go car free course

Lesson 9

Lifestyle Re-engineering: Should You Move Closer to Where You Work?

“I have little sympathy for people who complain about long car commutes because they have the power to change their situation and choose not to.”
 – Jon Hill, Car Free Commuter

Let’s say you’ve followed all the steps in the previous lesson, you’ve scoured the Internet, you’ve talked to your neighbors and coworkers, you’ve done all the research, but you still can’t find a viable, realistic, and convenient car free way to get to work. Perhaps your home is in the suburbs and there’s no mass transit where you live, it’s too far to bike, and you can’t find a carpool. The million-dollar question is: should you move closer to where you work?

Must Read Article: 10 Benefits of Living Close to Work

In this article from TailoredSpace.com. The writer argues that living close to work provides ten big benefits: more time, less stress, less gas, reduce your carbon footprint, better productivity, more reliability, more exercise, greater sense of community, and better health. I couldn’t agree more.

This is an important question to think about, and then run some numbers. I’m a fan of the YouTube channel Dollar Motivation Club, so I was thrilled when James posted a video last year examining this very topic. The video is titled, “How much does it cost to commute to work?” In the video, he argues that a one hour commute requires 40% more income just to break even. I examined his numbers, the math checks out. Watch the video and then run your own numbers to see how much your commute is costing you in time and money.

Car Free Success Story:

People tell me I’m lucky to live in a location so convenient to everything I need. I tell them that luck had nothing to do with it. I made a deliberate decision. You have the power to choose where you live, where you work, and how you get around. Because I don’t have a car to pay for, I have a nicer home in a more convenient location – two miles from work. And I have more money in my retirement account. Just think of what you can do with $500 per month. When you take into account that money has been taxed, it’s like getting a $9,000 raise!

Todd K., 37

Foundation Program Officer, Washington, DC

The Million-Dollar Question

If you remember the savings charts from Lesson 1, you know this really could be a $1,000,000 question. If you can commute to work without driving, and you invest the money you’ll save by living car free for thirty years it could be worth a million bucks or more. So if moving to a new apartment or house closer to work or closer to a mass transit stop is the only way you can live car free, I think you should seriously consider it.

I’ve devoted a separate lesson to this question for two reasons. First, I know this difficult dilemma will apply to many readers. And second, I feel so strongly about the benefits of living close to work that I want to emphasize the point. This is the only time in this course you will see a sentence in bold, all-capital italics. LIVING WITHIN A FEW MILES OF WHERE YOU WORK WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE.

Car Free Success Story:

Right now, we live two and a half blocks from my place of work. So convenient! I love having the ability to go home for a freshly prepared lunch and sometimes a siesta (as an Italian-American, very important to me!). I can also run home if I forget a book, my cell phone, or anything else I may need throughout the day, which is extremely convenient. Also, by choosing to live downtown, we situated ourselves within walking distance of the things we use: library, restaurants, movie theaters, etc. If we lived out in the ’burbs, we would need to drive to these places. We are average citizens who have seen a better way to live, and are living the better way.

Nicole T., 23

Urban Planner, Ithaca, NY

Car Free Success Story:

I highly recommend that anyone who is renting and commuting more than twenty minutes to work should relocate closer to their place of employment. Rent might be cheaper in the suburbs, but that difference is quickly lost in the cost of the commute.

I would rather spend twenty minutes cycling to work than twenty minutes driving to work with all the other lost souls wishing there wasn’t so much darn traffic, then another ten minutes trying to find a parking spot close to work, and another five minutes walking to work because all the good parking spots were taken ’cause it took me so long to get to work, and now darn it, I’m late!

If you decide to move, look for good cycling routes to your destination (bike paths, bike lanes). If you rent an apartment where carrying your bike up and down three flights of stairs every day is the only answer, so be it. But try to find a ground-floor apartment or an apartment building with a garage and a bike rack or a locked bike room. Also try to find a place close to the bank, post office, grocery store, and a transit stop.

Barry L.

Librarian, San Luis Obispo, CA

More Free Time

The closer you live to work, the more free time you’ll have. For example, if you currently live fifteen miles from where you work, you probably spend about forty-five minutes commuting through rush-hour traffic by car. A forty-five-minute commute each way means you’re spending seven and a half hours a week – 375 hours a year – driving to and from work. That’s the equivalent of nine full work weeks behind the wheel.

If you moved to an apartment, loft, house, or condo within one mile of where you work, you could bicycle to the office in about five minutes (averaging twelve miles per hour). That would knock your commute time down to ten minutes a day, fifty minutes a week, and just over forty hours per year. You would realize a time savings of six and a half hours a week, or eight full work weeks annually.

Must Read Article: Living Near Work is Everything (Especially for Millennials)

In this article from ApartmentGuide.com journalist Ellen Sirull states, “More than one third (37 percent) of employees admit that a longer commute means they spend less time on activities like going to the gym, seeing friends of family, and hobbies.” Check out the article to see more graphics like the one below.

how commutes impact workers

Those numbers may be a bit hard to get your mind around, so think of it this way. How would your life improve if you had an extra six hours of leisure time every week? You could spend six more hours with your family. You could spend an hour a day at the gym. You could train for a marathon. Write a book. Take a cooking class. Learn to play piano or guitar. Or get an extra hour of sleep every night. The possibilities are endless.

Car Free Success Story:

Many people try to live in the suburbs and hence have to commute an hour each way by car, train, or bus. This is two hours of their life taken away every day, for which they are not paid, nor compensated for their transportation costs. I can get to work in fifteen minutes by bike at very little cost (annual bike maintenance) and I maintain my fitness level at the same time. From a numbers perspective, this has got to be a no-brainer decision. I would never work for a company I couldn’t reach easily by bicycle.

Eric D., 42

Computer Programmer, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

More Options

If you live within a mile or two of work you could walk, jog, in-line skate, scoot, skateboard, or ride a bike or e-bike to the office. You could go home for lunch or to take a midday nap. You wouldn’t have to pay for mass transit or wait at the bus stop. You could sleep later because your commute only takes a few minutes.

After work, you’ll be relaxing at home before your coworkers even get to the highway on ramp. And you’ll get regular daily exercise during your commute. So you’ll lose weight, firm up those thighs, burn more calories, look better, and feel better without ever going to the gym. Plus you’ll save money.

And, of course, if you move to a home within a mile or two of work, getting rid of your car becomes a no-brainer. When you’re close enough to walk or bike to the office, your need for a car will plummet. And after you ditch the car, you’ll have plenty of extra money to buy that home gym, guitar, or piano, or to take that cooking class.

Car Free Success Story:

The best way to size up a potential area is to go there and walk around. Look for parks, stores, restaurants, nightlife spots; your goal is to find a home close enough to the places you want to spend your time that everything is within walking distance. If you’re new to car free living or don’t know the area, rent, don’t buy. Nearby public transit also helps. This doesn’t require a big city; some surprisingly small towns have very workable bus service. Map out the routes on a city map; you’ll save yourself a huge amount of commuting time if you live close to a route that will get you directly to work, without having to transfer from one route to another.

John M., 43

Freelancer, Ashland, OR

Corollary: Get a Job Closer to Home

If you can’t move to a new home closer to your job, consider getting a new job closer to your home. Obviously, this is a very personal decision that depends on many factors. But it’s easier to do than you might think.

Visit local businesses in the area and ask for applications. Or identify the key employers within a few miles of your home, then do an internet search to find their websites. Most companies post current job openings online.

Changing jobs may seem like a big step, and it is. But it’s a move that could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars to you over your career.

Car Free Success Story:

We move around a lot because of my husband’s career. Part of our decision-making process of whether to take a new job or not is whether we can live in a place where he could bike to work. And if we can easily access other amenities by biking or walking. Only if the answer is “yes” would we take the new job. Then we look for a place on a bike path near the amenities we want.

In my case, I look for jobs after we’re already settled. So I only job hunt at places I know I can get to by bicycle. I wouldn’t even bother applying for a job at a place that would require a long car commute. It does limit my employment options, but I know the car commute would have such a negative impact on my life, that it’s a trade-off I’m perfectly willing to make.

Holly O., 30

College Professor, Carlsbad, CA

Downtown building with metro

The Next Best Thing

Of course, not everyone can live within a few miles of their workplace. So the next best thing is to find a home near a major transit hub, train or subway station, or bus line.

Fortunately, Metro systems all over the country are now in the TOD business. TOD stands for transit oriented development. In other words, transportation authorities and metro systems are partnering with real estate developers to build housing and retail shopping developments right next to – or even on top of – transit stops. Most of these developments include affordable housing. Living in a large apartment or condo building right next to a light rail line or transit hub makes living car free easy.

As John M. from Ashland, Oregon, said in the Car Free Success Story earlier in this lesson, try to live near a transit stop on a bus or train line that will get you to your worksite without having to switch lines. If you have to transfer from one train to another, or from one bus to another, it adds time and is less convenient. Look for a straight shot from where you live to where you work.

Car Free Success Story:

Seven years ago my commute to work was about forty miles each way. I did this for three years, until it didn’t matter how much I was getting paid, it wasn’t worth the horrible traffic, not to mention the stress, and hardly ever getting to see my husband. Now my office is a mile from my house. It is really nice to have to make the decision each morning of “should I do the fifteen-minute walk, or the five-minute bike ride?” With our house being close to public transit and working close to home, I found after a few months my car was not getting driven but maybe once or twice a month, yet I was still paying my monthly car payment and my insurance. So, I decided to sell my car. I have been car free for nine months now! That’s like losing a couple thousand pounds!

Christine C.

Executive Director of a Nonprofit, Santa Rosa, CA

Doing the Math

Some simple math will help you with the decision of whether or not to move to a new home. Calculate your total cost to move – including moving expenses, realtor fees, penalties for breaking your lease, and so on. Then divide that total by the monthly cost of owning your car, which you calculated in Lesson 2. This will tell you how many months it will take to pay for the cost of moving. Be sure to factor into the equation any increase in rent or mortgage payment in the new location, and the cost of a monthly transit pass.

Once you break even, you’ll be car free and watching your bank account swell every month thereafter. You can read more about the benefits of living close to where you work in Lesson 14.

Car Free Success Story:

I am so happily car free you wouldn’t believe it. Alternative transportation is something every city and county offers to some degree. And it helps to be in the right place to maximize safe transport and time-savings by close proximity. Changing jobs and residences to conform to transportation considerations can mean an improved lifestyle. Choose to live where non-car living is supported, such as easy access to services via walking, close proximity to transit, bike paths, and bike lanes. Then get a good bike that doesn’t look so fancy it will be stolen.

Jan L.

Publisher, Berkeley, CA

If You Commute Car free But Still Own a Car

Millions of people own a car but don’t use it to commute to work. Some of those people may have valid reasons for keeping their car. But chances are some of them have been influenced by the advertising myth that every American must own a car. Or maybe they just have a car out of habit, or “in case I need it.”

Whatever the reason, if you own a car and don’t drive it to work, it’s time to do some more math. Take the total monthly cost of owning your car, which you calculated in Lesson 2, then divide that by the number of times per month you use the car. This will give you the average cost per use.

For example, let’s say your total annual cost to own the car is $6,000. Divided by twelve months per year that equals $500 per month. If you use the car twice a week (eight times per month), your average cost per use is $62. So in theory, every time you drive that car up to the store to buy a gallon of milk, it just cost you $62.

Bottom line: if you own a car but don’t need it to get to work, maybe you should reconsider why you own it at all. Don’t you have anything better to spend thousands of dollars a year on?

Car Free Success Story:

My wife and I moved from Davis to Berkeley, California, a couple of years ago, motivated in part by a desire to drive less. For years, traffic congestion has ranked as the number-one problem in annual surveys of San Francisco Bay Area residents. Accordingly, location was at the top of the list of our house-hunting criteria, specifically proximity to public transit and a diverse commercial district. We eventually bought a lovely home next to a park only two blocks from BART (the regional subway), three to six blocks from two major shopping streets, a three-minute bike ride from downtown, and a ten-minute bike ride to the Capital Corridor regional commuter rail that goes to Davis and Sacramento (frequent destinations for us).

Our car use plummeted, because we make essentially all of our everyday trips by foot, bike, or BART. We sold one of the two cars, and kept the other for weekend trips to the mountains and occasional work-related trips I make to out-of-town destinations. The remaining car was totaled by a snowplow a couple months later (the car was empty in a parking lot at the time). We took this as a divine sign that we should go ahead and make the leap into the terrifying unknown of car free living!

We have now been car free for seven months, and it has proved a lot easier than we expected. We love it! Here are some details about our strategy and experience that might be useful to others:

  • We shop close to home. We have no desire to drive twenty miles to a big mall to choose from a selection of a hundred brands of toothpaste! If we can’t find something within bike/BART distance, we buy it over the internet.
  • For trips to out-of-town destinations that require a car, we first try to carpool with someone else [who owns a car] going on the same trip (e.g., a business meeting or ski outing). It is surprising how often carpooling is possible if you just call a few people and ask to ride with them. If that doesn’t pan out, we borrow or rent a car. In the last seven months, we have rented cars about four times.
  • Driving is remarkably habitual. Once you settle into a habit, it appears to be the only way to do things. But now that we have switched to a walk/bike/BART lifestyle, it no longer even occurs to us to use a car for local trips. And what’s all the whining about being too old or out of shape to bike, or that biking isn’t safe? That’s just a rationalization to avoid having to think about your life and actually implement changes to improve it. The driving-TV-couch potato-overweight-out-of-shape downward spiral leads to self-fulfilling whining and negativism. It’s not as if you have to be a college-aged jock to ride a bike. My wife and I are forty-nine years old and work long hours at desk jobs, and biking’s no problem. It’s just a matter of what you get used to.
  • When I’m on a bike, I never get stuck in traffic and I always get a front-row parking space. Whenever I’m driving, it seems I’m always stuck in congestion.
  • Specifically, focus on location, location, location. If you can’t switch your job to somewhere near your home, then move to a residence that’s close to your work or to a transit line that goes to your work. If it’s raining, wear a raincoat or get a little wet<\#209>it’s no big deal. Attitude is everything. If you decide it’s possible to live without a car, it will be.
Gus Y.

Berkeley, CA

Now let’s move on to Lesson 10: Off the Rails: Mastering Mass Transit

Riding the bus or train is a safe, economical, and productive way to commute to work. Instead of driving your own car, stressed out and stuck in traffic congestion, let a professional do the driving while you kick back and read a good book, or catch up on your emails. I’ll explain how transit time saves time in Lesson 10.

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