Skip to main content

Car-Free by Choice

When I move to Arlington,Virginia next week I will be car-free... "by choice"! (cue dramatic and scary music). A few people have already commented on my decision to be car-free "by choice" so I want to really dig into what this actually means.

(from Flickr user superciliousness)

On the surface, it's simple. Being car-free "by choice" means that, given my income, I could probably afford to buy, license, fuel, maintain, park, and insure my own vehicle; but I'm not anyway.

The reality is much less cut-and-dry. As fellow blogger Patrick occasionally points out over at Walkable DFW, there are two ways of thinking about this question, and both depend entirely on context.

On the one hand, a person could say something like, "I sold my car and now I have lots of extra money and I can afford an awesome uptown/downtown apartment. Awesome!" Or, on the flip side, a person could say, "I can't afford an uptown/downtown apartment, they are very expensive. So I found a place out in the suburbs, but it's OK, since I own a car I can drive to all the places I need to go anyway."

In both instances, the question of "affordability" is raised. In the first case, the person can't afford to own a car but has a great apartment in a great walkable location. In the second case, the person can't afford a sweet apartment, but has a car. Both of these people have made some sort of sacrifice; but it's typically the guy with the sweet apartment and no car that people pity. He is the guy who is seen as car-free "by choice" for some sort of ideological reason; even if the reason is highly practical.

The cookie-cutter advice I've gotten from "financial planning professionals" is that you shouldn't spend more than 33% of your after-tax income on housing. That means that if I hypothetically earn $40,000 per year, after tax I might have about $30,000 and the max I should spend on rent per month is $825. In a city like Arlington or Washington, this isn't enough to get you a place in most of the desirable neighborhoods. But it's also misleading, because it assumes I'm also paying to own a car. If I'm not, then I have a decent chunk of change left-over. Why shouldn't I spend that on housing?

The way we should think about this question is to determine a person's combined housing + transportation costs and then say that maybe they shouldn't spend more than 45% of after-tax income on that basket. When that's the case, I can afford to spend a lot more on housing so long as I can keep my transportation costs to a minimum. In fact, that's exactly what I plan to do. Why is that so crazy?

Comments

Anonymous said…
Actually, I've heard it's common advice that if you don't have a car and/or can make the argument that living in a certain location enables you to spend less on transportation, the recommended maximum percentage of your income to spend on housing is more like 50%.
Anonymous said…
While this is a fine choice for you, and the world would often be better if people recognized choices as choices....

You are not really "car free". You are just not personally buying one. The police, fire department, food transport, utility crews, and so forth who all make your apartments habitable will all use "cars" of one kind or another.

This does NOT reduce the merit of your choice - just don't have any illusions about it. It's efficient and cheap and those are GOOD. What's more, walking and riding are good for your health. (Both are also cheap.)

Popular posts from this blog

In Praise of Southwest's 'C' Boarding Group

A few weeks ago I saw a tweet from someone complaining that their Southwest Airlines boarding pass had been assigned A20 (meaning they would be at least one of the first twenty passengers to board the plane). Apparently this person though they should have been assigned a higher number, less their flight experience be considerably spoiled.

Despite the complaints, Southwest has resisted demands to assign seats on its flights, a decision which I personally applaud. I'll admit that I was skeptical when they rolled out the newest boarding procedure, assigning both boarding groups and a line number; but in hindsight it seems like one of the best operational decisions they've ever made. If nothing else, it effectively eliminated the infamous "cattle call" whereby fliers were getting to airports hours in advance and sitting in line on the floor as if they were waiting for the midnight showing of the new Star Wars movie.

When I was an intern at Southwest Airlines last winter, I…

So You Want to be a Southwest Airlines Intern?

My personal website must have pretty decent SEO - because in the past year, I've received about two dozen emails from aspiring Southwest Airlines interns looking to draw on my experience in search of their own dream internship. In the past two weeks alone a few new emails have already started rolling in...

(from flickr user San Diego Shooter)

If you've found your way here, you might be hoping for the silver bullet; a secret tip that will propel you above the competition. Unfortunately, I do not know any inside secrets. I can only share my experience as an internship candidate about two years ago and, rather than responding individually to future emails I anticipate to receive, I hope that potential interns will find the information posted here valuable.

Understand: Southwest Airlines is a very unique company. The corporate culture at Southwest is truly unlike that of nearly every other company. But you probably already knew that, since it now seems mandatory for every management,…

Good Advertising

The blogosphere seems to be one fire over Microsoft's new "Lauren" TV commercial. Frankly, I don't see what the commotion is about.



If the critics are correct, then "Lauren" is actually Lauren De Long, a Screen Actors Guild eligible actress; and apparently, if you look close enough, she never even enters the Apple store.

Even if all of that is true, it doesn't refute the fact that Apple's laptops are significantly more expensive than most PCs. It isn't a lie that Apple doesn't sell any 17-inch laptops for less than a grand. The advertisement doesn't make any reference to the quality of the machines (or contest any of the claims made in Apple's "I'm a PC" commercials) or provide any good reason to buy one other than price.

As far as I can tell, after years of horrible commercials and a series of flops, Microsoft seems to finally have hired an ad agency that put together a decent advertisement. It's not likely to persuad…