10 Cities Where You Don’t Need a Car

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Is the future car-less?


Key points

  • Ditching your car can easily save you thousands each year in gas, maintenance, and insurance costs.
  • Cities that are the most walkable are usually those with extensive public transit systems that help you avoid the need for cars.
  • Extensive use of bike lanes also help add to a car-free life in many of these cities.

Cars are a pain. You need to wash them, feed them, repair them, store them, insure them — and it all costs money. Lots of money. And that’s it after you plunk down a small fortune just to get one in the first place.

But what if you could live a life without cars? For many of us, that simply isn’t practical. Many modern towns and suburbs are quite literally designed around automobiles. However, there are still a number of places where it is not only possible to be car-free, it’s actually preferable.

Living without a car tends to mean one of two things: a really tiny town — or a really big one. To get an idea of ​​which cities make a car-free life the most practical, we looked for places with the best public transit systems. Here’s what we found:

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Top cities for car-free travel in the US

The best public transit in the US is found in its larger cities, especially those that pre-date the automobile. They tend to rely on a mix of subways and buses, with some also boasting less-common transportation like trolleys and ferries.

  • New York, NY: NYC’s infamous subway system is the most extensive in the US, boasting more than 470 stations. Paired with the city bus system (and extensive taxi services), you can get almost anywhere, which is why more than half the city’s households are car-less.
  • Boston, MA: Known locally as the T, Boston’s MBTA is one of the simpler — yet still effective — systems, making use of four color-coded rail lines, as well as a host of buses and trolleys. Boston is also fairly safe for those on foot, with fewer than a dozen pedestrian fatalities each year.
  • San Francisco, CA: While we’ve probably all seen the city’s famous cable cars depicted in film and television, San Francisco’s huge public transit system also includes a subway, buses, and trams. This system is a big part of why, despite its numerous hills, San Francisco is also ranked as the most walkable city in the country.
  • Portland, OR: Portland has a wide range of public transit options, including a vast bus network, a light rail, a commuter rail, and the Portland Streetcar system. It’s also eminently bikeable; the city has over 385 miles of bikeways and the highest proportion of bike commuters in the country.
  • Philadelphia, PA: Getting around Philly without a car isn’t hard thanks in large part to its trains, subways, buses, and trolleys that cover 52 square miles. Once you hop off the transit, you’re also in one of the top five most walkable cities in the US
  • Washington, DC: The country’s capital city is also one of the most walkable, thanks in large part to its busy public transit system. The subway offers 25 routes that take countless tourists around town each year, while also bringing in thousands of commuters every day from nearby Virginia and Maryland.
  • Seattle, WA: Despite being surrounded by multiple waterways, it’s easy to be car-free in Seattle. Not only do you have 22 public transit routes, including buses, streetcars, and light rail, but you also have the iconic Seattle ferries to get from shore to shore.
  • Minneapolis, MN: Minneapolis has all of the public transit options you could want, with light rail trams, buses, and commuter trains covering 56 square miles. Plus, Minneapolis is also considered to be one of the most bike-friendly cities in the US, with more than 200 bike lanes and paths.
  • Jersey City, NJ: More than half the residents of Jersey City use public transit, especially those who commute into nearby New York City. They can make use of an extensive rail system and bus lines, as well as manage many of their daily activities entirely on foot.
  • Chicago, IL: The extensive Chicago public transportation system covers a huge amount of ground, serving 35 suburbs via train and bus. It also boasts more than 200 miles of bike lanes and 13,000 bike racks around the city.

How much can you save without a car?

Looking at the cities on this list, you may question the cost of living car-free. After all, these are some of the most expensive places to live in the country. But if you subtract the cost of car ownership, how much can you save by living in one of these cities?

According to AAA, that number is over $10,000. Its data shows that the average cost of owning and operating a new car is $10,728 a year. And that’s just the average; many people pay much, much more.

Even if you exclude car payments — which is no small amount, with the typical new car running you $30,000 or more — simply insuring your car can cost thousands. In fact, drivers pay an average of $2,875 a year for car insurance, and that cost goes up if you actually have to make a claim.

Then there’s gas and the inevitable pricey repairs. All in all, shifting to a more expensive city where you don’t need a car could end up in a wash as far as your finances are concerned.

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