Is it practical to live without a car? Could someone looking to live a thrifty FIRE lifestyle make a massive cut in their expenses by surviving only on the public transportation network?
In my opinion a functional effective and comprehensive public transportation system is an important part of any “Top Tier” city. It provides actual as well as social mobility and helps to regenerate downtrodden parts of the city. Portland is blessed with an effective system, Houston unfortunately was not.
Houston is the only city I have ever visited where people thought their house prices would *decline* by having a light rail line close to their neighborhood. Parts of Houston and the suburbs had zero access to even a bus line. I don’t think Houston can ever consider itself a world class city until it has a more enlightened view of public transport.
Portland is totally 180 degrees from this view, and has had a deliberate policy for at least the last 40 years of funneling transportation funds into bus, trains and street cars. This does mean that the roads can get quite congested, but it does push more people onto the metro system.
The biggest issue with using public transport is of course that the trip will almost certain take longer than driving. I’m taking my son to school on the bus and light rail this week, this is usually a 25 minute drive, but on the bus it takes an hour and involves a change which will be no fun in the middle of winter.
As a retired person the extra time is less of an issue, however 4 hours on the bus every day would be challenging if done everyday. If I was commuting for work though I would definitely do it.
The other main advantage of using public transport is that it is a lot less stressful being able to read a book on the way to work than being stuck in traffic.
The other thing to consider is obviously cost. A day pass on Portland Metro is $5 for me and $2.50 for my son. So getting to school and back would set us back $7.50. The trip would probably use about a gallon of gas a day which at current prices is about $3. However of course the metro passes can be used for other trips during the day.
Another innovation here that I like is there are no yellow school buses for high school students, they all get a free transit pass and are encouraged to take public transport to and from school. They can also use this at the weekend to meet up with friends without relying on the taxi of mum and dad.
In general I think in the right city it is possible to live without a car. Portland also has a good supply of day rental zip cars for travelling out of town; also a comprehensive set of dedicated bike lanes. An annual pass in Portland is $1100, which is probably more than most people spend on gas for their car (or cars, its rare for families to have only one vehicle) let alone the actual cost of the car plus insurance and upkeep!
Using public transport (or cycling) can be great way to boost your savings rate but it is clearly dependent on family circumstances and location.