Managing As A One-Car Family In the Suburbs

We tried being a one-car family exactly four years ago.  Our Volkswagon Passat was ruined by water that got in through the vent system and turned our car into a moldy short-circuited mess before we noticed it. Back then, Jon and I both worked at MIT and the children were at the daycare on campus.  At that time we carpooled every day, the whole family rode in and out together and frequently we didn’t actually need a second car. Therefore, we tried living with one car.

Twins on the train

At first it was easy – we all enjoyed our commute together and we coordinated if one of us needed a car during the day, in the evening or on the weekend. Then the economy crashed and I lost my job.  We found that if I wanted to use a car during the day then I had to drive them in and take the car and then pick them up.  We were vaguely aware that there were bus and T (subway) options, but with 4 year-old twins who needed to go in, that seemed untenable, and frankly, during rush hour, simply impossible, especially because it would involve switching trains, if not buses and trains with two 4 year-olds.

While we were familiar then with Zipcar (a car sharing company), there were no locations near where we lived, so it wasn’t really a solution.  We found that with one car, our family was actually using *more gasoline* than if we had two cars.

That was right when the Camry hybrid was coming out.  We decided that we could stick it out a couple of months to be able to get a Camry Hybrid, but we realized that we’d be significantly saving gas once we had two cars again.  Weird, right?

Flash forward to October 2012.  Someone ran a red light and Jon crashed into them. Our Camry Hybrid was totalled.  Luckily no one was seriously hurt.  This time the situation is different.  Jon is still working at MIT,  but I work here in town.  The twins are in elementary school and Timmy is in daycare.  On days I work the twins are in separate afterschool programs.  Jon started researching current hybrids and I started looking at public transportation and carpooling.

The twins have always taken the school bus to school which has made things simpler for us and is better for the environment.  That didn’t have to change.

Camry Hybrid – Crashed

This caused me to realize that many of our friends have only one car here in the suburbs.  While we talk about being green, some of them lead very eco-friendly lives that push me to stretch a little further.  I talked to several families with children and one car to better understand how they manage. It turns out that we have an excellent bus system in the Boston area and many of the buses in our city head into Boston and to various T (subway) stations. There are apps, both for smart phones and text-based ones that will tell you when the next couple of buses are coming to help you plan your trip better.

We’ve tried a number of options this week:

Carpooling:  One morning Jon rode in with our neighbor.  They work a few blocks apart, so while they work different schedules,  carpooling isn’t actually that hard. Now that they’ve driven in together once, I hope they’ll do it more often, even when we all have working cars.

Bus to the Subway: Another day we dropped Timmy at daycare, then he caught the bus from right outside my office.  It was an easy ride to the T and then about a 45 minute ride into work.  Longer than he’s used to, but we’re at one end of the line, so he could at least get a seat.

Walking: On Wednesdays afterwork our whole family meets at church for community dinner before the kids have religious ed class. That day Jon dropped me at my office and Timmy at daycare on his way to work.  After work I walked over to pick Timmy up from daycare and take him to Community Dinner.  Jon picked up the other two kids on his way home, and we all met at dinner and could ride home together.    

Kids Carpooling: For a few of our afterschool activities we are starting to carpool as well.  Ellie wanted to help sort clothes for the clothing pantry this week, so I asked a friend and neighbor who I knew would be going to take her and bring her home. She was happy to do it!  Another neighbor had already agreed to drive her back and forth to choir afterschool once a week with her son, since they were driving already.  Even Timmy got in on the carpooling action this week.  While he’s pretty small for a carpool, his best friend lives nearby and goes to daycare with him.  Friday he thought it was a blast to ride home with them!  (They even had an extra carseat so we didn’t have to get them ours.)

While we are absolutely in the market for a new car, I’m hoping that we can continue to use several of these alternatives to driving frequently to cut down on our mileage.  30% of American’s carbon generation is from transportation.  If everyone cut down on just a few miles every week it would be a huge reduction in our green house gases.

Happy Greening,

You might like these:


  1. Wow, kudos for the effort and the experimenting!
    I’m a firm believer in carpooling: even though we’re less than 5 miles away from school we have a three-family carpool going in our immediate neighbourhood. For any unforeseen events, I’m shameless in begging rides for my kids (who have accepted that their mom is a mile-miser). And generous in offering rides if I know I have to go anyway.
    The longer you can stand to wait to buy your second car, the higher the fuel efficiency offered – now that CAFE rules start to kick in. Good thing. Please remember that just because it’s a hybrid, it’s not necessarily a good deal, carbon-wise (e.g. the Escalade hybrid does a miserly 20/23 mpg).
    It really is possible to do with even less than one car: there was a time when CelloDad and I were both working, and we shared our one car with my parents who lived a few blocks away. We just used our bikes a lot.

Leave a Reply to CelloMom Cancel reply


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.