People go car free for many reasons –– climate, savings, lifestyle. For Chris Balish, Metro’s Director of Internal Communications, the decision was accidental. Read on to learn how trading in his SUV led to a book contract and a new career.
By Chris Balish
I’m living proof that even hard-core car lovers can change their ways and go car free – to the enormous benefit of their bank account, their health and their quality of life.
Before I moved to the Los Angeles area, I was living in St. Louis and working full-time as a TV news anchor for KSDK, the local NBC affiliate.
Back then I was driving a shiny new Toyota Sequoia with a big V8 engine and enough seats to fit all my friends. It was expensive, but I thought my status as a TV news anchorman necessitated an impressive ride and a flashy image. So I paid the price.
I was addicted to my car. I drove about 15,000 miles a year. I drove to work, to the supermarket, to the big box stores, to the dry cleaner, to the gym, and about twice a week to the gas station. Whenever I needed anything, I just hopped in the SUV and sped my way there.
But every time gas prices shot up, I felt acute pain in my wallet. The huge V8 engine in the Sequoia guzzled fuel so fast I thought there must be a leak in the gas tank (there wasn’t). I decided to sell the SUV and downsize to something smaller and more fuel efficient. I was astonished when the very first person who came to look at my Sequoia purchased it on the spot.
For the first time in my adult life, I was without a car. I was terrified!
How would I get to work?
How would I get to the store?
Would I die of starvation?
What would become of me?
I got on the computer and typed the words “public transit” and “St. Louis” into Google. The first website that came up was MetroStLouis.org. I clicked and landed at the home page of the mass transit system for the greater St. Louis area.
That Sunday, I went for a trial run to see if I could get to work on the St. Louis Metro. Sure enough, it was simple, easy, convenient, air-conditioned, clean, safe, and on time. Plus, I brought a book with me and read it during the trip.
Over the next few weeks, I rode the metro to work every day.
Secretly, I was enjoying this car free experiment. But I told all my friends I was still shopping for a car. Truth is, every time I saw a TV commercial showing a sexy sports car zooming down a deserted highway, I felt the lure of car ownership beckon.
When I got my next bank statement, however, my entire outlook on cars changed. My balance was $800 higher than I had expected.
Sure enough, that $800 was the same amount I had been spending on my car every month. I discovered a universal truth: every car – from luxury sedans to subcompacts, new or used – comes bundled with dozens and dozens of different expenses that siphon cash from your wallet faster than you can say “late fee.”
I was saving a lot of money just by going car free. I began to invest. I became debt-free. I also noticed I had more free time. I found it easier to relax. I was sleeping better. I had lost 15 pounds because I had so much free time, I learned to cook healthy meals at home, and I rarely ever ate fast food. I made new friends on my commute. And I was getting work done during my commute.
With so many advantages to not owning a car, I kept postponing the purchase of a new one. Until one day I realized, I don’t want to own another car.
I began reaching out to other car-free people and saw that they were loving it as much as I was. I decided to write a book about how to live without a car to inspire others to save money and help save the planet. I spent six months writing every night after work, and my book was published by Ten Speed Press in 2006. I spent the next year promoting the book and car-free living on news media such as NBC’s Today show, NPR Morning Edition, Newsweek, Forbes, and The New York Times.
Years later, I was thrilled when the opportunity came up to work for Metro because I am a true believer in public transportation. I walked into the interview with a copy of my book in my hand. The rest, as they say, is history.
Looking for tips on living your best life without a car? Grab a copy of Chris’s book here!
Categories: Transportation News