Carless in L.A. – Yes, We (Mostly) Are

A little over two years ago, the State of California proclaimed our car dead. As in we couldn’t get it smog certified. It wasn’t anything we weren’t expecting for a lot of reasons. Let’s just say it was time.

Not a good time economically, mind you, and that is partly why The Beloved Spouse and I decided not to get another car. The other reason is that we had been talking about walking or using public transportation instead of driving for a good many years, and it occurred to us that having a car made it too easy to drive. I’m not sure if we thought we’d last this long, but we have not owned a car for over two years while living and working in Los Angeles County, and I don’t see us owning one again for a very long time.

What surprises me is how ho-hum most folks are when we tell them we don’t own a car. I don’t know if they’re horrified that we’re living in utter poverty – we’re not. In fact, after giving up the car, our economic situation improved quite nicely. Or perhaps folks are terrified that we’re going to hit them up for rides all the time. We refuse to do that. If we can’t get where we’re going and back under our own steam, as it were, we probably won’t go. Or we’ll rent a car. Or maybe it’s finally hitting home that it’s not all that difficult to live in Los Angeles without a car as you might expect.

I won’t say it’s perfectly easy, but it’s not that hard, either. For one thing, even though we live in the ‘burbs north of Pasadena, we do have two bus lines within easy reach of our house, something I get not everybody has. And we do rent a car if there’s an event at a time or place that would make it hard to catch a bus. But pretty much the rest of the time, we get around by bus and light rail.

The Beloved Spouse has been commuting via bus and light rail ever since he got his job in downtown L.A., which made it a lot easier to live with one car between us. So he’d been set for a while. I mostly work at home, so that helps as well. Still, I don’t think we could have given up the car six or seven years ago. One reason is that L.A.’s public transportation system is getting better, but the big helper is actually technology. Our smart phones pretty much make our lifestyle choice possible. Because I can read, check email, do social media and all that on my phone, wait and travel time is actually productive time for me now. I can keep working and it doesn’t matter if it takes an hour or more to get from home to wherever.

But there are also smart phone apps, particularly Go511, that will tell me when the bus is coming via GPS. Google Maps can plot a route better than the Metro app can because it can take advantage of multiple systems besides Metro, the main L.A. County bus and light rail system. And I can pull down a bus schedule whenever I need one from the mobile Metro site.

Does it take planning? Yes. It’s a lot harder to head out on the spur of the moment or on a lark. And I really have to think about how many groceries I buy because my granny cart has only so much room. Because Metro has such unenlightened views about dogs, we can only take our basset hound Clyde to the dog park on those weekends we’ve rented a car. Getting out and about at night can be a bit tricky because the buses don’t run as often or as reliably after 7 p.m. But there’s a hotel with a taxi stand near our light rail stop and that can fill the gap. And riding the bus when we’re sick or injured is not a lot of fun, although, again, there’s always cab service if something’s really urgent or icky.

On the other hand, we’re always driving relatively new cars because that’s what the rental company has. We do pay for our own insurance, but we don’t worry about car maintenance. That’s the rental company’s problem. And renting rarely costs us more than $200 a month. Let me know where I can buy a car for that kind of payment.

So, yes, you can manage quite nicely not owning a car in L.A. In fact, you might even find it fun. I know we have.

Anne Louise Bannon

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