Monday, 30 April 2012

Living Car Free in Scotland - Why We Do It.

It's not a typo. As a family we live car free in Scotland - and it's hard, but surprisingly doable. 

In this post (that I've been thinking of writing for a while) I'll outline why we live car free. In later posts I'll go onto the pros and cons and some tips you can use wherever you live if you're thinking of going car free or are just thinking of laying off using the car as much.

Why we're car free.

Neither of us have a driving licence. In the UK (of which Scotland is a part of) you're legally allowed to drive a car when you turn 17, provided you have a valid driving licence, have taken enough lessons and passed a theory (written) and practical driving test. That is expensive to do and none of our schools offer drivers education classes like they do in certain other parts of the world - and while we're on that subject, I'm perplexed as to why they don't offer it.

Before you've even purchased a car, insured yourself, MOT'd yourself etc you have to make a commitment to paying several hundreds (perhaps thousands) of of pounds (£'s) before you even step into a car. Now, unless daddy or mummy's bank balance is going to pay for all that then most 17 year old's like me and Bryan never would have been able to afford that nonsense. I never had a regular job, for a start, so it wouldn't have been possible for me at that age. My brother was on a mission and my sister was at university plus I know better than to ask for any kind of hand out from my parents - I don't like doing it and I won't be caught doing it if it can be helped. I mention that just in case anyone is thinking 'why didn't you parents just pay for it, then?' Well they weren't made of money, they had other obligations, these things can run into the thousands and I'm the sort of girl who will be very reluctant to take money from my parents. I struggled with the fact that my dad gave me money to pay for my wedding because I wanted to do it myself, which would have been okay but I would have had to scale back a lot and our wedding was probably the most red neck style wedding as it was so it would have looked like something from the Creek* if my pocket book had been the only thing funding it.

So what are the costs involved, exactly?

Provisional lience (that you must get before sitting the theory test) - £50 
Theory test - £31 ($50)
Practical test - £62 ($100) (weekday price) £75 ($121) (weekday evening, bank holiday and weekend price)

If you fail these tests you have to take them again, at the full cost. No discounts are given and when you don't book through the official website, you can be charged more. 

I've seen driving lessons average out at anywhere between £9 ($15) per hour (usually in big cities) to anywhere up to £20 ($32) an hour (in our area, this is what it costs.) Depending on the driving instructor and your own abilities in picking up driving you might take anywhere between 15-29 lessons. If that were me or Bryan taking lessons it would total up to £300-580 ($485-939.) 

So before even having a driving licence in our hands we'd have paid out a total of anywhere between £443-723 ($716-1,170.) It starts running into the thousands when you fail any of the two tests along the way. I've met many people who become discouraged after their first failed attempt and then just give up for years - if you leave two years in between passing the theory test but not getting a full driving licence then you have to re-sit the test again, with whatever price the government has decided to inflate it to. 

Also, this information is assuming you'd take anywhere between 15-29 lessons, take your test on a weekday and pass the first time on both tests. Most people that I know take over the 29 lessons, with only a handful passing the first time and definitely only a minority taking less than 10 lessons until they are ready to sit a practical driving test - which is notoriously stressful and bureaucratic; the driving test has 'major' and 'minor' fails.

On top of this, there's the running costs involved in a car. There's noway we could buy a car for thousands of pounds - I'm not going into debt for a new car or anything other than a house (which isn't really debt) or education (which is a 'better debt' in Scotland.) So we'd buy something second hand. Based on those who buy second hand, we're still talking anywhere between £500 right up to £3,000. By the time we've been taken to the cleaners with the costs of getting our licence (only one of us would learn until we passed) we'd have to look on the lower end of the second hand car market (and that's after saving for a year or two.) 

Before our car is even on the road we have to think about insurance and general repairs - as well as MOT fees - an MOT is a 'test' to check your car meets safety and environmental standards, with fines if you don't have a car MOT'd. At this point I don't know what our insurance would be, nor do I know MOT fees and for general repairs any smart person (who runs their family like a business the way I do. Ha!) would have a fund for this. I learned from my parents who had to shift things around financially when our family car exhaust blew up - always save for a rainy day and always have a back-up fund. 

Our main driver (excuse the pun) in living car-free are all the above costs. There is also the fact that the UK driving test is notoriously difficult. There are a few lucky people I know who have passed first time but a majority of people pass their test the second, third or fifth time. It doesn't measure what you know, it measures what you remember and then it depends on your anxiety on the day. 

Life that is car-free and toddler filled can be stressful but what is more stressful is not being able to provide for Roman. More on that next time, though ;). For now, these are the reasons why we live car free for now. And it's not because we're environmentalists or because we think we're better than anyone. The costs of it all seem crazy and to us, as a family, it's a 'want' rather than a 'need.' I know every family and every circumstance is different, but that's how it is for us.

*It's a fictional place me and my aunt made up where dirt poor people live.