A green quandry: my new car

I was inspired to blog about my new car by a post on the BBC Ethical Man blog that @monkchips just tweeted. The slight irony is that the post is about how the author had his lovely Saab taken away to see if he could make it in the world without a car. And I’m about to tell you about my lovely new Citroen C1, which I bought so that I don’t have to catch the bus any more.

Typing that hurts slightly because I used to be so smug that we were a one-car household.

We (Tony and I) live in a village, and I work in another village. Public transport from villages in Hampshire to the cities isn’t that great; public transport between villages is worse. For a while, one of us would take the other to work but after trying both permutations of that arrangement, the fact that the two workplaces were pretty much opposite directions made the effort fairly pointless (in some ways was probably even a bit less green than if we’d each driven in separate cars because whoever was driving would end up in the morning rushhour traffic after dropping the other at work). For a while it worked with Tony catching the bus and me driving the car to my work – though this probably wasn’t ideal in terms of greenness because I was the only one in the car.

So, next, I was fortunate in that a couple of friends (who are also colleagues) car-shared their way past the end of my road every day and offered to include me in the arrangement too. That worked for a few months until a house-move by the driver meant that he would now be driving in the opposite direction from work to pick me up. So I finally tried the bus that ran through our village.

That was January 2007. Nearly two um three years later, I’ve finally given in and got a car. I did mandate to myself that it had to be rated at at least 60 miles to the gallon, and be as close to 100g/km carbon emissions as possible. Aside from a momentary wavering when I met Martin’s rather lovely Lotus Elise, I am proud to say that I stuck to that requirement (partly by telling everyone I knew so that I couldn’t slide out of it!) with my new 3.5yr-old C1 (60miles to the gallon; 109g/km). And it’s great – despite being a 1.0 engine, it’s only teeny so it’s very nippy.

So why did I give up the smugness of ‘being green’? Mostly (without boring you with joys of working across timezones) because I just couldn’t attend cross-timezone meetings and still get home by bus some days any more.

So how green am I now? Well, I really don’t know. I suspect that, in hindsight, the most ‘green’ arrangement I’ve tried was when I car-shared. When I was catching the bus, I wasn’t actually catching it every day because I did also get ad hoc lifts from friends too but bus was definitely my default transport for those two years. I’m actually not convinced that I was especially green for about 50% of the buses I caught – in terms of numbers of people on the bus, as the Ethical Man suggests. I have no evidence for this but I think the lift-sharing was probably greener.

So, I should/will probably start giving lifts to people who live on the way to work as long as my travelling times fit with theirs. Maybe I could/should continue getting lifts some days (and leave my own car at home) as I did before. I’ll have to see how it goes…

On a final, positive note, travelling with other people (whether by car or bus) is actually quite good fun and useful. On the bus, there’s a small community of regulars who usually say hello and notice when you’ve not been there for a while. Which is really nice, and I’ll miss that. Sharing lifts (or catching the bus with someone from work) is also really good because it gives me chance to catch up with the other person and find out what’s going on on their projects. It’s also been really valuable for doing reading or thinking. And it makes you get up on time and leave work on time. 🙂

2 thoughts on “A green quandry: my new car

  1. *Sigh* Another bus defector…

    OK, here’s my take on it as a 30-year-old who’s never owned a car and has managed to get away with it for so long.

    Firstly, addressing the provision of public transport in Hampshire. Undoubtedly, it could be better (particularly with regards to later-evening services and employing a flexible fare structure that would encourage people to switch if only on a casual basis) but it receives a small subsidy from county budgets and this decreases year-on-year. Given your journey is “village to village” I could argue you have a pretty good bus schedule for the potential level of usage along that route and it was a lifestyle choice to base yourself somewhere that has a reduced infrastructure meaning a dependency on a car is far more likely.

    If you’ll allow me to be smug for a minute or two, my current car-free arrangement works fine for me: I have a bus service (running hourly) to and from work whilst most things I need (supermarket, other shops, train station) are all within a few minutes walk. There are some things I miss out on by not having a car but that’s the compromise I’ve made here. I haven’t really done it to be green per say. More just because it’s the way I prefer to live. If that sounds a bit too smug, I don’t mean it that way, I certainly have no problem buying a car and driving if the circumstances require it (and some days I do feel like I need to get one)!

    As for the green question, I agree with your thinking the car sharing option would have been the greenest option. Unfortunately, given the way our working environment has evolved, it is becoming increasingly difficult to implement. We no longer ‘clock in’ at 9am and ‘clock out’ at 5pm. It’s highly unlikely now most people want to arrive or, more likely, leave at the same time. From my own experience, most of my meetings are between 4pm and 7pm and do not require me to be in the office so I am increasingly going home early, say 3pm, to take these calls from home.

    I’m not sure I follow your point about the bus when you took it not being especially green. As the ethical man says, the bus will run whether you are on there or not. So your contribution it could be argued is negligible. If you are referring to passenger numbers, remember there will be people who would have boarded and left before you got on and others will use it later. I find the comparison with cars here on cost per passenger mile here a little misleading. Buses and trains will be pretty much the same cost regardless of whether they are full or not. If all those passengers elected to drive instead you will see a multiple of each of the average car cost. Car ownership also encourages in increase of ‘unnecessary’ journeys because of the connivence of using it (Hey look, it’s right outside outside house ready to go 24 hrs a day!). You’ll probably end up doing a lot more things because of that flexibility you don’t have with public transport. Ultimately, we’ve convinced ourselves that a car is a pre-requisite to fully participate within society and most are unwilling to compromise, green agenda or not.

    I hope that doesn’t sound too smug. I will buy a car one day. Perhaps. When I need it. 😉

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