Andrew Bibby


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Andrew Bibby is a professional writer and journalist, working as an independent consultant for a number of international and national organisations, and as a regular contributor to British national newspapers and magazines. He is also the author of a number of books.

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Doing without a car

This article by Andrew Bibby, in a slightly different form, was first published in The Observer, 2001

There is, according to Anna Semlyen, one very easy way to be quite a lot better off, and that is to stop running a car. "The environmental argument is strong, but not as strong as the financial one," she says. "People just don’t realise how much cars cost."

Anna Semlyen and her husband Jim went car-less four years ago, partly because they wanted to be greener but primarily to enable them to have more money for other things. They use cycles to get around York where they live, but also take taxis for other trips. They also hire cars for journeys over twenty miles when necessary. "It’s much cheaper to hire a car for a weekend than run one all the time. Jim and I do a juggling show, and we need to carry a lot of equipment," she says.

As well as the juggling work, Anna Semlyen has turned her experience of life without a car to good effect and now works as a transport consultant and author. She has just completed work for a revised edition of a book ‘Cutting Your Car Use’, due out this autumn, which offers practical advice to wean more people off their motors. As she points out, her aim is primarily to help people reduce their car use rather than necessarily giving up altogether. "I’m not saying that you should never get in a car ever again," she says.

Anna Semlyen’s main message, however, is that car-drivers rarely work out the real cost of their motoring. The temptation, she says, is to think simply of the petrol costs, and to assume that driving costs little more than 10p or so a mile. However the real cost of owning a car, she argues, is typically between £2500-£4500 a year. "Allow for tax, and you may have to earn £6000 a year extra just to have a car. A lot of people are working a day, a day and a half a week or more to keep their car."

In reality, motorists have no real excuse for their ignorance. Even the Inland Revenue is prepared to recognise that motoring costs money. Its current authorised mileage rates, which can be used for calculating tax savings on tax-allowable travel, are set at 40p a mile for cars with engines up to 1500 cc, 45p for cars up to two litres, and 63p for more powerful gas-guzzlers, for up to 4000 miles a year. (Thereafter the rates are set at 25p, 25p and 36p respectively).

However, the AA’s annual Motoring Costs calculation (available on request to its members) suggests that, not surprisingly, the Revenue is being cautious in its sums. The AA takes into account road tax, insurance, depreciation as well as breakdown cover subscriptions, and produces separate figures for petrol cars, diesels, and motorcycles. For example, for mid-market family cars running on petrol, the AA estimates the real cost of driving 5000 miles a year at £3810, or about 76p a mile. For 10,000 annual mileage, the cost is £5112, or about 51p a mile.

For motorists who want even more accurate information, motoring magazines offer specific calculations for each actual model of car. What Car?, for example, uses statistics calculated by Fleet Management Services, with costs per mile based on the expense of running a new car for the first three years of its life, and driving in that time a total of 36,000 miles. On this basis, a two-litre Ford Focus costs about 48p a mile, a 1800 cc Vauxhall Vectra hatchback between 42p and 53p, and a Landrover Discovery as much as 91p a mile.

For anyone who is still unconvinced, Anna Semlyen offers a D-I-Y alternative. She provides on request a free calculation sheet, Add Up Your Car Costs, with a series of blank boxes waiting to be completed. This results in a personalised figure of annual and weekly costs of running a car. She says that undertaking this exercise may help, among others, those families who have second cars sitting unused in their driveways for much of the week to reassess their priorities.

Ultimately, cutting down on car use means having more money for other things. "Some men have cars to try to attract women," Anna Semlyen says. "I would have thought that more meals out at restaurants would get them further."

Add Up Your Car Costs calculation sheet available from 24 Grange St, York YO10 4BH; include a SAE. Cutting Your Car Use, published Green Books, £4.95

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