There is beginning to be some buzz about a trend developing amongst youth who are thinking twice about car ownership.
An online article by Annette McLeod for MSN Auto (August 30, 2012) discussed how youth were losing interest in owning cars, according to polling firms. Of those cars they were interested in, electric cars and smaller conventional cars were favoured. Car ownership alternatives like Zipcar sharing programs have also become popular in Montreal and are now in Toronto.
An older Globe and Mail article by Jeremy Cato (Sept. 2, 2010) noted the cost of car ownership in Toronto ranged from $8,500 for a new small Chevy Cobalt to $13,833 for a new Dodge Grand Caravan. That was with gas at $1.02 a litre not the $1.40 a litre today. With youth paying off heavy student loans, paying high rents or suffering through unemployment or poor paying service jobs it is not hard to understand why young people are opting out of cars. McLeod said youth were more into paying for communication devices like iPhones than commuting machines like cars. Why drive across town to visit someone when you can text them immediately? Some others preferred to wait for the advent of electric cars with lower maintenance and fuel costs. The trend is becoming so strong it is making conventional auto manufacturers nervous, McLeod stated, unless they are already building small, cheap electric cars and have alternative buying options like BMW.
In my case, it was a dramatic image that was life changing.
The image, the closing shot in a documentary film, was of an oil soaked sea otter waving its blacked paw as it slowly died, befouled tragically by the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. It made me determined to live without a gas guzzling vehicle fueled by non-renewable and dirty oil.
That vivid image, over a decade ago, sticks in my mind to this day. I saw it during a film in a fourth year Laurentian University geography class I was helping to teach with professor Dr. Jorge Virchez. My own vehicle was a 1989 GMC Sierra full sized truck, useful for living in the bush. A victim of the rough road on which I lived in the city’s extreme south end, my truck’s undercarriage -- its tie rods, shocks and worse -- had been wrecked to the extent that I had parked it.I did not have the money to repair the damage. In fact, I had barely enough money obtained from a quick contracting job to survive that winter. Hauling cement blocks to the dump during that fall job was the final straw for my truck. In November, it was parked for good.
Life without a vehicle meant that to traverse the 20 or so miles into town for freelance media work and groceries meant relying on my nearest neighbours (some four miles away at least) for rides into town and the use of the city’s trans cab service to help me get back, as close as I could afford.
Soon I became a local celebrity with my neighbours as I was the only person living full-time in the remote area where I lived and the only person regularly hitch hiking on the road. While riding in their vehicles, I kept my neighbours up to date on local wildlife. I had names for the resident moose (Wally) and bears (Brutus) from frequent close encounters of the hairy and furry kind. There was also weather, people and road news. My neighbours reciprocated with their own stories. It was entertaining for both. The only difficulty was getting home as I had to pay full cab fares from the end of the free transcab zone to my lake -- a distance of 11 miles, the last 2 and a half miles being unplowed skidoo trail. During blizzards, when the trail was hidden, I risked freezing to death from walking in deep snow and collapsing.
To get into town, I had to leave my abode at 5 a.m. to walk the four and a half miles to catch a ride with my nearest neighbouring coming out on his road at 6:30 a.m. to go to work. Finally, it was too much to bear, especially after a bad fall on some black ice that spring. I sold my cottage later that year for a good price and bought a house in Gatchell in 2005 right next to a bus stop. Though I was told to use my mortgage free house as a piggy bank (I paid cash), I declined, remembering what an old CBC friend had always told me: Never undercut the roof over your head.
So for the next five years I worked in the newsroom covering stories by hitching a ride with our photographer, Marg, and using the bus system. Management realized I was passionate about the environment and let me get away without buying a car for my job. I also did a lot of city council reporting where a car was unnecessary. I even hitched rides with our local MPPs.
Almost 2 years ago, I left the newspaper and struck out on my own as a freelancer. To cover stories for a book I am working on, I hitch a ride with my professor colleague, Dr. Jorg Virchez.
In my opinion, the expense of a car would have restricted what I could do as a self-employed individual and I would not have been able to remain independent. If I do eventually buy a vehicle, I hope it will be electric, so as to reduce maintenance costs and eliminate the use of the dirty oil that did such damage to the sea otter and so much other wildlife.
In the meantime, I have used Sudbury Transit extensively for $45 a month (age 50s pass) and now have taken up walking more to even cut the cost of transit passes. This and daily jogging have taken almost 20 pounds and four inches off my belly fat -- now my pants fit!
EarthCare Sudbury is hosting a free Green Vehicle Show Tuesday September 11, 2012 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Tom Davies Square where there will be over 20 hybrid and electric cars for viewing along with a panel discussion at noon in the foyer.
William Peter Bradley is a freelance reporter and writer working on a book project, Sudbury Champions of Change. Visit www.northernpecan.ca for updates on his activities.
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