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Considering ditching a car? Lessons from a one-car family

(AP file photo)

This week’s traffic nightmares from the snow and I-5 closure had a lot of people simply abandoning their cars.

One Seattle based tech-writer and his lifelong two-car family did just that.

It was an idea born out of frustration and heartbreak. Frank Catalano’s beloved Volkswagen Golf turned out to be one of those emissions cheater cars that got the company in so much trouble and VW was buying them back.

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“It was an absolute betrayal,” Catalano said. “It’s as though the person who I’d been going out with for four years was suddenly to announce that they had been married all the time to someone on Mars. It was such a shock to me.”

Even more shocking was the fact that thanks to Volkswagen’s emissions system cheat, the car he thought was clean was actually spewing up to 40 times the amount of nitrous oxide allowed into the air.

“As a child, I had very bad asthma, which is triggered by nitrous oxide,” Catalano explained. “So I couldn’t help but think that the car I had bought in my mid-life was trying to conspire to go back and kill my childhood self.”

But it also gave him an idea. He’d heard so much about ride and car sharing, and like many of us, is paying through the nose for Sound Transit.

So he decided to launch a grand experiment. He’d sell the VW, and he and his wife would try to live with just one car.

Living in Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood, he figured it was worth a shot, even though his wife works on the Eastside.

With plenty of trepidation, he said goodbye to the car. He soon found it freeing and constraining at the same time.

He no longer had to worry about parking around downtown or finding a spot outside his townhouse. No gas. No maintenance.

“What was constraining was ‘Uh oh, my wife has the car today. How the heck am I going to get out of here if I want to just go get a coffee at Starbucks or just go to work out and it’s pouring down rain. How do I do that?'”

Catalano says for the first time in his adult, car-less life, he had to start planning for even the smallest things.

It meant giving himself extra time and thinking ahead about every trip out of the house, whether it was learning the bus schedule, giving himself extra time waiting for a Lyft or Uber, finding a Reach Now or Car2Go vehicle nearby, or checking the weather for a long walk where he might have driven otherwise.

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It was fine when everything went as planned, but there were several times when he got stuck. Most notably when the rideshare service Wingz stood him up for a trip to the airport, nearly keeping him from his flight.

“The biggest drawback or emergency was when the roof in my home office started leaking and I did not know how I was going to get things to quickly stop the leak,” Catalano said. “Then I remembered I had basically stocked up with stuff in my garage and was able to do it. But I think in that kind of a situation, I would have just called for a Lyft and gone to the nearest hardware store to get what I need.”

After 60 days, Catalano calls the experiment a success.

He’s found the cost savings worth some of the inconvenience. And they’ve decided to take the VW buyback money, get a new car, and continue going it with just one.

But he cautions that it’s not for everyone. He says there are a number of practical considerations.

“It helps to have no young children at home who have to be places at certain times,” Catalano said. “Second, it helps to have flexibility in your work hours. Either one of the two parties should be able to work from home or have someone able to shift time in their work day. I think the third thing is you have to be near some kind of mass transit. Lyft or Uber alone will not do it for you.”

He says for his family, it’s been a great way to scale back and simplify, even if it’s been a big adjustment

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