Carless in Montreal: Owning vs Car-sharing

I am now officially carless for the first time in a long while. My lease expired recently and I decided to experiment to see how long I can go without. I am committing to at least 60 days and we’ll see how things go after that.

tl;dr There are many factors to consider but I think I will save the equivalent of ~$7k/year or ~$580/month by going carless. But it’s not all about money and your mileage WILL vary.

Rationale & Particulars

First, let me revisit why I am doing this. In order of importance, the four reasons are:

  1. A desire to simplify. Parking, maintenance, insurance, etc, consume some level of mental overhead and I think I would be better off not thinking about these things.
  2. A desire to reduce my personal burn-rate. I will write more about this in an upcoming post but the general gist is that I have recently started taking delight in finding ways to spend less money.
  3. A desire to move more. I am trying to incorporate more movement and activity in my lifestyle. Letting go of my car might encourage me to walk / bike more.
  4. A desire to reduce my ecological footprint. I find it wasteful to have a car sitting unused 90% of the time if I can avoid it.

Before we get into this, it’s important to note that everyone’s case is different. Here are the particulars of my situation:

  • My “commute” is a 2 km / 20 min walk from home to work
  • The closes metro station is a 1.5km / 15 min walk from home
  • I like to visit my parents once a week in a suburbs 30 km / 35 min drive from home (8 month a year when they are in town)
  • I like to go sailing once or twice a week at a marina 22 km / 30 min drive from home (3 months a year, weather permitting)
  • I go on an average of 5 weekend trips per year (400 km / 3 days each)
  • I live in a city where the average temperature is below 0°C (32 °F) for 5 months per year

Car Expenses

In the last 12 months, my car cost me about $12.8k between the lease, insurance, fuel, maintenance, winter tires, parking and parking tickets. 

In addition I spent about $1k on local Ubers. I use Uber when I go to the airport for trips longer than 3 days, when I want to go out without worrying about drinking and when I go downtown and don’t want to deal with expensive / annoying parking.

No-Car Expenses

Now that I don’t have a car, I will split my transport expense between Uber, Car2Go and traditional car rentals. 

As a side note, one of the hardest things about not having a car in Montreal is that we don’t have ZipCar. I was an avid user of the service when I lived in Geneva and Philadelphia and loved it. We do have Car2Go, which is an imperfect alternative (only 1 type of car, extremely expensive when a trip goes over a couple of hours, etc). We also have Communauto but they seem stuck in 2005 so I don’t think I’ll incorporate them in my transportation mix.

Based on my history and a pretty detailed forecasting exercise, I think I will spend about $6k/year.


The major caveats in all of the above are that a) it’ not all about money and b) your mileage WILL vary depending on the circumstances. 

I suspect that I am trading dollars for some major annoyances like renting a car for weekend trip vs driving out of my garage. Also, I am not comparing apples to apples since I was driving a relatively nice car (hence the high lease payments) and now I will be spending most of my time in lower-end UberX or Car2Go Smart cars. Finally, I don’t have kids and I suspect that once they come all of the below goes in the air and that owning/leasing a car will become inevitable.

I’ll post an update when appropriate. In the meantime, I am enjoying this experiment and encourage you to quickly run through the numbers for yourself, even if just for fun. You never know, the math could surprise you.