Doing without wheels: Local young adults say it's easier than some might think
Petoskey resident Michael Mann walks in front of his workplace, The Grain Train Natural Foods Market. Mann has lived without a car of his own for much of the time since 2004, and said he's largely content with the choice. (Ryan Bentley/News-Review / April 2, 2013)
The 28-year-old Petoskey resident decided to try and live for a year without a motor vehicle of her own.
“It’s a big money commitment, and when I live in town I was having a hard time justifying getting a new one right away,” she said.
Several national media reports recently have noted that more and more younger U.S. adults make do without a car of their own. A September 2012 CNNMoney article cited statistics from car shopping website Edmunds.com indicating that buyers ages 18-34 accounted for a 30 percent smaller share of new-car purchases than they did five years earlier.
CNNMoney noted several possible explanations for the national trend. The economy — having recently emerged from a recession that hit young adults particularly hard — is one. A shift in the population back toward urban centers — where public transportation options are more plentiful — is another, with some observers concluding that the rise of social media has made it easier to interact with friends without motorized travel.
Some might see major cities, where rail and bus services are more common, as the easiest places to live on one’s own without an automobile. But three Petoskey residents recently interviewed by the News-Review noted that they’ve managed to do so in a small-town environment, with the occasional help of car-owning friends or family who live nearby.
A walkable scale
Turner, whose one-year challenge period concluded in late February, said the experience has “actually been fairly easy.”
Living within walking distance of her workplace, nonprofit organization Freshwater Future, Turner said she’s primarily been traveling on foot, but sometimes rides her bicycle in warmer weather.
With parents living locally, she said she’s been able to coordinate schedules and borrow a car from them — typically several times a month — for longer-distance travel needs, and accompanied her mother on grocery-shopping trips. Friends occasionally have provided rides, with Turner’s employer typically arranging car rentals for longer work-related trips.
Even so, “I am starting to look for a car now,” she said. “I think it just will allow me more freedom, especially making it to doctor’s appointments or veterinary appointments (for her dog).”
At the same time, Turner said her experience has changed her sense of when car travel is necessary. When she acquires another vehicle, she said she plans to use it mainly for longer-distance trips or when she needs to transport cargo.
Having lived in Petoskey for six years — the first two of those on campus at North Central Michigan College — 24-year-old Amanda Kitchen has yet to have a car of her own, noting that it’s something that hasn’t fit easily into her budget.
Currently living on the city’s west side, she’s relied on foot travel and occasional bike rides to reach most of her typical destinations. She said the walks can be enjoyable at times — especially along the scenic trails of Petoskey’s Bear River Valley Recreation Area — although the time it consumes and the area’s cold winters can sometimes make this type of travel challenging.
Kitchen’s last job — as assistant manager at a local cafe — was eliminated late last year when the business closed. She’s now considering several possible next steps — finding another local job, taking more classes at North Central, or perhaps both.
While she can sometimes borrow a car from her father or turn to her boyfriend for a ride, Kitchen said she hopes to reach a point when car ownership will be financially feasible.
“Sometime, I’d like to have the responsibility of the car and the freedom to go where I want,” she said.
Embracing the life
For another Petoskey resident, 31-year-old Michael Mann, doing without a car is something that began because of financial circumstances — but then became more of a personal preference.