Look up most driveways in Powell River and there sits one, sometimes two and occasionally three vehicles. But that is not the case at Kevin Wilson’s home in Cranberry.
His tale of why he and his partner Alfie Bolster chose to go “carless” in Powell River is one anyone can find themselves experiencing.
“In 2012, Alfie and I had a small minivan; it was ancient,” said Wilson. “The ignition key and starter motor jammed in the driveway, smoke started coming out from under the hood, and I could not turn it off. It came together like the perfect storm. Eventually, I managed to shut off the starter motor, but we dared not turn off the engine.”
Wilson and Bolster had been loading the car up with items to take to Augusta Recyclers.
“We got in, drove to Augusta, left the engine running as we unloaded, then drove to Black Point Auto Wreckers and left it there,” said Wilson.
Five months later, still without a vehicle, Wilson and Bolster attended Powell River Film Festival and watched a movie called Chasing Ice.
“It was so graphic, showing the actual effects of what we are doing, that we came out of the movie and looked at each other and Alfie said, ‘We are not getting another car,’ and we never have,” said Wilson.
BC Transit provides an essential service for anyone without a car. The schedule, however, takes time to figure out, and buses are infrequent.
“When the bus only comes once an hour, and there are times in the day it comes less than once an hour, it makes things difficult,” said Wilson. “Research shows the frequency that really seems to start to work for people is every 15 minutes. You know there will be a bus sometime in the next 15 minutes. It means you do not have to build your life around the schedule.”
While Bolster walks to work every day, a journey of 50 minutes, Wilson, coordinator for Urban Homesteading School of Powell River, mostly works from home.
Wilson said he sees familiar faces filling the passenger seats and the drivers are always very friendly.
“There are some times when it is standing room only,” said Wilson. “Every seat is full and there are people standing up.”
Wilson’s life revolves around the bus schedule, which sometimes does not work well for attending meetings or functions. When that happens, he either asks friends for help or just does not attend.
There are alternatives to buses. Wilson is a great supporter of the Car Stop initiative, which has worked successfully in various Gulf Island communities.
“They have a sign like a bus stop that says Car Stop on it and people wait there for a ride,” said Wilson. “People who are willing to pick people up, do so from there. There is no requirement that anybody pick anybody else up or anybody accept a particular ride. It is a very simple, low barrier of entry idea. On the Gulf Islands it is supported by the provincial government and a provincial ministry provided the signs.”
Pender Island has a map of all the stops and light blue signs where pedestrians stop and wait for a ride. It works well in a small community, where the driver often knows the person waiting at the stop sign and distances are short.
Cycling seems to be the transportation of choice for many households living without cars. Bikes with electric assist can speed past conventional cyclists and not wear their riders out on the big hills that loom ever larger to two-wheel enthusiasts pushing pedals around Powell River.
As well as supporting a healthy lifestyle, going “carless” can support a healthier bank account. If, for any reason, anyone is contemplating doing away with the four-wheeled convenience, Wilson suggests an intermediate step.
“Take the insurance off and leave it in the driveway for a while, then you can’t use it, so you have to do the walk and the bike and the bus,” he said. “But you have the option, if you frantically need it, of putting a day’s insurance on it.”