Changes in car use

IdeasGroupHeaderwritten by Beth Mylius

Peter Newman in an article Peak Car Use: Understanding the Demise of Automobile Dependence* lists four reasons for this:

  1. technological limits set by the inability of cars to continue causing urban sprawl within travel time budgets,
  2. the rapid growth in transit and re-urbanisation which combine to cause exponential declines in car use;
  3. the reduction of car use by older people in cities and amongst younger people due to the emerging culture of urbanism;
  4. and the growth in the price of fuel which underlies all of the above factors.

In considering the changes in car use I have focussed on the third reason – the reduction of car use by older people in cities and amongst younger people due to the emerging culture of urbanism.

At a public meeting arranged by Sustainable Commnunities SA three years ago Peter Newman outlined the reduction of use by younger people in cities who are choosing to not own a car.**

In this article I will focus on the changing use by older people with four stories from members of SCSA who have made significant changes. Perhaps we can all reflect whether any of these examples are ones we could follow. And if not, why?

Mij wrote:

When we first sold our car, we both found it hard to adjust to the new reality. We used GoGet a lot, and went through our first $1,000 in about 6 months, I seem to remember. Gradually, though, we adapted to using buses and the free city tram. I also still ride my bike a lot, and Sue does a lot of walking. (The joys of living in the inner city).

These days we rarely use GoGet – the occasional (3-day) long trip, where the deal is really good – low hire rates and the 1st 150 km free. For us, this is the best use of GoGet.

For most of the time, we’re both very glad we don’t own a car. Bus, tram and train trips are fine. Tom and his family live at Banksia Park, so we get to travel the O-Bahn and enjoy the scenery. Emma and family live at Daw Park, and we can catch the bus there at the end of the street.

So, overall, we’re really happy to be carless!

Monica wrote:

I first thought about hiring out my car as I looked at my finances with retiring from work. At work I get paid mileage of 76cents per km for kilometres travelled in the course of my work. This added up to a considerable sum which helped with car expenses. Outside of work I try to minimise my car use by riding my push bike or using public transport or sharing cars by travelling with friends. There are some things I need to use a car for eg caring for a friend, carrying goods beyond food shopping and longer distance trips.

With retirement I thought I could hire out the car so I am again sharing it. I offered it on LETS (Local Exchange Trading Scheme) and have had one hire, very successfully with interstate visitors visiting an elderly mother. They paid 75 units per km. in their generosity they also paid petrol as they had it for 2 weeks. We noted all scratches on the car so that we were clear of the state of the car when they picked it up, along with the odometer reading. If they had a crash we agreed that they would pay the $400 excess and my comprehensive insurance would cover the rest.

I have hired Nadia’s car for 3 days when my car was being repaired and I needed a car for work using LETS units. I also lend my car to friends when I am flying interstate as they gave up having a car when they moved into the city. They drop me at the airport and pick me up when I return. It works like a valet system for me.

To cover insurance questions I contacted my car insurer and they told me that their company has an open driver policy meaning any licensed driver who has not been denied insurance in the last 5 years is covered by my insurance with my regular excess. People under 25 years of age will have a higher excess.

I have had interest from other friends who live close by and who have given up car use. They aren’t in LETS so we will make a financial arrangement. This will help with being able to afford the car in my retirement.

Peter wrote:

The death of the car.

Fiona and I moved into the Adelaide Square Mile in 2007. Immediately our 2002 Peugeot 206 use declined significantly. However our daughter who lives in Adelaide has not owned a car between then and now and she became a relatively frequent user of the car. It was comfortably shared by 3 adults. Retaining the car was convenient. They’re seductive.

But (so many buts…), we have a tram stop 100 metres away – and free tram in the city. The Free City Connector buses stop even closer to our front door, and Go Get closer still – if ever we decide we need to join. All the work I’ve done since 2007 has been city based. Fiona travels outside the city more often, but she uses her cycle with bus back up now. Almost all the services we need and the entertainments we enjoy are in the city. To retain some healthy fitness we walk or ride almost everywhere we want to or need to go.

But wait there’s more…we are seniors, so public transport seldom costs us anything, and there’s a fancy phone app which gets taxis to the door effortlessly. There’s a hire car company near the end of the Frome Street Bikeway. Then along came the divestment movement. We got out of the Commonwealth Bank and Origin Energy, so why not the fossil fuel consuming car too?

In 2012 I worked out that the all up costs (purchase price, insurance and rego, service and repairs, emergency assist) of our car was $310 a month plus petrol. So, we have $300 a month to spend on our car substitute mobility. Will we ever get there? At the end of our first month we spent $ 115.44. Maybe I’ll buy a second cycle, perhaps an e-assist cycle!

Living and working in the city means a car is mostly an idle non necessity and a waste of space.

John and Chris wrote:

Nearly five years ago, John swerved to miss a roo and wrecked the car. We decided to take up the challenge to be car free. Interestingly, our friends kept at us with “When are you going to get a car?” It was like they were feeling guilty if we could do without. Now though, they say they envy us – stating less stress, cost and more freedom. Our car free way of life means we are fitter, riding and walking to the shops and bus stops. We see more around us and get to know more of our neighbours and talk to strangers on the bus. When we need a car, we hire one. This way we don’t have a car wasting away in the driveway all week – we never drove it to work – much more economical and more fun all round.

It should be noted that two of these stories are from people who live in the city with good access to public transport and with the capacity to ride bicycles. The other two stories are from people who live in inner suburbs of Adelaide and have the capacity to walk and ride bicycles and use public transport. The crucial issue that arises from this paper is the need for a better public transport system which may be the topic of a future paper.


* Newman & Kenworthy. 2011. Peak Car Use: Understanding the Demise of Automobile Dependence. World Transport Policy and Practice. Vol. 17.2.

** Peter Newman: Public Meeting Powerpoint Slides can be downloaded from




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