Saving Money in LA: How to Go Carless

Saving Money in L.A. Carless

On any given day, how often do you use your car in Los Angeles? We drive to and from work, to the store to pick up groceries, to daycare or school to pick up and drop off our kids, and to the movies to see the latest blockbuster release. It can be hard to think about doing any of that without a motor vehicle.

In 2015, there were more than 7.5 million cars, trucks, and motorcycles on the road in L.A. One million new cars enter Southern California each year, which accounts for one-seventh of all U.S. auto and truck sales, according to Los Angeles Almanac.

To account for the popularity of vehicles — and the poor road conditions caused by all that traffic — California legislators just voted to increase the gas tax by 12 cents a gallon to help pay for road improvement projects. If you fill up your 13.2-gallon Honda Civic once a week, that’s an extra $82 in gas costs per year. While this maybe isn’t a big dent in your budget, it may have you reconsidering your preferred method of transportation.

If you’re thinking about living carless in L.A., we have a few tips to help you get started. And if you already live in L.A. and don’t drive, we’d love to hear from you. Feel free to post your own tips in the comments!

Here are three things to keep in mind before giving up the keys to your car — for good.

1. If you’re going carless, make sure to plan your time-vs.-cash savings.

Sure, saving the frustration of an hour-long drive from Venice to Hollywood Boulevard may be worth more to you if you’re riding public transit instead of clenching your fists around your steering wheel, but at what cost?

When you take into account how long it takes to get somewhere in L.A., you want to know the trade-off between driving and taking public transit. Depending on where you’re going and the time of day or timing of event in town, driving could be faster, break even, or take much longer. It also most likely will be more expensive than public transit, unless you’re just traveling a short distance and you already have a free parking space in mind. Sites like Gas Buddy can help with researching the cheapest spots to get gas, while you can plan your trip with Metro even if you aren’t using their bus or train service — they also offer routes for you to ride your bike, which is an increasingly popular option in L.A.

If you’re not ready to take the plunge yet in going completely carless, test out what it would be like to take the bus or Metro on a weekend, when you have plenty of time to figure out the transit schedule, any needed transfers, and how much cash you’ll need. The Metro fare for one straight-shot bus ride with no transfers is $1.75 cash, but as low as 35 cents in off-peak hours if you’re a senior citizen. And if you use the TAP pre-loaded card for your fares, a one-way trip with transfers to other Metro lines for up to two hours also is $1.75, or $7 for a single day pass. If you’re commuting for work, a 30-day pass starts at $100.

It also may benefit you to use Metro since you’re already paying for it, in one way — L.A. County voters approved the Measure M half-cent sales tax last year to improve the Metro transit system.

Keep in mind that when you ride public transit, or do ride shares or carpools, you can get some extra work done in the mornings, catch up on email, or enjoy a hobby, like reading for pleasure, when you aren’t behind the wheel of a car or pedaling a bicycle.

2. Learn your city — stop depending on GPS and look at a map.

It may seem commonplace to just automatically turn on Waze when you’re heading out the door and let your GPS direct you where you need to go. But what happens when you don’t have a car and you have to actually figure out where you’re going on your own? The feeling can be liberating!

What better way to get to know our beautiful city than to hoof it or grab your bicycle and explore all the historic roads and hip neighborhoods? You also can find hidden gems by foot or bike that you otherwise may have missed whizzing by too quickly in a car.

We’ll get you started. There are several food trucks, for instance, that you can discover without a car — and for under 5 bucks for lunch, too. And we all know that things like haircuts, movies, and gym memberships cost more in L.A., so why not find a great local business nearby to support, and walk there? You’ll get the extra benefit of burning some additional calories if you aren’t driving to a yoga class, along with a few extra dollars in your wallet.

3. Consider the extra costs you have with a car per year, and if it’s worth it.

We get it — your lifestyle or your job might not allow for you to go carless. Even if you just did public transit, bike rides, or walks to your favorite places to eat or be entertained on the weekends, you could save some of your sanity and wear and tear on your vehicle when you don’t deal with traffic for those couple of days a week. Aside from gas and maintenance costs for a vehicle, you’re looking at the costs for parking, insurance (L.A. is one of the most expensive cities for car insurance!), vehicle registration fees or car title loans, and extra taxes.

If you are able to let up on those costs a little bit each week, your wallet will begin to notice a world of a difference at the end of the year.

Here’s something to test out: Try going carless for a week or two, and monitor how much cash you spend through a website like, or by giving yourself an actual cash allowance for the week and not allowing any credit-card or debit-card spending. You also can monitor your bank accounts to see how much you’ve spent on your car in the last year on gas, auto insurance, flat tires, and everything else that goes along with owning or leasing a car. Make a budget, and see how that two-week test might expand your savings over time.

Still prefer the convenience of a car? That’s OK. A lot of us do. Millions, in fact. There are still lots of ways to save in L.A. whether you drive, or don’t.

Editor’s note: This is a continuation of our Saving Money in LA series. For more money-saving tips in this expensive city, check out the following blog posts:

Are you struggling with debt? At Borowitz & Clark, we’re here to help. We have experienced bankruptcy attorneys who handle Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases, in addition to debt negotiation and reducing student loan payments. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation. Our Los Angeles office is conveniently located a few blocks away from the 7th Street/Metro Center Station, so you won’t even need a car to get here.

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