A family of five gave up their car: life now runs smoothly for them with good cycling equipment and the occasional rental car

By Whim • September 21, 2020

When the Joutsiniemis’ car broke down, they didn’t replace it with a new one. The family of five spends their days at work, at school, enjoying leisure activities and hiking, and they travel to places by bike, on public transport and by rental car. How does a family with children cope without a car of their own?

The family’s Citroën had to accommodate the family of five, car seats and prams. In early 2019, the car broke down. The mother of the family, Saima Joutsiniemi, and her partner pondered an idea that they’d had for a while: what if they didn’t buy a new car?

Joutsiniemi had already bought an electric bike for getting to work, while her partner had already cycled to work for a long time. Neither of the parents needed a car for their daily commutes, so it was often parked at their house in Oulunkylä, Helsinki.

“It doesn’t look like we’ll buy a car anytime soon,” says Joutsiniemi, who is 40 and has three children aged six, eight and ten with her partner.

The family goes to school, work and attends leisure activities

Joutsiniemi’s commute is about seven kilometres each way. Her job at a pharmaceutical consulting company means that she sometimes needs to meet customers and attend training events, and she doesn’t mind going by bike or using public transport. Cycling means that she doesn’t need to find a parking space, and her waterproofs cover her business clothes.

The children go to school on foot or by bike. One of the children started in another school further away in autumn and gets there by bus. The youngest child was four when the family gave up their car. Joutsiniemi says the decision was made easier by the fact that the children were no longer babies.

“I’d say that our family moves quite a lot. This is partly due to all our children having hobbies, and we parents have our own hobbies, too, so we need to get to places. We also go hiking, visit our cottage and see our friends.”

The family’s hobbies include basketball, swimming lessons, performing arts, drum lessons and the Scouts. Joutsiniemi has joined a basketball course for beginners, and her husband plays water polo. There is hardly an evening during the week when everyone is at home.

Joutsiniemi explains that as it is essential for the family to get to places, in addition to her bike the family also has an electric cargo bike.

“The shop assistant said that it’s the Rolls-Royce of electric bikes. We use it to take the children to attend their hobbies and their friends’ birthday parties and when doing the shopping. I think that getting to places must be pleasant and comfortable.”

Borrowing or renting a car to get to games

The fact that Joutsiniemi’s parents live nearby makes things easier when it comes to attending hobbies. If the children have a basketball game early on a Sunday morning or a long way away, the family can borrow the grandparents’ car.

“I don’t hang on to the principle so strongly that I would never drive a car. It is crucial for us to be able to borrow my parents’ car so easily.”

If the family has a day off from their leisure activities at the weekend, it is often spent hiking. On those occasions, the family borrows a car or rents one through Whim. Many city destinations can, of course, be reached by bike or public transport. The parents take their bikes to the metro, get off in Espoo and cycle home along the road on the seashore. They take the children along and jump on the train, cycle to the coast and take a ferry to Pihlajasaari Island.

Joutsiniemi believes that trying out a life without a car requires a little push, such as a broken car. It was only after giving up the car that she noticed how good the public transport connections are in Oulunkylä and how some trips may be quicker by bike than by car.

Running everyday life requires planning

The parents meticulously recorded how much money they spent on car rentals in their first car-free year. The annual cost was about 2,500 euros, which included a two-month rental in the summer, a month’s rental at Christmas, a couple of weekends in the spring, and another couple of weekends in the autumn.

“We knew from the start that we’d need a car during the summer holidays. We spent a week in Vierumäki at Christmas, and we needed to bring our skis with us. During the Christmas holidays, we also used the car to take presents to people in different places.”

When you have children but no car, you need to plan ahead. When the family rents a car, they pack their weekend with activities. In addition to basketball games, the family visits friends from whom they would find it difficult to get home in the evening. If the family needs to buy something from Ikea or a hardware store, they do this on those weekends they have a car.

Joutsiniemi’s father has picked up his 10-year-old grandson from late Monday night training sessions, which he might do even if the family had their own car, because Joutsiniemi’s husband has training at the same time and she is at home putting the younger children to bed.

“When you don’t have a car, you need to plan ahead, but that’s not a bad thing,” says Joutsiniemi.

Freedom without compromising on comfort

Not having a car means freedom to Joutsiniemi. No need to change winter tyres, have it serviced or pay for spare parts. When the family rents a car, it is guaranteed to be in good order, new and clean. Joutsiniemi has never felt that she must own a car, and she doesn’t care about the make or the colour.

“For me, a car as a commodity that I need to get from A to B. I really like the idea of shared ownership. It would help in unexpected situations if shared car services were more readily available in Oulunkylä,” says Joutsiniemi.

She thinks that you learn from trying things out, and you don’t have to be too strict about it. Even if the family doesn’t have their own car right now, it doesn’t mean that they’ll never have one again. Climate issues affect Joutsiniemi’s choices, but she doesn’t think that her family has given up on comfort.

Joutsiniemi has been a little surprised at how well the children have adapted to the situation. They are used to travelling by bus or bike. Even with the grandparents’ car in the driveway, one of the children chose to go to the swimming lesson by bike. The child explained that the car would have needed to be parked much further away.

“It’s really nice when I take one of the children to attend their hobby on the cargo bike and we can have a chat. When I took our middle child to her dance lessons on the train, the trip took the same 40 minutes as by car, but we had time to do homework, eat a snack and talk about all the news,” says Joutsiniemi.

Rental cars have become much-anticipated fun for the children. The family joke about whether the rental car will be grey again, as they usually are. The children were surprised by a nice blue car a while ago.