It’s driving me crazy

In all honesty, I don’t really like driving anymore. There was a period of time in my life when I did enjoy it, but that was before I moved to London. It was quite pleasant cruising around the Devon countryside in the sunshine in my little Fiesta, listening to music and being free to come and go as I liked, stopping by at the beach on the way home from work. But I lived in the middle of nowhere, with very little public transport infrastructure – I think there was a bus through the village twice a week – so I hadn’t really got much option but to drive, if I ever wanted to go anywhere at all. On the other hand, I find driving around London really stressful and difficult, and try to avoid it wherever possible.

We’ve had a bit of a nail-biting time this week, waiting to find out if the replacement of some broken bit of complicated and staggeringly expensive engine part in our car is going to be covered by the warranty – it is, thankfully. But it did get me thinking about driving again. We use our car very little – the last annual mileage calculation for our insurance renewal was 4000 miles. Of course it’s not always been like this – I probably did 30,000 miles a year when I lived in Devon, with an hour long commute, and various friends to visit in Cornwall and Wales, and family nearer to London. My husband used to work for an auto company, so had a discounted car purchase option and drove to work from our part of London into Essex. Now he cycles to work and I use the bus or my feet for most daily outings with the small one. So the 4000 miles per year is made up of a trip to the supermarket maybe once a week, and the odd weekend day trip or visit to family, and infrequent UK holidays.

I kind of thought that everyone thought like me, that it’s basically completely bonkers to drive short journeys in London, where the traffic is so awful, the roads are so hideous and the public transport infrastructure is so good. But I had dinner with a friend recently in central London who drove into town – Rachelle, you’re a nutter. And I was gobsmacked to see the car park in Greenwich park completely full a couple of weekends ago – just why would you do that, when you can get there by bus/DLR/train? Unless there are mobility reasons to use a car, I just find it baffling.

I read this spoof piece a couple of weeks ago about middle-class mums saving the environment by driving to Waitrose to buy loose cereal – all very funny, but far-fetched, right? Anyone on a mission to reduce their plastic waste would realise that driving for short, frequent and/or unnecessary journeys in incompatible with saving the planet? Then I saw a post on the Facebook page of my local “zero waste” shop of someone saying how they love the shop so much, they don’t mind the 25 minute drive… *facepalm*. It’s on about 19 different bus routes. Sure, you’d need a rucksack if you were stocking up on bulky stuff, and again I’m probably being ablist here, but I think a lot of people could manage it.

I don’t understand all the science, as always, but I understand that 15% of global emissions are caused by transportation, and driving plays a huge part in that. Not to mention the issues driving causes with regard to air pollution. And yet, we have this ridiculous, money draining diesel estate car in our drive which we hardly ever use…. Is it time to do something different? We’ve had this conversation multiple times (usually when something expensive is broken), and always decide that we need to keep the car for holidays, trips to family and big shops. But I am consciously trying to change my way of thinking about it, and not feeling entitled to drive everywhere. We visited a nursery school for the small one yesterday – and very lovely it was too. But it is quite far away – 45 minute walk or 20 minutes on the bus. It would probably be quicker to drive, but I’m refusing to entertain this as an option. I absolutely refuse to become a London mum who drops their kid(s) off to places by car out of convenience – we have to say NO to this way of life, when there’s a very reasonable alternative.

There’s some useful thoughts here about how to manage without a car and how to reduce the carbon footprint of your car. Some other stuff I’ve thought about:

  • You use less petrol if you’re carrying a lighter load, so if you’ve got a ton of stuff in your boot that you don’t need to be driving around, take it out (I used to leave my winter survival kit, including a spade and all sorts of boy scout gear, in the boot all year round – I did eventually thin it out over the summer months).
  • I’m wondering if online shopping is a greener option in terms of economies of scale of delivery driving, but I’m not sure it’s the best option for us right now, as we rely quite heavily on the cheapness of Aldi and they don’t deliver. In less leaner times, I would love to get delivery boxes of fruit and veg and maybe meat… but not right now.
  • Planning ahead and combining journeys is a good strategy – multiple stops in one trip is better than going out several times. Maybe the “25 minutes drive from the zero waste shop” lady was doing that… hope so. But, judge not lest ye be judged and all that.

It’s easy to preach about this stuff, isn’t it? I would have laughed at anyone who told me to reduce my driving when I lived in the middle of Dartmoor on my own. Hmmm. We all have our own circumstances and our own battles. One of these days, we might even buy a hybrid or an electric. (But what’s the environmental impact of electric cars? Fossil fuel for the electricity? Rare minerals being mined to make the batteries? Oh my goodness it’s all so difficult…)

On a more positive note, and a final bit of exciting, cliff-hanger news – The Everyday Radical is going to be on TV on Tuesday! Eeeep. More tomorrow.

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5 Comments

  1. Lovely blog Hannah. Good luck for Tuesday! You will be ace! 😍

    PS) Bikes and push scooters are my beautiful car-free alternatives!

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  2. Difficult one. I couldn’t get to work if I didn’t drive (it’s only 11 miles but public transport would take 2+ hours each day and that couldn’t be fitted in without childcare opening hours!). Before I had this job we looked at getting rid of the car (DH doesn’t drive and commutes by train) and just hiring a zipcar or similar for the few occasions we did need one. But the nearest one was too far away to be practical and then I got a job I needed to drive to anyway. I have joined the work car share scheme but 7 years in nobody wants to share with me (probably because I’m part-time and don’t have any flexibility in the times I travel!).

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    1. I totally hear you, we can only get away with such little car use because the buses where we live are so good (SE London). I think we can’t realistically expect people to reduce car use until the public transport and car sharing infrastructures are massively improved. Like all this stuff, individual action is important but I believe the government need to support eco switches much better…

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