are linked positively to the health of the economy. I know now that the reverse is the case or that the picture is a lot more complex than car makers would have us believe. I feel sorry for people whose life is directly bound up with the health of the industry.

I enjoyed driving on long country roads during a working visit to Canada in the early 90s. A year later, I went on an enjoyable motoring holiday with my family in the Southern Peloponnese, where I had a reminder of what motoring was like when I was a child...we travelled on quiet roads amid olive groves, parked where we wanted, drove close to the coast and deep inland and into the hills. The contrast with Britain, except for a few parts of the Highlands of Scotland, was too much. The age of motor touring is over in this country. I experienced one grid-lock too many in Birmingham and decided driving a car was not just inconvenient but no fun any more.

I was brought up in the Berkshire village of Bagnor--riding, fishing, cycling and generally enjoying an idyllic country setting, and relying very much on cars for regular travel between a family flat in London and cottage in the country. I have pleasant memories of the regular car journeys from Hamstead to Bagnor in my childhood. Cars--regularly changed--were part of family life. But years later I had become increasingly concerned about the proposed route of the Newbury by-pass, writing letters to the local MP against the wide loop route which would pass practically through my home village. I joined in the active campaigns against the by-pass. I was depressed by the undemocratic nature of the planning process that led to the decision to go ahead with the by-pass, so I joined in marches and protests. I never had the courage to dig tunnels or live in trees, though I wrote letters and sent cigarettes to protesters in jail, and at the height of the protest, I and my daughter took food and equipment to the eco-warriors from their supporters in Birmingham--in my car(!). I began to develop a sense that the primacy accorded to the car in the transport hierarchy was a serious problem for the economy, and have since that time campaigned for transport reform, lobbying with many others for the Road Traffic Reduction Bill. I participate eagerly in the politics of transport and have joined The Pedestrian Association, RoadPeace, Sustrans and the Cyclist Touring Club.

The final motivator followed a call to middle-aged couch potatoes by the Sports Lab at Birmingham University to participate in some government funded research on cycling and health. I took part in a “before and after health test” by cycling to work for 6 weeks. I was given a free bike computer and asked to keep a log of my mileage. After about 26 miles a week for the duration (I go far further now), I found that my fitness improved so markedly (and I wasn't especially unfit when I started), that I was convinced cycling was sensible as well as enjoyable. I detest exercise for its own sake but this was a way of feeling good while commuting.

5. Did you reduce the number of cars in your household?
No, we still have 2 cars, though mine sits on the drive and the battery goes flat and has to be jump-started now and then. I suppose we would have gone up to 3 cars with my son growing up but he seems uninterested in driving though he has nothing to do with my politics (Does any teenager want to carry the same banner as a parent?) He is fashion conscious. My cycle wear embarrasses him, and my daughter too. My wife tolerates me--a flatter stomach and greater energy making up a little for being tedious about the menace of the car.

6. Do you share a car?
If we are out together my wife always drives and I prefer to be driven. As I prepare finally to abandon my car, I know I shall rely even more on car-share as well as hoping I will break even if I open a taxi account for the unavoidable car journeys. I await more progressive car-hire, car-share associations in the this country.

7. Did you switch to a smaller or less polluting car?
No, I switched to a less expensive car which I seldom drive--a 5-door 1990 Vauxhall Cavalier.

8. What are the benefits of carfree life for you?
Freedom. Improved physical and mental health. The chance to meet more people. A more detailed knowledge of the city. The feeling of having escaped from the grip of the car as an object of desire. I've lived in Birmingham since 1973 but I have come to know the place in a different way in the last few years, seeing its canals, abandoned railway tracks, diversity of back alleys and subways and routes across parks and beside streams--all things I'd hardly noticed from my car. This applies to other towns I visit in the course of my work, which involves lecturing to local authorities around the UK and abroad. Because I have a folding bike as well as my standard, I have travelled on many interesting combinations of transport involving trains, buses, trams, taxis and private cars. I have saved myself and my clients substantial sums. Where I might have charged 35p a mile for a car journey or taken taxis at both ends of a rail journey I now cycle most of the time. London, where I spent a lot of my childhood, seems again my oyster in all weathers. The savings in travel expenses can be over £25 a day. This adds up. On top of that my fuel costs have reduced dramatically, enabling me to buy and maintain several quite classy bicycles which can be a joy to ride and are far cheaper to look after than a car.

I love the freedom while I'm travelling to eat and drink (as drinking-and-drive rules get tougher and tougher). I like not having to worry about theft, breaking in or vandalism to my car. Getting a new bike if a thief manages to get past my £50 D-lock is a fraction of the cost and inconvenience of dealing with getting a new car after a theft. I like being outside a world where even a small bump can add up to several years loss of no-claims and bills that go into four figures. I like the feeling of spending so much time in the open air. I like the wonderful feeling of streaming past long lines of stationary vehicles. I like being largely detached (I can never not be alert to the perils of the road largely created by a minority of reckless and feckless drivers) from the daily increases in frustration and rage among drivers trapped by their continuing need to rely on cars.

Simon Baddeley