‘I got rid of my car three years ago – and I don’t miss it!’

Rachel with her bike in Woodbridge

Rachel with her bike in Woodbridge - Credit: Charlotte Bond

It's looking to be a pretty daunting year, financially.   

Fuel prices have sky rocketed, energy bills have just hit an all-time high, and the overall cost of living is on the up at an alarming rate.  

We’re all feeling the pinch and trying to cut back where we can - turning the heating off, popping an extra layer on when we’re feeling the chill, or bring lunch to work rather than buying it every day.  

But have you thought about getting rid of your car?   

It sounds like a wild idea - for many of us having a vehicle is considered a necessity.

However one woman in Suffolk decided to get rid of her wheels – and hasn’t looked back.  

Rachel gave her up car three years ago and relies on public transportation, cycling, and walking to get around

Rachel gave her up car three years ago and relies on public transportation, cycling, and walking to get around - Credit: Charlotte Bond

Green Party councillor for Melton Rachel Smith-Lyte made the move around three years ago – and found it easier than you'd think. And no, she doesn’t live in the centre of Ipswich.   

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Suffolk native Rachel currently lives in Woodbridge, but has spent time living in Indonesia, Turkey, London, and Bristol.  

“I passed my test first time when I was 18 and have driven ever since, except when I lived in London when I didn’t need a car,” she explains.  

When she moved back to Suffolk, she realised a car was essential. “There was less public transportation then, and trains were less reliable,” she explains.  

But after her car started to give her trouble, she didn’t need much convincing to get rid of it.   

“It needed a lot of welding, and I decided the cost to get it fixed wasn’t worth it, so I let it go for scrap and thought I won’t bother getting a new one.”  

And while it might seem like quite an urban-centric idea, Rachel has discovered it is possible to survive in a county as rural as Suffolk without a car.   

“It actually wasn’t as hard as a lot of people think,” she explains.  

“I am fortunate that I can borrow a car on occasion if I need to move something or absolutely cannot get anywhere without one, but I’ve found that I don’t generally need one.”  

So how does she do it?   

“I cycle wherever I need to go, and sometimes I walk. I’ve got two bikes – one of which is electric – and they go on the train with me. I live within a 10-minute walk of Woodbridge train station, and the bus stop is also very close so I’m ideally placed in that sense and I manage.”  

If Rachel has a council meeting in Melton, she will cycle from her home in Woodbridge (an approximate 1.6-mile trip each way).   

“If I have a meeting in our Lowestoft office, I’ll get the train with my bike and cycle from there to the office. The rest of the time, I work three days a week in Ipswich and get the bus and walk from the bus stop.”  

Green Party councillor for Melton Rachel Smith-Lyte

Green Party councillor for Melton Rachel Smith-Lyte - Credit: Charlotte Bond

While Rachel saves money by not having a car (and the added costs that come with car ownership such as maintenance, petrol, insurance and tax) - the health benefits are another huge draw, she says.   

“I welcome the exercise. I still don't get enough though and probably a lot of other people feel that too due to time constraints so I welcome the opportunity to cycle a bit further. I can comfortably cycle 15 miles, or a 30-mile round trip, when I have the time which is the main factor, but I do appreciate not everyone is able to walk or cycle.”  

And of course, there are the huge benefits for the environment that come with not having a car.   

A recent report prepared for Suffolk Health and Wellbeing Board found that nine mostly urban areas in Suffolk had air quality which was deemed a concern. These included Ipswich, Woodbridge, Bury St Edmunds, and Sudbury.   

The figures revealed that in Suffolk’s nine air quality management areas, there are 853 residents living within the zones, 7,545 within 100 metres of them, and 36,564 within 500 metres.   

Poor air quality and air pollution have been linked to a number of health problems including strokes and lung cancer

Poor air quality and air pollution have been linked to a number of health problems including strokes and lung cancer - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Poor air quality, which kills on average between 28,000 and 36,000 people every year in the UK, is linked to a number of health problems including strokes and lung cancer.   

“It’s nice to feel fairly guilt-free that I’m not polluting the planet and poisoning people,” she says.  

“I just think having a car has become a pain in the neck for a lot of people because of the high volumes of traffic now. It wasn’t like that when I passed my test all those years ago. Car ownership seems to be more a hinderance rather than a help increasingly with such high running costs, congestion and parking problems.  

“And also where I live, I don’t have my own parking space, so I’d have to keep moving my car after 8am to dodge the ticket wardens, or worry about it getting scratched.”  

For anyone who might been toying with the idea of getting of going car-free, but feel it’s difficult to do in Suffolk, Rachel says otherwise.   

“Public transportation obviously isn’t as good as it is in London and the trains could and should be cheaper, but I've found it’s a bit of a myth it’s not reliable plus I've never had any problems getting a bike space on the new roomier trains. I’d say go for it.”  

Besides public transport, there are a number of car sharing services that are growing in popularity as more people begin to prioritise saving the planet and doing their bit where they can.   

“There are websites out there where people can car share and offer each other lifts. They’ve not been as popular recently because of Covid, but they are out there and should be more active here in Suffolk. There's also Zipcar which I've yet to try but I'm assured is reliable and easy to use. 

“Also, a friend of mine in Ipswich has about four friends who all share her car because she doesn’t see the point of it sat on her drive seven days a week. She lives centrally and cycles almost everywhere, and she said people may as well use it. She’s happy for them to borrow it in return for petrol and occasional contributions towards maintenance costs – it’s like an informal car club.” 

Rachel’s travel diary   

Monday: I work from home all day and have meetings on Zoom, so no travel necessary. 

Tuesday: I catch the bus into Ipswich for work, and return home via bus. 

Wednesday: I take my bike on the train so I can head into Ipswich in the morning for work, then I’m back on train after lunch to meet with a photographer in Woodbridge. I attend my medical appointment on foot in the afternoon, and work from home before getting the train to Norwich (without my bike) for an evening with friends, where I stay the night. 

Thursday: I get the train from Norwich early in the morning to get to Ipswich for work, where I walk from the station. After lunch I catch the bus back to Woodbridge to work from home. That evening, I borrow car to go to a social in Framlingham, as it was too windy to cycle. 

Friday: I get the bus into Ipswich for work and return by bus later that day. In the evening, I walk to a local social. 

Saturday: I head into London with friends via train, leaving my bike at home.  

Sunday: I stay local and walk to the Quakers, where I spend time with my family. 

Do you live in Suffolk car-free? If so, how do you get about?

Share your stories and experiences by emailing danielle.lett@archant.co.uk