One year in LA without a car and why it’s not for everyone (yet).

So today is our ‘one year in LA’ anniversary – it was 365 days a go that my wife and I landed at LAX from London with four suitcases and a lot of excitement. I must say that time has flown by and it’s been a huge amount of fun living here.

It was fairly early on in our stay that we decided to give car free a go. After renting a car for a month and not really using it, we decided to see how long we could go without owning one. My friend David gave us three months. I’m pleased to say that we are still living car free in what is perceived (mostly correctly) as an automobile-centric city. Catch up on some of my favourite things about being car free in LA. It is possible, people and we’ve been pretty active in going to see things, visit friends and explore the nooks and crannies of LA.

But, I still don’t think ditching the car is for everyone (yet). Here’s why.

You’ll need a smartphone, Uber and Lyft apps and a bank account.

Before leaving for the US we had been using Uber to get around London and have used it ever since we arrived in LA. I very much doubt our car free existence would be half as easy without Uber (and Lyft!). The current price war (Lyft is running at 50% discount as I write) is fantastic for the carless. But, you’ll need to be able to afford to run a smartphone and be able to pay with a credit/debit card. Not everyone has these.

We estimate that we’ve spent around $4000 on Uber/Lyft, transit and car rentals over the year. That’s got to be cheaper than owning a car and maintaining it, plus we never need to park (a total pain in LA).

Having no kids helps.

I don’t know how we’d cope if we had kids and needed to run them around to school etc.

You’ll need to embrace transit

To be fair, it’s really not that bad. I love the Metro – it’s so cheap ($1.75 a ride) and connects me to work in Downtown LA very quickly. There are a number of very useful apps out there which can help you with your trip planning, and the TAP card is great for quick and easy ticket payments. The LA Mobility Plan 2035 is a shining light in all of this – implementing it will be a challenge but will transform the city.

It helps to live (and be able to afford to live in) a walkable neighbourhood with lots of options

We live in Los Feliz and purposely rented an apartment close to the Metro rail line to Downtown LA and to all the stores we’d ever need. It’s less than a mile walk to the station and a 10 minute ride on the Metro. But, not everyone can have this luxury and the majority of LA still has very poor access to transit. It would be a different story living in the Valley, I think.

Biking is still a very risky commute option

I’ve tried commuting to work by bike, along Sunset Blvd. I won’t be doing it again. Too many distracted drivers and poor road layouts. CicLAvia is a fantastic event and really shows what is possible when roads are made car free, if only for a few hours – people have fun!

Renting a car is still a requirement

If you want to get anywhere of interest outside of LA, you’re going to need to rent a car. Or take a Zipcar, but that can be expensive.

So what needs to happen to make car-free a viable option to all?

  1. More high frequency and safe transit options from neighbourhoods to places of employment
  2. Cycling needs to become safer and quicker as a commute option. The weather is perfect, however!
  3. Families should be encouraged to ditch one of their cars. It’s possible.
  4. The Metro needs to feel safer. At the moment, due to the fact that stations are unmanned doesn’t help matters
  5. We need to work out how to integrate the ‘new’ with the ‘old’ to make journeys to and stations easier
  6. Payment for all modes via your smartphone is a no brainer
  7. Make it easy for the ‘unbanked’ to pay for these great new modes
  8. Drivers need to understand what it means to share the road with others

We’ve no plans to buy a car and I’m so exicted to see LA transform and become much more liveable.

If you want to know more about how to live car free, please feel free to get in touch!


2 thoughts on “One year in LA without a car and why it’s not for everyone (yet).

  1. Jose Escobar says:

    Thanks for your insight. I have a car, which has been paid off for over a year now. For the past 3.5 years I have driven my car to the nearest Metro Rail station and commuting by train to my job. It’s actually been pretty fun and I have gotten to see so much of LA that I wouldn’t otherwise see. Lately though, I’ve been ditching my car all together, and taking the bus to catch the train. The nearest bus stop is only 1 min away from my home. I’ve been trying this approach in order to get used to not having a car. But I admit I still find it convenient to own a car. My insurance is only 70 a month. Since I don’t drive as much, my gas bill isn’t high either. And maintenance is pretty easy, since I don’t drive often, i go longer without needing to maintain it.


    • Thanks Jose! I totally agree on the convenience element – I would actually like to have a small runaround for going to the mountains etc at the weekend, but we do find it super easy to rent a car (we have an rental place really close by). I’m hoping that organizations such as Car2Go will get more cars in our area, that will make life more easier.


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