Aging: Life Without a Car

One of the hardest things for my mother about growing older was the loss of her own car. She stopped driving in her late 80’s, after medication she was taking left her occasionally lightheaded. There had been a report of an elderly driver in Florida having a dizzy spell and plowing into a group of pedestrians, causing death to some and severe injury to others. To her credit, my mother didn’t want to be that driver.

The senior citizen residence in which she lived had a small bus that took people to shop and to the bank a couple of times a week, but that didn’t suit my mother at all. She didn’t want to go to the grocery store at 10 am on Tuesday or Thursday; she wanted to go when it occurred to her that she needed something. And if she went to the bank she might also want to stop for an ice cream cone, and the dedicated bus made no accommodation for that.

In the online Atlantic Cities, reporter Eric Jaffe proposes an alternative vision. His article is entitled “Imagine: A World Where Nobody Owns Their Own Car”, and he suggests that connecting advances in vehicle technology with intelligent infrastructure and driverless cars might make individual car ownership a superfluous cultural artifact. At least for those of us who live in cities, we might find travel from here to there easier, safer, and less costly using a network of vehicles rather than buying, storing, and servicing our own.

Before I went to Singapore I might have found Jaffe’s vision unimaginable. I’ve been driving for decades, since I first got my license in my late teens. I bought my first car, a used Nash Rambler, when I returned from the Peace Corps and went to Georgetown to get an advanced degree. I’ve owned a car ever since. When Sara and Matt were still in high school and both driving, we owned three cars. Jerry and I each had our own, and the kids shared a car. But in Singapore, my hosts use taxis to get everywhere. Individual car ownership is too expensive and too complicated. And taxi’s are safe, readily available at all hours, and relatively cost-effective.

Seattle already has uber. com, Cars2Go, rideshare options like Lyft and Sidecar, Zipcar, and regular taxis. If I didn’t already own a car, using a combination of those services could be an option. There are complications, such as the presumption that all riders will be adults and not need car seats. I now have two carseats in the back of my Subaru. But the kids won’t be in carseats forever. And I won’t be able to drive forever.

I like that new options are coming online all the time. And I like thinking ahead.

3 thoughts on “Aging: Life Without a Car

  1. If you lived in an area like I do, a car is still an absolute necessity. We have no good system of public transportation : trains are inconveniently located and a car is needed to get to the nearest train station; buses are available but a car is also needed to get to the bus depots, taxis for the most part are locals with older cars that are usually old rust buckets. Trains only go north, so getting to a city like Philadelphia by train is impossible. Living in a city does make it easier to do without a car. Here, it is virtually impossible. On the other hand, I would not be happy giving up the freedom that car ownership gives me.

  2. for Ron: The idea of using a web of transportation options clearly only works in a city, not where you and Linda are. Even in a city, I find the convenience of having my own car a big plus. When I think forward in time to being too old to manage my own car, that’s when an idea like this might well be very useful.

  3. I agree with you and again, I really believe that transportation issues are often reason for a great increase here in the East of retired people moving out of ther suburban homes and returning to the cities for their retirement years. The cost of auto ownership and insurance are growing yearly. We have met several couples when in New York for theatre and during conversations, they told us that living back in the city is easier for them than remaining in their suburban homes. Of course, these people are comfortable enough financially to be able to afford living in NYC. There have been recent articles on line of the “best cities” to retire to which indicates to me that the move back to cities is becoming more common nationwide.

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