Friday, February 4, 2011

Being a single-vehicle family

Last night, on his way home from work, my husband rolled his car window down to swipe his security card so that he could leave the building's parkade, and found that he couldn't roll the window up again. This is a very serious development in a 1988 Hyundai Excel. It could very well be the tolling of the car's death knell, not because we're expecting everything else to fail on a whim, but because it's almost impossible to find parts for the rusty little red compact I call Liliput. It's a solid little vehicle and has relatively low mileage, but when a fairly rare import reaches 23 years of age, dealerships and auto wreckers alike are at a loss when it comes to finding replacement parts.

Up until the fall of 2002, we were a single vehicle family, but then my husband started a new job that required a vehicle for city driving. At the time, I was using our minivan a lot to run errands and drive our girls around, so Lee bought the Excel from his dad. Those were the days before peak oil or global climate change were in the news, and if ignorance/denial was bliss, that's where I lived. It wasn't until our Voluntary Simplicity course in November of 2005 that our family woke up and realized that carbon emissions, species extinction and rampant consumerism were creating huge planetary problems. Ever since then, we've done a lot to simplify our lives, but haven't quite taken the leap when it comes to simplifying our transportation. Even so, I do dream of us becoming a single-vehicle family once again, or even a no-vehicle family.

As both our vehicles have aged and our minivan in particular has needed more and more repairs over the past few years, the desire to leave one vehicle behind has grown stronger and less likely at the same time. Piano lessons, basketball, school musicals and other evening activities that have us running in opposite directions make two vehicles far too convenient. On top of that, our eldest daughter passed her driver's test in November, and being an extrovert, wants to be out with her friends more. Lee's work frequently takes him around the city during the day, and I often have donations from neighbours to take to the Clothing Room when I volunteer, and groceries to pick up on my way home. My boss has me run errands, too, when I drive to work. It's just so convenient to have two vehicles, especially when we're all going different directions.

But there are more people in our world without any vehicles at all than there are two car families. Just because our society is wealthy enough to drive wherever we want whenever we want doesn't mean that we should. Just because we have Liliput and the minivan doesn't mean it should always be that way.

Over the past month or so, I have been trying to go without driving, catching public transit or walking to work, and walking home. Lee has been taking the bus more frequently, too. Sure, it would be inconvenient to lose a vehicle if we can't find another window mechanism for the Hyundai, but is convenience the most important thing in life? We could manage. Not having to pay for the Excel's maintenance, gas and insurance fees would give us more than enough money for bus tickets or even taxis if necessary. We'd be contributing that much less to the planet's carbon emission issues. And we'd be closer to living in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who don't have access to a ride at a moment's notice.

While it would be a shame to have to donate Liliput to the Kidney Foundation because of a window that can't be fixed, it would probably be better for the planet (I suspect the emissions of a 1988 car aren't as "clean" as the emissions of later models), and it would be better for us... So if I can convince Lee to give up his car (not likely) if we do find that window mechanism and make repairs, would anybody want to buy a used Hyundai Excel?

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