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3 years without own car

November 2015 no more company car
I change my 13 year  employment at  a trade federation for a public career  in the Brussels region without a car included in the the salary package, and replaced by a STIB yearly public transport subscription.  During these 13 years I was driving different company cars.  The latest one was a hybrid car, as it seemed to me driving a cold choking Diesel engine in a city was no longer an environmental option.  Buying a private car was not decided at that time, the experiment would start of no own car.  Here below this experience, that started at a period where new initiatives started in Brussels like floating car systems, bike sharing,...  In this post the psychological effects of car deprivation, the practical organisation of mobility and finally the best mobility mix at that time found. It is a subjective experience and not to be generalized of course to the services used.

Setting: living in Schaerbeek, north east of Brussels
Commute time to Brussels office : 25 minutes on foot and equal by public transport (tram); most professional appointments within the Brussels region perimeter.

Family; father of three, kids at that time aged 14 (school in Vilvoorde - tram 25 - train line Meiser B/bus 58 ) - 12 (school in Laeken - tram 62) and 10 (school in Woluwe St. Lambert tram 25 and bus29), wife  (works in hospital bus 65 +metro 6)
Public transport node closeby: Wijnheuvelen/Coteaux ( Tram 62/ 25, De Lijn 358,  STIB Bus 65/66/59)
Villo! bikesharing  station closeby
Cambio station closeby : at that time around 5 cars
Own bike and bike helmet

Psychology and the reaction of family and friends

Here is a short overview both in terms of psychology and in terms of practicalities how I managed to be mobile  and face my friend and family environment.

My wife used to have a Cambio car sharing contract as a second car option, and I was added as a second driver on the contract.  We changed the subscription for a higher monthly fee and lower price per kilometer.  I passed the online video test in order to become driver on a computer without sound, still managed :)

Family and Friends
Family and friends reactions were -  to say it gently -  not very much understanding the decision not to buy/own an own car.
My parents living in a suburb in Flanders did not understand it, and a shared car in their eyes was not a real car.  Every time we arrived for a visit in the cambio car the same questions would arise: "why don't you buy a car, you can use our car when we don't use it, we can come and pick you up at the train station if needed."  The same parents that were previously criticizing the company car and free fuel card option were now regretting it.  It seemed like the car was this status extension of oneself.

I must admit that even with so called 'progressive' friends, I was seen as a second class citizen;  sometimes people were asking questions about the usage model of cambio, however time after time I find out that it was  more a mundane question, than one out of real interest.  The issue that one would have to bring back a car at the same cambio station was often a first stumbling block mentioned in the discussion not to go further in the discussion.  Other friends would suggest rides for a w.e. or lend their second car on certain occasions, when we were taking the train with family to the Ardennes.

Six months - and the first doubts
I was staring at all the cars parked on the street, with a real jealous view.
"Why did I quit my corporate job with that a company car?  I could have continued driving in a nice car.  Yes I could choose this Audi , this Toyota or Volvo and drive to the Belgian coast for no reason."
And now this was off limits.  A real feeling of loss.

I would never have thought that the emotional element of owning car was so addictive, and that this would be so violent.  Later, more detached from the car, I would see that the emotional bond was really instrumental in car advertisements.

So How did I manage my mobility mix?

Cambio and learning the car sharing logic
  It took a while before I understood the Cambio system and its 'use case'.
Return of car:
The obligation of foreseeing  beforehand to bring back a car at a certain set moment in time  was the one experience setting it back.   I was not good at estimating the return moment.  I remember arriving 10 minutes late at 23h30 and see a couple with children waiting for my car to leave to their destination; wow feeling so embarrassed.  It was a stress moment to have to leave from the meeting/event,... at a set time, and there would be no understanding from the organiser/friend about why I needed to leave when i could not set the rental any further.

When a professional meeting outside of Brussels would last longer than expected, and I would not be able to make the reservation last longer, this was not a reason to leave the meeting, and would not be understood in this  professional environment.

In the past year the Cambio station was much enlarged to 9 cars, despite that Friday
 and Saturdays seems a busy moment and better schedule a few days in advance to be sure to have our slot.

It is about the same time  in 2005 that I really started rowing at UNB Brussels rowing club.  It is a 6 km ride from home.  The first time I went by bike, I would have a real hard time coming back by bike: even the slightest elevation near the Jospaphat park was a real drag for me after a rowing training session  of 2,5 hours.  Slowly I got used to it.  I enjoy this bike ride, and know that I can change clothes arriving at the rowing club because the shirt will be sweaty.  I realised once that it took my about the same time by bike than by car, this because not only the traffic, but also the number of no synced traffic lights  (2 by bike compared to 9 for car)

In the beginning I was rowing on my own in a single rowing boat.  And this was part of my individuality, and feeling of an individual like in my own car.
Than I participated in a rowing boat with 4 others.  The rhythm in a boat is very important and it is the first one in front of the boat that determines this rhythm and speed.  Therefore the movement of the others need to be synchronized with the first one.
The first time I was really shocked and feeling trapped:  how me as a individual could have decided to remove freely my freedom and be blocked in a rowing boat for over 2 hours, having to follow the rhythm of the first one in the boat.  I was feeling awkward.  Until someone told me, that the boss was not the front runner, we were all together sensing the speed of the boat and its balance; together as  team we were doing an equilibrium exercise so that the boat would float on the water.  The real master was the boat and there were some rules to obey in order to make it an experience together. 

So coming back to Cambio, I started to understand the reason of the sharing car system: : the late arrival of a car was really the important element that could break havoc on the system.  So there,  a certain respect came from it, even on these shared cars.  The system and the flow of letting it work would become  more important than my individual usage.  As stated in this article on rowing and teamwork: "Knowing how your contribution is affecting the final outcome and staying highly aware of what others are doing while staying in sync is critical to delivering results."

So it was only at a later stage that I started seeing the positive effects myself of Cambio system and a collective feeling of self interest in having the car refueled, brought back properly,...  I than started to appreciate the other positive effects
- a reserved parking spot when coming back at night
- no hassle with parking fee an tickets in Brussels region as a waiver
My individuality remained in creating the most exotic list of favorite radio stations in everyCambio cars.

Free floating cars - other car sharing services
At that time other car sharing services (Drive Now, Zipcar, Zencar, ubequoo,....) started to appear in Brussels and I gave it a try at all of them. The overall conclusion in the experience was that it was not a reliable alternative for an own car: absence of cars in proximity during peak moments, high fees once over one hour.   It gave a certain driving pleasure and the use case to leave the car at another location was interesting when one would have to carry for example a big birthday balloon.
Overall conclusion: not reliable as sole car and for sure not to go to weekly logopedic appointment with child and a tight driving schedule between school and logopedic practice.

The pleasures of renting cars.
I rent family cars about 4 times a year between 1 to 3 weeks, this because Cambio for longer time and distance is not an option.
First I started using the rental car reduction (Hertz) linked to Cambio car.
The rental was fine, but the overall costs like insurance, fuel, max kilometers, etc... would make it a costly option.

The experience a rental car services has remained a stress experience: sometimes everything went fine (correct rental, friendly people, no waiting time, no hassle with extra costs), other times it would really go out bad for different reasons like commercial pressure, unavailability of the car, hidden costs)
- trying to pick up a car at a rental location that no longer exists, because databases between car company and reseller habve not synchronised; I have still not sorted out how to receive back the monehy for the taxi drive from the phantom rental location to the actual one.

- picking up a car at an airport desk, where the employee pushes extra options for no reasons, changes the contract and threatens not to give the car, even if it has been prepaid already.  (in this case a gps option for a car); one is feeling quite helpless

- the worst difficulty is that one cannot rent the exact model of a car and only a type.  In 2017 I prebooked a monovolume car for a 3 week drive family holiday to Poland.  The night before the car agency  left a mail and SMS to indicate that there was no monovolume car was available , and that they would 'cancel ' our reservation at free charge or a smaller model
The next day,I was offered to check myself in the parking lot which car would fit my holiday.  I ended up choosing a car where my 3 kids would not fit in the back;  The rental agency acknowledged its mistake and provided a discount.  Last summer i took the same company and this time the monovolume was there, but without technical check-up made, so i had to add adblue and 2 liter of oil during the travel.  

Rental advice I learned:
- car rental:
Check on an agregator site for carrental  like   once you have identified the type and proposed  price check on the website of car rental companies directly.  If you do this around 6 weeks in advance, chances are that it is cheaper to reserve directly.
Sometimes a great opportunity can arise, like a 48 hours reservation of a Renault Espace for just under 50 euros.
- car rental extra:
on drives longer than 600 km I tend to take second driver option; this is not such an expensive option and provides you with peace of mind

- insurances waiver fee
I don't take the insurance waiver fee with the rental company directly.
I have taken a yearly waiver fee insurance for all rental cars.  this is a cost of around 50 euros yearly, and makes it a real interesting investment, that you get back very quickly when renting a car.    (form Allianz, Carhirerental,...) . Luckily, I never had a driving damage, so therefore I never had to use this insurance.

- the amount blocked on your credit card: the biggest mystery
the rental company will block an amount on your card. The mystery is that you don't know until in the car rental agency how much.  the normal logic is 3 times the rental cost, but once only 30 euro was blocked for a three week rental period. This is an annoyance when you leave for holidays.     I had to increase the limit of the credit card, so to avoid not being able to use the credit card on holidays.

- other rental advice for booking
on the website, know that 2 w.e. days is more expensive than 3 days.  Be sure to reserve in blocks of 24 hours as well, as every additional hour starts a new 24 hour payment.

- top and flops in rental experience
In terms of rental experiences here my top and flops, completely based on my subjective experience:
Top customer service : Europcar desk avenue de fré in Uccle  - perfect customer service;
Top honesty AVIS Mercedez Benz Evere:  I arrived at the desk with a rental reservation for 7 days later (ough my mistake,...); the lady at the desk found another rental car within my budget and my short holiday could start;
Worst service desk:  AVIS airport; it seems that airport desks that would need to have an ambassador function for the country or just doing the opposite: long ques, taking advantage of tourists,...

- nices combination: a travel to Switserland in a combination flight - car rental at Geneva airport.  I offerend blabla ride sharing places to Montreux in the rental car in Switserland;  so a little advice: provide blabla car rides that reduce your fuel/toll costs at destination

The taxi is often used as a return home from a friends place in Brussels and to go there first by public transport.  It is the most expensive but conventient backup plan.

Best experience:
The taxi companies have now both mobile apps like Victor cab or eCab : no more hassle of finding the money, easy ordering.

Worst experience(s)
- Renewed credit card - the app asks for a 3 factor identification - and when you are in the middle of Molenbeek typing in your credit card number and the mobile app redirects you to the 3 factor identificationof Ogone, I say ; lazy app programmer!  You lost again a customer.  There are other ways to program it!  Link to the banking apps or to the bancontact apps, withexisting APIs etc.    So when you are in the middle of Molenbeek and are on the wrong location for a business appointment, you are basically stuck calling the classic taxi vert phone number.
- most of the apps have a sophisticated front-end with location, and with comment fields etc.  The back end scraps most of this information and the info arrives in low tech mode a taxi driver, often with mismatches of correct location

I have never used it, maybe too old?  I did not consider it in my mobility mix in my local town, however have used the Asian version Grab while abroad.

Ah the famous bike!
For me the bike is an ideal transport method when the temperature is between 5-20 degrees outside.  More than that you start sweating and have to change clothes so not very practical in commuter mode. (

- Villo shared bike I use a lot for distances less than 10 minutes, not as a commuter but during the day between two appointments.  It is often a way to gain time , and speed up the walking distance/ public transport waiting time.
Of course the Villo experience can go wrong when the Villo station is full.  I was complaining about it in the beginning, but after a certain time would be OK to  lock the rental bike at the destination, and search for another Villo fixed location after my meeting.  It would cost me some euros to pay for the extra time over the 30 minutes, but it is for me worth that flexibility.

- I was one of the first users of O bike, and the bike was so heavy in usage that I was more walking next to it than on it;  I managed to get my 60 € guarantee back and closed my account.

Outside of Brussels I tend not to use the shared bikes because I do not know enough the topology of the streets, the stations, and the usage regulations.  I find it a pitty that I cannot use the shared bikes in Namur, that are built on the same JC Decaux technology basis as the ones in Brussels, and where i know the city.

My own bike: I use it in the neighborhood and to go to my rowing club (6Km)  only.  Sometimes to go to the city-centre, but the steep hill back is not encouraging

The mobility mix:
At the end it is all about mobility and the mix of it to have a comfortable ride between point A and B in a set time period.  The system blockings of bus 65/66 in chaussée de Haecht in Schaerbeek during peak hours for example can make you decide to take the Tram 25 from the city center of to combine bus+ walking.

My Teenage kid goes to school in Vilvoorde and has a monthly train subscription + a year subscription of MIVB.  Vilvoorde is just outside of the Brussels region and therefore it needs a separate line subscription.

The second kid has to take 1 bus only door to door
The third kid makes a combination of tree trams to come to Auderghem, and manages this in a strict timing thanks to the the high frequency of the trams.  The return is slower, but I expect that this is part of adolescence to hang around after school...

My wife used to go by bus and metro.  She now has bought a new battery for her e-bike;  if too tired she takes a cambio (expensive option), or the the Victor cab to come back.

The advice
3 years without a car, actually brings a lot of freedom in choosing your transport mode.  However following three musts in the mobility mode:
- easy of switching between mobility modes (bike to bus etc...)
- reliable option : no breakdown, available,...
- foreseeable: if I cannot be sure I will have a car when I need to go to doctors appointment, it is not an option for example

- advice to app makers:
When you make an app ... know that it will have frequent updates
And make sure that the user does not always have to login again with yet another combination of passwords into your application;  users tend to forget the login combinations, alsoways recoveirng the password is a real pain; so make sure that login/password is easy after the update of the app.
Also make the onboarding an easy one; that's the reason I have a Lime account and not the local Trotty one that asks too much information upfront.

- the critical aspect: the credit card
When your credit card has expired or has been blocked (happened preventive after Takeaway security breach) you are basically without transport.  This is a real issue to tackle and often one forgets in how many apps the credit card has been entered.  The credit card is also used during the rental car agremeent.

And to conclude the black hole for transport: TTaxis location
The TT taxis location  is a real drag for the following reasons:

- the Villo biking station is put at an unusable rear location of the main entrances of the TTtaxis
- there is no viable public transport option nearby
- you need combat style shoes to come to TTtaxis by public transport (metro / bus) , quite often mud on the sides, worn out pedestrian lanes, unsafe public lights, dangerous crossings with cars on the main entrance and around, and you name it
- parking entrance really dangerous
- the last cash machine disappeared at TTtaxis

It is for me the black hole for multimodal transport in Brussels, and especially because there are a lot of evening event there.  And every time I go to the "festival du livre" or other the return home cast an overall negative light on the whole event i was just at.  One can argue that there is a shuttle during the day and that there are VIP shuttle cars during some events, but that is not enough.  The announced tram line Picard or public protests of mobility ( are not changing this situation.

Utopian suggestion:
Both Woluwe shopping and TT taxis are privately held; the transport node at Woluwe shopping is however much better, although completely underused.  I would recommend to move all the events to the new woluwe center and make it a nice living and creative district;  TTtaxis than could become a shopping district or outlet center.

December 2018 the company car trap
Other job and a combination of a mobility budget (olympus app) and of a hybrid company car appears on the horizon.  It appears that the legislation of 'cash for car' is made in such a way that you first need a company car before you can get rid of it.  And asking for salary compensation is still a difficult discussion.  So back to square one for next years, or not

So the next blog might be about how to introduce the company car in the mobilty mix and still go all the way in a shared and responsible manner. (It seems that for the moment the mobility budget does not enough take into account private use of other modes of transport than the company car)   I regret the reserved Cambio parking spot and find back the 'joy'  of driving around in circles hunting for a parking spot.