Trialling car-free living in BCP suburbia
Caroline Peach is an urban design and conservation manager and lives in Bournemouth with her husband, Timo. She tells us all about her family's decision to give up their car.
My travel journey starts with an Audi A3. A 1.9litre turbo diesel Audi A3 to be specific. I loved the car and I loved driving it. It was fun to drive, held the road well and accelerated brilliantly. The only thing was – it was getting older. We’d had it for more than a decade and it started to struggle to pass its MOT due to emissions. We decided that we needed to move on.
Timo and I have long followed the online show Fully Charged, hosted by Robert Llewellyn (who played Kryten in Red Dwarf). It started life as an alternative to Top Gear, focusing on electric cars. It now looks at much wider energy issues for the home and all types of electric transport, including bikes, buses, vans and boats.
So, we thought, now’s the time for us to give an electric vehicle (EV) a try. We decided to lease a car for two years because the technology was changing so rapidly; we didn’t want to get tied into anything for too long.
Our Kia Soul arrived. It wasn’t our style, but a a way to get to started, to give it a go with a vehicle that was affordable, it was fine. We arranged to get a home charging point installed (mostly paid for by government grant), as we’d assumed that’s where we’d do most of our charging.
Caroline and Timo at Bournemouth Pride in 2022.
That was 2018. We considered it a bit of an adventure having the EV. It didn’t have the range that we’d hoped for and so we had to plan longer journeys, which was a definite downside, although not reflective of where most EVs are now. Local journeys were a dream – easy driving (all EVs are automatic), quiet and emission free. Like all EVs, it had great acceleration, so could overtake and pull away well. We found that you get more than just a car with an EV – it prompts you to think about energy, other public transport/travel options, such as electric bikes, and wider environmental issues.
In 2020, the lease ran out on the EV. We had another decision to make – extend the lease or return the car. We were all in lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic, we weren’t going anywhere, the car was not being used, so we returned it. This was our only car. My husband and I have always shared a car – circumstantially, with our work, this has always been possible for us, although we’d have considered having a second car if needed.
Due to the lockdown, we barely noticed that we didn’t have a car and we saved a lot of money not having one. We stayed open to getting another car at some point, but in the meantime, just tried living without a car.
Getting shopping home on e-scooters is manageable!
We are fortunate enough to live near lots of local shops and facilities and the pandemic focused us on what we had on our doorstep.
With the money we saved, my husband bought a bike. I already had one. With good paniers, we found we could carry a lot of shopping. We walked. We are fortunate enough to live near main bus routes and a station and so we used these too – great for cross conurbation travel. For door-to-door travel, we realised that the occasional taxi was best, and as we weren’t paying for a car, that was fine too. We also signed up to the Co-wheels car club and have used this for some local and longer distance journeys. The glue to join things up, as well as being fun, has been using the Beryl bikes and scooters. Riding a bike always makes me feel like a teenager again.
Now in 2023, we are post pandemic, three years into not having a car and living in BCP suburbia, not central London. I can say it’s still working for us. We certainly think more about how to get somewhere, rather than just hopping into a car, but we are lucky enough to have options and it keeps us fit.
We weren’t setting out to test or prove anything, but our experience has shown that it is possible to live well in BCP without a car. From my point of view, this is the principle of the 15-minute neighbourhood. The idea of the 15 minute neighbourhood is about being able to access what you need close to home, essentially by walking or cycling, rather needing to travel long distances. A 15-minute neighbourhood promotes a sense of personal and community well-being and cohesion.
My husband and I tried a holiday by train last summer and had a wonderful time travelling to the south of France, via London and Paris. There are deals available for early bookings. I found it to be a really pleasant and surprisingly fast way to travel, whilst also seeing lovely scenery along the way. We were also not worn out from driving, and it felt good to be using a low carbon travel option. I would definitely like to do more travelling by train.
I’m aware that this is my journey and that my experiences are not possible or practical for everyone. But for those who might be planning their next holiday, next car, or thinking about the costs of a second car it’s useful to know what alternative options there are.
Timo at Pokesdowne train station
The main thing is we’re glad we’ve tried living without a car - it’s helped us to think and to see things differently and I know personally that it helps with:
- Maintaining a healthy personal lifestyle
- Community vibrancy and connection – meeting people in the street
- Economics – saving money, supporting local businesses and facilities
- Environment – cleaner air, climate change – lower carbon living
Next stop for me is solar panels. The journey continues…