No Car, No Regret
How SAP Helped Me Get Back on My Feet…
I used to drive a New Beetle until recently, and the fact that it had flowers in it didn’t make it any greener. You could describe me as one of those “trendy polluters” exhausting fumes from a fancy pipe. I had indeed chosen the New Beetle as the only “fun” car able to overcome the grayness and boredom of my daily Montreal-Laval commute at the time. With all due respect to the architects who fathered the Laval shopping malls and giant rocket subtly indicating the Cosmodôme entrance, I relied heavily on my little Bug to bring that touch of glamour I was longing for.
Thing is, my wheels slowly replaced my legs. I would drive anywhere, turning every grocery shopping excursion into another missed opportunity to exercise and stay fit, not to mention another threat to the environment. But deep inside, I had a dream, a simple one: to become a green citizen. Little did I know that SAP was about to make my dream come true.
May 5th, 2008: when HR first told me that my metro pass would be 100% subsidized by the company, my reaction was instant, therefore genuine: “Wow, cool. Are you for real?” The rest followed. I said goodbye to my little bug on a warm June evening when gas prices had just broken new records of 1.49$ / liter. I will worry again when metro cards suffer a 100% increase in a 12-month time frame.
Green citizen I wanted to be, green citizen I was, enjoying my new fume-free world with a content smile. I never thought taking the metro could be so, deeply exciting, but guess what? It was. So was my newfound ability to walk everywhere, suddenly realizing that the supermarket and video store weren’t so far away after all, as if driving for all these years had somehow altered my mental perception of distances.
This being said, you can’t walk everywhere. Fact. But why pay for a full-time car when you only need it occasionally? Car-sharing therefore sounded like the perfect fix to my case. And as if all the elements in my universe had suddenly aligned, soon came a Communauto flyer in my mailbox. Yes, I had heard of them before; but what I didn’t know was that they are one the largest car-sharing systems in Canada, waiting for new members like me to join in the shared-wheel fun. Here is what I like most about it:
- No shame in renting a car for 30 minutes. The system is actually designed for short trips and proves quite expensive for long distances. For your week-ends up North, prefer the good-old rental car…provided it is fuel-efficient (28 mpg or better). Some rental companies even offer FlexFuel and Hybrid vehicles at selected Canadian locations.
- The company takes care of shoveling, oil and tire change, engine check-ups and other activities not compatible with wearing high heels.
- Online car reservation only takes a few seconds.
- The web site says “tick this box if you wish to replace print invoices with electronic invoices.”
- No security deposit is required from members who are regular users of public transportation. They just charge 5$ extra and ship your metro pass by mail every month. There goes the line-up at the metro station on the first day of the month.
Now going down the financial path: car payments, insurance and gas quickly added up to a salty 600$ a month in my past life. What do I do with this extra money in my pocket? While the old me would have said “Hang on, there’s this cute, velvety pair of Jimmy Choos on sale (3% off or something)”, the new me spends her Saturdays at Marché Jean-Talon, blind-tasting organic truffle oil and aged camembert at the family-run cheese shop. I happen to live 2 minutes away from this famous farmers market, but I have never visited it so much since I am “back on my feet”. And while the initial reason was a practical one, it soon became much more than that, like a domino effect:
- A financial choice – local, fresh food is affordable
- A quality choice – fresh food tastes good
- A health choice – fresh is healthy
- A fun choice – Marché Jean-Talon is filled with picturesque little booths offering innovative cuisine and products, from cranberry-tea ice cream and kale juice to purple cabbage and edible flowers.
- An environment-conscious choice – fresh, local products have a minimal carbon footprint. We often associate cars with pollution, but let’s not forget the food transportation chapter, which actually accounts for a significant chunk or airborne pollution. Did you know that the average American meal travels between 1,500 and 2,400 miles* to get from farm to plate?
Here is yet another staggering figure to chew on: each year, Canadians take home an estimated 2.86 billion plastic bags**, with the consequences that we know. Yet, we still make fun of the old ladies and their two-wheeler carts filled with garlic, tomatoes and leek. But what if they were also secretly laughing at us and our plastic bags, always ready to burst and so heavy they make our fingers go numb? What if we had more wise lessons to learn from these ladies than we self-sufficiently think? Strange enough, we now see more and more supermarkets push their customers along the fabric, re-usable bag path. Ikea even charges us a few cents per plastic bag at the cash counter, and so they all should. And guess what? Unlike plastic bags, “Grandma carts” can be just as glamorous as a Beetle. Mine has 4-season tires and amazing options…
Besides fumes – 10 things I don’t miss about driving in Montreal:
- Pot holes the size of a 4-seat hot tub.
- Snow machines building a wall of ice in front of my car (for some reason, the other cars always seemed to be just fine).
- Driving around in a fancy car with a shovel full of mud on the back seat.
- Financial dilemmas such as “eating out with friends or filling up the tank?”
- Shoveling for hours on Sunday evening for the sole privilege of going to work the next day.
- Sitting in traffic for ages right underneath the sign that says “Quebec construction: your tax dollars at work.”
- Driving around in circles (that’s what happens when you’re only allowed to turn right).
- Getting tickets for turning left, obviously.
- Blind-driving in a snow storm due to unexpected shortage of windshield washer.
- Lighting candles every time I survived an ice storm.
* Worldwatch Institute
**Recycling Council of Ontario and the Canadian Plastics Industry Association