Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Save Time! Ditch the Car!

This is counterintuitive, but NOT having a car actually saves me time.

Yup. Sounds unbelievable, but there it is.

The main reason is that since I don't have a personal tractor sitting in my driveway, I can't indulge in spur-of-the-moment (and mostly time-wasting) trips. I am forced into planning every car journey. Of course, I can still get on my bike or walk somewhere at the drop of a hat, but somehow that doesn't have quite the same magnetic attraction as getting into a vehicle and buzzing off to...usually a store somewhere. So not only do I save time, I save money!

I work full time. Working moms everywhere can appreciate that an organized schedule is a necessity. So, my meal planning is done weekly, written on the fridge, so everyone knows what we're having and knows what those items in the fridge are for. "No, honey, you can't drink the whipping cream, that's for dessert on Tuesday!"

If we need big-ticket items from Home Depot, Lee Valley, Garden Works, or IKEA, plans have to be made in advance and Mistress Modo booked accordingly.

Admittedly, this took a while to get used to. Since shopping is not one of my hobbies - I prefer what I call "targeted hits", or better yet, online shopping - it actually didn't take me long to cotton on to the planning part. The problem was judging how long it would take to actually do the shopping (so as not to get into trouble with the car booking), and deciding which stores to patronize regularly (so we're not running all over town).

The latter was actually rather agonizing, because, in the end, I've settled on what some might see as the corporate evil that is SuperStore. The main reason is actually that they've got everything under one roof, and that the prices are reasonable (although I should really be adding the price of Modo to the groceries!), and the produce selection quite good. There's even some organic stuff on offer these days.

We do use other more local stores on a fairly regular basis for specialty items (most important: the liquor store!) but one does get into a habit. And that's not a bad thing, is it? I mean, I know now that it'll take me 45-60 mins to complete my weekly shopping spree at the MegaMart, and I know exactly what I can and can't get there. Efficiency!

We did try (a couple of times) one of those delivery services where you order a box of stuff online and it comes to your house, but it turns out I have a hard time with buying produce online. I apparently can't judge the quantities from a generic picture (how big is a bunch of broccoli? how many apples in a kg?). Plus I can't get everything I need from these places, so I end up having to go to a "real" store almost weekly anyways. Kind of destroys the purpose.

And you know, the hell that is MetroTown is only a 15 minute Skytrain ride away, so my teenagers can get there all by themselves.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Commute (car-free version)

I work on the North Shore, near the Park and Tilford shopping center, which is about halfway between Lonsdale Quay and the Second Narrows Bridge.

I've been commuting there for 7 years now. The week before I started I sussed out the best bike route and have been combining transit with biking on a daily basis.

I'm lucky in that over a dozen of my colleagues also commute by bicycle (no other women, though!), so our employer has been slowly improving the end-of-ride facilities: we now have a coverered and lockable bike shed (total cost to employer: a mere $1500) and showers (which we had anyways since we have a small manufacturing facility in our building). We don't have (yet) a towel service...dare to dream! Our company is not particularly eco-friendly - in general, the driving ethic here is "cheap". Note: I work for a HUGE international company. That makes BILLIONS of dollars.

Usually, I ride to and from Gilmore station, where I keep my bike overnight in a bike locker ($10/month). I Skytrain to and from my bike. Total commute time: 60 minutes, maximum, including 25 minutes of riding and 10 minutes of walking (no need to join a gym!).

On nice days I will ride the whole way, which is a great workout and takes me about an hour - so no faster or slower than using transit. The ride is partly along the new Central Valley Greenway - quite nice!

Finally, if I can't ride (ie. if it is below 0 - I won't ride if there is danger of ice), I can always use transit the whole way. This again takes about an hour.

I've never driven to work, so I don't know how long this would take. Probably a bit less time, but then, it can get quite congested on the bridge. There have been plenty of occasions where I bike past the traffic jam on the second narrows!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Divorce your car - then keep one as a mistress

Yes, there are times when I need a car. In fact, I need one quite regularly. But not every day.

I use a car to go shopping - a family of 4 with 2 hungry teenage boys requires more food than I can stuff in my bike panniers. So we're members of Modo, the entity formerly known as the Co-operative Auto Network. Modo's a locally owned and operated not-for-profit co-operative. And yes, they are self-sustaining - they don't rely on grants, gifts, or fundraising to keep afloat.

Modo allows you to rent a car for as short as 30 minutes. You pay by the hour and by the kilometer - insurance, gas, maintenance are all included in the price. You book online, and then go to the car to pick it up. All Modo members have an electronic fob which lets them into the car. You return the car to where you picked it up.

Modo has quite a few different models, including some minivans and even trucks. There's a Mazda 3 a short distance from our house, plus a Modo car at almost every SkyTrain station in New West and Burnaby. So if the one closest to us is booked, we've got alternatives. Apart from my weekly shopping trips, we've used Modo cars for weekend trips to Manning Park or further afield. Actually, renting a car from Enterprise or Avis for longer trips is a bit cheaper, but it's so much more convienient to be able to just walk down the hill and not have to do any paperwork - just fob in and drive off - that we've even used Modo for extended vacation rentals.

We've been members since 2003, when the first car appeared in New West. It works really well for us, we've not missed the clunker 1985 minivan we kicked to the curb the minute Modo came to town. I find owning a car to be more headache than it's worth...but then, I'm not the type who sees my car as personal road jewelery. For me, the thing is an expensive appliance.

So Modo's a good fit for us - and it saves us a LOT of money. I figure, for $3000/yr we've got the whole car thing covered. That's all included - gas, parking, insurance, cleaning, maintenance...for this, I get to drive a car that's less than 4 years old.

Hard to beat!