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Hitting the brakes: How I survived a month with no driving

April Knutson traveled by bike a total of 54.4 miles while not driving during the month of August. Special to The Forum1 / 2
People enter and exit buses at the Metro Area Transit in downtown Fargo on Monday. Jay Pickthorn / The Forum2 / 2

During my 31-day No Drive Challenge, I discovered distance is both a relative and concrete term we use to create our cities and daily schedules.

To discover how to live car-less, I researched alternative routes of transportation through public transit, area bike paths, ride shares and walkable routes. (Read the steps I took to live car-less at aprilknutson.areavoices.com.)

Living car-less is not carefree. It does, however, add unexpected contributions and challenges to a daily schedule.

After documenting daily travel throughout August, little discoveries shed light on how it might work for others to go without a car.

"Did you actually save money?"

While living car-less, I saved and spent money in surprising ways.

To prepare for the month without a car, I purchased items that would allow me to commute on a daily basis without a car, including a discounted 30-day unlimited MATBUS pass for $22.50 and a biker helmet for $42. (I had purchased a secondhand bike early in the summer.)

MATBUS continues to offer discounted bus passes to many downtown businesses so employees can take alternative routes to reduce parking congestion.

"We offer the 30-day unlimited bus passes — usually $40 — discounted to employees of various downtown businesses as well as some of the larger employers in the metro area," says Julie Bommelman, Fargo's transit director at MATBUS.

As I reached the second week of August, I noticed that my daily commute would tempt me to spend money in different ways. As I cycled by coffee shops or downtown boutiques, I felt keen to elongate my commute, take a break and treat myself to coffee. I budgeted another $25 for the month for these extra costs.

I paid for a Lyft ride once after disembarking at the wrong bus stop in south Fargo on my way to a hair appointment near 52nd Avenue. I had already rescheduled this appointment twice, so I decided to take a Lyft ride for $12.27.

In total to live car-less, I spent $59.77.

To see what I would've spent to operate my vehicle — a 2008 Volkswagon Beetle — during the month of August, I added the total cost for gas ($97.63), maintenance fees ($18.67) insurance ($28.55) and my monthly auto loan payment ($59).

In all, I would've spent $203.85 to drive my car.

Because I have not chosen to sell my car, during No Drive Month I saved a total of $56.53. (The payments to the auto loan and insurance continued.)

As I went without my car during August, I understood Chad Johnson's point of view. The north Fargo resident has been living without a car for more than 15 years.

"Once gas prices went up, it ended up being cheaper to not drive," he says. "So with that, I never really used my car. It seemed a waste of money to continue paying for something I didn't use that often."

"Was it time-consuming to travel?"

Most of the time, it did take longer to travel without a car, but this obstacle may be due to my initial novice status with bike and bus routes. Here is a comparison of my frequently-used modes of travel.

• Using MATBUS' Route 14, I traveled to work by boarding the bus at the K-Mart shelter near University and disembarking at Ground Transportation Center near Fifth Street and Northern Pacific Avenue. Travel time was approximately 34 minutes during rush hours like 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

• Using bike paths on Ninth Street South and historic Eighth Street South, I spent approximately 25 minutes traveling to work from my apartment building in the Lincoln Neighborhood behind The Bowler (2630 S. University Dr., Fargo).

• When I caught a ride with a family member or friend, it usually took around 20 minutes. Often I had to wait to leave when his or her scheduled dictated.

"Was it stressful to travel?"

Week by week, it took both less time and energy to figure out how and when I would travel to my daily appointments. But three observations kept me motivated to finish the month.

• Having lived in Fargo for almost 10 years, I was able to quickly discern the fastest routes through recognizable streets. If I was new to the area, it would have taken much longer to plan daily commutes.

• MATBUS' new website — unveiled during August — is useful in quickly learning about route changes and timetables.

• Choosing to live car-less is much easier for me as a young, unmarried woman than it would be for a family who may have juggle multiple schedules.

New challenges arose, testing my flexibility, resourcefulness and general knowledge of the area. Here are just three situations that occurred on a weekly basis.

• Taking a bus became a challenge when I had plans to visit my sister in West Fargo. It seemed the farther I got away from downtown Fargo, the more time I had to wait at bus stops.

• Numerous times, I added time to my commute by adjusting my bike seat before starting my 3- to 4-mile bike ride. Biking is easy but investing in the right equipment is necessary.

• Fashion choices become more mindful than trendy. High heels, long sweaters or dresses stayed in my closet during most of the month. I carried an extra pair of shoes a couple days when I biked, but this practice ended promptly when I decided it was time to carry less stuff. Instead, every morning I asked myself, "Will I be comfortable in this outfit during the day's weather and schedule?"

"Are you going to continue to live without a car?"

In short, no. In the future, this is a possibility, but right now I choose to rely on mixed-use transportation as I adjust incrementally to using my car less, saving more money and reducing stress.

Read more about why I chose to consider a brief lifestyle shift on aprilknutson.areavoices.com.

Living car-less allows any person to consider the time, energy and money spent on daily travel.

Stats from the month

Using the "Daily Transportation Tracking Worksheet" I recorded each day's total miles traveled. Here are some quick statistics from my No Drive Month:

Walking miles traveled:

• Average: 2 miles per day

• Maximum: 7 miles per day

• Minimum: 1 mile per day

• Total: 62 miles

MATBUS

• Average: 6.8 miles per day

• Maximum: 22 miles per day

• Minimum: 3.2 miles per day

• Total: 61.2 miles

Biking

• Average: 4.5 miles per day

• Maximum: 8 miles per day

• Minimum: 2 miles per day

• Total: 54.4 miles

Carpooling*

• Average: 28.8 miles per day

• Maximum: 235.2 miles per day

• Minimum: 4 miles per day

• Total: 670 miles

Combined transportation miles traveled:

• Average: 27.4 miles per day

• Maximum: 242 miles per day

• Minimum: 3 miles per day

• Total: 847.50 miles

*Miles traveled by Lyft (7.4) were added to this total. Carpool miles were affected by such outliers as the Bruno Mars concert at the Fargodome (Aug. 4), a bachelorette trip to Minneapolis (Aug. 12-13) and the Ween concert at Bluestem Amphitheater (Aug. 31).

BREAKOUT

To quickly estimate your monthly car cost without completing a No Drive Month, use the Total monthly car cost calculator on Nerdwallet.com.

Download your own No Drive Month Transportation Expenses Worksheet PDF at aprilknutson.areavoices.com.

April Knutson

April Knutson is lifestyle-focused journalist producing stories for the Forum News Service about people, health, community issues and services. She earned her degree in both English Literature and Mass Communications. After working as digital marketing specialist and web design consultant for a few years, she joined Forum Communications in 2015. She grew on farm near Volga, S.D. Follow her on Twitter @april_knutson.

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