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Mennonites in horse-drawn carriages are a common sight in the Waterloo Region. (Peter Power)
Mennonites in horse-drawn carriages are a common sight in the Waterloo Region. (Peter Power)

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Downsizing to a single car Add to ...

I grew up in a single vehicle family. As a one-car household, our schedules and excursions were tightly synced. Each morning, on her way to work, my mother would drive my father to the subway to reach his job downtown. She then dropped my brother at his nearby school and me at the bus stop.

These days, with my own family, it's difficult to imagine how we would manage with just one car. My husband and I drive to jobs that would take at least twice the time to reach by public transportation. Our work often calls for late nights on short notice and we rely on each other to be available to pick up the kids from school.

Many families, especially those of us in suburban communities, own two cars. In Canada, 83 per cent of all households owned or leased at least one motor vehicle. Of these, more than half had two or more vehicles.

But owning two cars, with the cost of insurance, fuel and maintenance, takes a big bite out of a household budget. For the average Canadian, transportation is one of the top household expenses, ranking third only behind taxes and shelter, according to Statistics Canada. Many times I've thought about how much money we could save by downsizing to one vehicle.

According to a recent report from LeaseTrader.com, more of us are getting rid of our second car. The online car lease swap marketplace has seen the number of customers transferring out of car leases to share the only remaining family car triple in the past year. It attributes the trend to rising unemployment that is forcing families to cut their monthly expenditures.

"We're finding more and more families right now willing to give up one or two of their cars even if it means they have to share the only remaining vehicle for the entire family," said Sergio Stiberman, CEO and founder of LeaseTrader.com. "Despite many headlines that say the recession is over, the reality is that people are still hurting financially and they're finding additional ways to slash their own bills."

LeaseTrader.com data indicates showed that many of the downsizing families in the U.S. are located in recession-worn areas like Southern California and Florida. In Canada, the downsizing numbers are skewed towards the more highly populated areas such as Ontario and Quebec, with some rising activity in Vancouver, British Columbia.

A friend of mine has a relative in Vancouver who recently gave up his lease when his business slowed. He started riding his bike to work. "He consoled himself by focusing on the exercise benefit," my friend says.

Most of my friends rely on two cars to get to work and shuttle their children around.

"We would never live with just one car," says one mother of two. "We could not even live with just one car when we did not have kids. I am not good about taking the bus and we both need the flexibility with the kids."

Another friend who is a mother of three admits she and her husband have never seriously considered downsizing to a single car, given the location of their jobs. "But, I suppose nothing is impossible if you really want to make it happen."

One couple I know made the decision to be a one-car family long ago. "We've never had two cars," says the wife, who works full-time and has two young children. "We carpool to work. We love having our own quiet time together and love saving the money. It's amazing how rarely we wish we had two cars."

For those that can manage with one car, you have my admiration. It seems that there is more to gain than cost-savings alone.

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