Afterthoughts: The Eternal Car Question

To drive or not to drive?

EDITOR’S NOTE: In December, we published “The One Car Family,” an account by freelancer Rachel Ross of what it’s like to economize by giving up one of the family cars. Apparently, this is a recurring phenomena for Honolulu residents. As we searched our files for a classic Afterthoughts for this month, we found “Living Without Wheels,” by Tom Horton—in our January 1979 issue. Horton wrote this column from the late ’70s to 1987. To read more about him, Writes Horton:

My ’79 resolution is to investigate the possibility of existing on Oahu without a car. It could be my most selfless contribution to the betterment of Hawaii. Could be, but won’t be, because the motivation springs more from self-sanity than the common good. Also, several negative factors are dovetailing to make my decision easier: Gasoline, parking, insurance, capital outlay and upkeep costs are rising dramatically ….

Illustration: Mike Austin


Some confirmed figures have to be studied to determine whether I can realistically afford to live without a car, but the envisioned savings easily pile up: $400 a year in insurance; approximately $600 a year in gas and oil; at least $500 a year in unexpected repairs and replacements; maybe $300 a year in varied parking charges and valet tips; $200 miscellaneous costs (wash jobs, license renewals, fox tails).

That comes to $2,000! And that’s on the low side, based on present transportation which is becoming inadequate. I need a new car, or no car. If I pop for a new one, you can add at least $1,200 a year (low side) in payments. My annual automobile outlay could easily top $3,000! Low side.  [Two grand in 1979 is about $5,700 in today’s dollars, $3,000 would be the equivalent of nearly $8,600.] …

Three-thousand smackers will buy a lot of cab rides. Since I live and work downtown, my normal transportation needs are to Waikiki, to the airport, or to distances in between. Average cab fare, with tip, would be no more than $6, sometimes less. I could afford more than half-a-thousand cab rides a year with what it costs to keep a car.

My prime motivation, however, is not to save money. It is to eliminate the nuisance of owning a car. To own a car in wide-open spaces is to have the ability to cover great distances on business or on [a] whim. To own a car on the island of Oahu is to possess a headache on four wheels, unless you’re rich enough to drive the best. … What is so terrific about owning a car in Honolulu? Where is there to go?

I’ve been struggling to fairly balance the advantages of car ownership against the disadvantages and have struck these comparisons to convince myself that living without wheels is at least worth an experiment:

ADVANTAGES: My life expectancy will increase because (1) I will not be strangled by a 300-pound beer truck driver who claims I cut in front of him on Ala Moana; (2) I will not get dizzy spells looking for parking in Waikı-kı- garages; (3) I will not be crippled by a karate chop from a restaurant parking valet who doesn’t believe the smallest I have is a twenty; (4) I will not drink myself to death in airport bars waiting to pick up people whose flights are always 90 minutes late; (5) I will not be molested by a 93-pound woman with 50 pounds of rice who claims I parked so close to her at Safeway she can’t get into her car.

DISADVANTAGES: Sunday drives to Kaneohe and the North Shore. Overrated.  

Editor’s note:
Kathryn Drury Wagner returns to the Afterthoughts column with the March issue.