5 Feb 2021

Wellington family looks back at year of car-free living

From Checkpoint, 5:25 pm on 5 February 2021

A family-of-five who've gone car-less reckon it's made no difference to their finances - and they've had to get creative about how they get around. 

Reporter Harry Lock and video journalist Dom Thomas joined the family during the morning rush to see how they're getting on.

People are being encouraged to reduce use of road transport - which is responsible for more than 40 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions. 

A Climate Change Commission report released this week called for the existing fleet to be replaced with electric vehicles. 

But Wellington-based Keizer-Day family is forging their own path - ditching their car for bikes, buses and their feet. 

On a regular weekday, with the kids back to school and parents back to work, all of them are getting there in a car-less way. 

They ditched the wagon last year, a decision prompted by the children's involvement in the school strikes for climate. 

"I remember that particularly the youngest was really upset," said Jeltsje, the mother.

"She said, 'The adults aren't doing anything, why aren't they helping? Why aren't they sorting out this problem of climate change.' And I thought, 'Yeah, that's true. I feel quite helpless to do anything.' 

"That moment really spoke to me, and it probably planted the seed cos it wasn't probably a year later until we actually stopped using the car." 

So how do they do it? 

In the mornings, they go different ways: Nynke, the youngest of three, scoots to school. Maaike, the middle child, and Jelle, the eldest, both cycle - as does Jeltsje. And dad, Stephen - a previous winner of the New Zealand marathon - runs to and from work.

When it's not a regular journey though, they make use of the nearby bus route in Island Bay; dabble in car share schemes like Mevo; and have rideshare apps like Zoomy, installed on their phones. 

But there are some challenges. 

"The girls would have a soccer game that might be in Johnsonville for instance, and so getting through town and across the other side, when there's not so many buses running because it's the weekend, is trickier.

"I guess that's the same for a lot of things you do during the weekend, if you go to the beach, or to the supermarket. They're all places that just take a little more thinking about if you don't have a car." 

That's where their e-bike comes in...

"I remember our son grabbed the electric bike which has got big panniers, and did all the groceries for us, and it was so handy that he could go off and do that for us," Jeltsje said. 

"It's actually a big time saver in a way with the children, because there's less dropping off and picking up." 

So, nearly a year on how are the kids finding it? 

"It's kind of annoying," is how Maiike described it. 

"Sometimes you want to go to a friend's house, and it's a lot more effort. I'll have to hop on my bike, or catch three buses, but it doesn't really make that much of a difference to me."

For Jelle: "I guess it just means if we've got to go somewhere that's separate from school - occasionally, I've done some lighting gigs, or like parties and things - then we will get an Uber instead, or we will bus into town. 

"But it's not been that different - it wasn't such a big shift." 

Meanwhile, Nynke said: "I've always kind of made my own way to school so it hasn't been any different really without the car. 

As for the parents...

"A lot of the day-to-day life things are pretty simple, because they don't involve going very far," Jeltsje said.  

"But then if we want to go on holiday, if we want to do something spontaneous, or something that's further or across city where the bus lines don't go so easily, then we have to think it through a bit more." 

Stephen seemed to be relishing the challenge more than anyone else. 

"It hasn't been a significant imposition, and I guess I've enjoyed trying to come up with creative ways of making it work." 

But he accepted it's not something everyone can do. 

"We're in a pretty privileged position. If we were living in other parts of Wellington, or not in Wellington; or were on different incomes; or kids at different ages; or had other responsibilities to extended family that we were looking after in different parts of town; it would be different circumstances."  

But the strong car culture is beginning to shift - especially in urban centres, with both Auckland and Wellington investing in mass transport programmes to reduce the reliance on cars.  

So hopefully, more people can follow in the footsteps - and bike tracks -  of the Keizer-Days.