FAQ: Living in Los Angeles without a car.

The Backstory. How I ended up living in LA without a car.

“Let’s go to the beach,” She said.

“Okay, let’s take my car. It’s at the parking garage, we can just walk over there.” I replied.

It had been 11 months since I had paid a grand to fix my blown headgasket among other maintenance issues on my 1996 Toyota Corolla. I didn’t drive it everyday or even every week to be honest. I was still living in Westwood and walking to work. Most of my friends were still living within walking distance of each other, either as students or recent grads hanging around West LA.

I turned the ignition on the Corolla just like I had done thousands of times before, and it started just fine. I noticed my gas tank was close to E so we decided on a pit stop at the Chevron station on Santa Monica Blvd.

As soon as I pulled into the gas station, wisps of smoke rose out of gap between the hood and the windshield. It was Sunday evening, I wasn’t in the mood for finding a mechanic, nor was I anxious to put another grand into this aging econobox. I decided to take it back to the parking structure. I barely made it. I left my car fuming in the parking structure and walked away like I was in the latest Bond flick. It sat there for a couple months. UCLA Parking services called me to inform me that it was against their policy to park cars overnight. I decided to junk it. This was November 2013. I haven’t bought another car since. Here are the questions I always get asked.

How do you get groceries?

This is the question I get asked all the time. I walk. I go once a week. I fill a hand basket to the brim. This forces me to be selective about the items I buy. I only have space for meat, veggies, eggs, a few fruits, and maybe one box of packaged food. This has really helped improve my diet, despite all other attempts to sabotage myself. I heard Sprout’s delivers using Prime Now, I’ll probably try that out soon.

How do you go “shopping”?

I don’t. I just order it online and have it delivered. Easy.

What about dating?

If I were a girl, it probably would have less of a stigma. But as a guy, some girls hold car ownership as an important dating heuristic. Owning a car implies financial stability and ambition. I’d be lying if I said being carless didn’t affect my confidence. But Uber and Lyft definitely make things easier, definitely a justifiable and socially acceptable way to take girls on dates.

How do you get to and from work?

Bike, bus, or walk. Let me discuss the pros and cons of each.

Bike:

Pros:

  • Decent cardiovascular exercise depending on the distance
  • Cheap
  • Quicker than walking and the bus for shorter distances up to 5 miles or so. You don’t have to wait, stop at every other intersection, and you pick the shortest possible route
  • Fun. This is the most important. Riding home on side streets enjoying the beautiful trees, smells of restaurants, and watching people out walking their dogs is fantastic. These are the little things you just don’t really appreciate by commuting in a car

Cons:

  • Have you ever tried cleaning a bike chain? It’s not fun. I was riding 50 miles a week, I needed to do it every weekend. That chain would be clogged with black crud
  • Imbalanced quad development to hamstrings. This impacted my weightlifting and basketball activities, the bike might have contributed to some minor injuries
  • Getting sweaty. This is a big reason people tell me when they say they could never ride a bike to work. While it is a con, there are several solutions. Most days I would stop at the gym and shower after my workout and bike ride. In a pinch, bringing a small pouch of baby wipes and a change of clothes usually did the trick. Also my work has a shower.

Bus:

Pros:

  • Someone else does the driving
  • Cheaper than a car
  • You can read on the bus

Cons:

  • Slow
  • Crowded. Despite what the Los Angeles Times says about public transportation, all the lines I have taken have been pretty packed. And if they were 10% more packed in 1985 I feel sorry for the poor souls who had to put up with that.
  • Costs more than walking or riding a bike. If I were to ride the bus 5 days a week both ways. I’m looking at $12.50/week on Santa Monica Blue Bus. All things considered, that’s still pretty cheap.

Walking:

Pros:

  • Good exercise, not as good as the bike. Walking to and from work could help someone reach those 10,000 steps in a hurry.
  • Free. The most free thing there is.
  • Great for stress relief and brainstorming.

Cons:

  • Weather, i guess.
  • Most people don’t live within walking distance. I do/don’t depending on the day. 3 days a week I’m five miles away and the other 2 it’s a little over a mile.
  • I can’t think of any others.

How do you not get stabbed riding the bus?

Avoid direct eye contact. Don’t take up two seats. Just kidding. I haven’t really had any problems. A few smelly bums, maybe a tweaker here and there, but mostly just hard working people who want to get home or to work in one piece. Most days the bus is silent and everyone has their headphones in.

What do you do on weekends?

I have wonderful, generous friends who go places and invite me with them. Or I take an Uber / Lyft

How do you visit relatives?

My family is divided between Southern and Northern California. To see my parents in Sacramento, I always fly. I wait for Southwest flight deals. Southern California isn’t as convenient as having your own car but I’ve taken a metrolink to Irvine several times, Amtrak to San Diego, Amtrak to Victorville. If I want to visit a family member in the valley, I just rent a car.

How often do you have to a rent car?

Less than once a month. I just go to carrentals.com to compare prices. I’ve gotten cars for $15–$30/day. My credit card will cover loss and or damages to car so I get liability insurance which adds $8–12 bucks. I’ve ridden in a zipcar but never rented one. I am really excited to see more ridesharing, autonomous vehicles, car rentals, etc. There has to be a huge market for it. I’m not anticar. However, I can live without one most days. Cars only make sense financially if you’re going to drive it everyday or it it’s your hobby/passion.

How much do you spend/save?

Public transportation: $425.00

Domestic Airfare: $517.50

Rental cars (including gas + insurance): $382.81

Uber: $502.31

Lyft: $158.59

Grand Total: =$1986.21

Comments: The Uber’s and Lyft’s often preceded and followed a night out on the town, so I probably would have racked up most of those regardless. I flew home to Sacramento 3 times, if I had drove it would have cost less in gas but would have added 2400 miles to my car. Two of the rental cars I split with friends to make trips to Mammoth and Vegas easier.

Will you buy a car soon or ever again?

No and Yes. I’ve taken some test drives, done some research on craigslist, and priced out some leasing options. I have decided to save my cash instead. Saving up for trips, experiences, and other things that will make me happier than paying for the privilege to sit in West LA traffic on a daily basis.

I do think I’ll buy a car someday. I have to right? But I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

So, why don’t you have a car?

Almost forgot this one. To save money. To encourage other healthy behaviors such as walking and biking more. Also inertia is a big factor. I’ve gotten used to not having a car, so it’s easier for me to continue to not have one. But if I got a car, I’m sure I’d get used to having one quickly too.

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