The pandemic broke our car-less lifestyle

Christopher Johnson
3 min readDec 6, 2020

When I was in high school, I obsessed over car stats. Sports cars, that is. I kept a spreadsheet with a couple dozen of the top performing cars in production and would update it each year a model got an update. Years later, when I finally got my license, my mother was kind enough to play along and take me to test drive a few of the favorites. From an early age, I knew what thrilled me about cars — torque — and tight turns. But in balancing out broader needs for a car, especially with a family, I have ended up having more practical cars better suited for hauling things and people.

When we moved to San Francisco nearly a decade ago, we gave up having a car. It was part of the promise of a dense city with good public infrastructure and bikeability— a car isn’t that necessary. The progressive polities and tech startups also mean the city is an early adopter for transportation alternatives. For about 15 years, we’ve used Zipcar, and that was pretty essential to dealing with the daily kid commute needs for a few years. Then with Lyft, our public transportation usage declined and we still had remarkable mobility. I tend to prefer my bicycle for as much as possible and still do. It keeps me fit and gives me tons of mobility options. I love the car sharing models, as they take a very underutilized resource and make it more widely available. In recent years we have also adopted Turo and GetAround and now Lyft has electric bikes (rad!) and throw in the occasional car rental as needed.

But the dependence on third-party services also means we are subject to big changes in costs and uncertain availability. Zipcar per hour costs have gone up about 50% in the last five years (around $15/hr in the city now). Lyft rates have been rising for years too (drivers should get paid more), and with the pandemic, shared rides are not a thing anymore. A round-trip Lyft ride to the dentist about 3 miles away could now easily total over $30. Several other sharing models, like Turo, feature hefty fees from the app company that make a $30 rental for a day into a $60 rental. Again, if I just need to run a couple of errands, that adds quite a hefty added cost. Plus, I find myself spending an annoying amount of time navigating the different options on each different app to set up the transportation for a particular occasion.

Every couple years we look into options, run the numbers, and weigh the pros and cons of getting a car. While Zipcar includes insurance and gas, the other services do not, so insurance has become necessary even without owning a car. Between all the services, our monthly auto and transport spend is $350–600 (usually in the $450+ range).

This model of not owning a car has worked pretty well for the in-town travel for years, but where it is tough is for getting out of town. Those options are more expensive and don’t lend themselves to spontaneity (aka “ahhh…I’ve had enough! Get me into the woods now!). So ultimately, the pandemic has broken our lifestyle of not getting our own car. The need for our outdoor time (which means getting out of the city) has been the last straw in making the decision.

In talking with my wife, I realized that it has been over 13 years since we last acquired a car. And while I occasionally check out the models and options, I’m out of the loop and think most cars look the same. Zipcar has been handy to try out a variety of cars, but what I’ve concluded from that is that most cars are underwhelming and with very confusing interface screens. On top of that, I would like to never own an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) car again, if possible. As with any decision, I would be making a variety of tradeoffs in selecting a car. I would rather settle those tradeoffs in an electric car. And so the journey of electric car began!

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Christopher Johnson

Christopher is a force multiplier called to accelerate the deployment and adoption of climate tech solutions at massive scale, and this blog shares the journey.