Living car-free on the Beltline in Atlanta, my experiences with buying a bicycle and electric scooter, and why I’m sticking to two wheels.
Fun fact about me: I’m car-free. My only “wheels” are my electric scooter and bicycle! Not having a car was never really intentional after graduation- after my car accident and lawsuit, I was never able to afford one and between student loans and living in a city, it just never made sense. I also don’t love driving, especially in Atlanta- drivers here are crazy, traffic is terrible, and I find driving altogether stressful.
I started off post-grad life walking or ubering everywhere- I even walked to work 40 minutes each way (you can read about my post-grad life and walking everywhere here). Walking worked for me because I lived and worked in two walkable parts of Atlanta- the Midtown and Old Fourth Ward- and the weather here tends to be mild year-round. I also enjoyed the exercise, especially walking home from work. After a stressful day at the office, I felt way calmer after a walk home.
It was good that I liked walking, because even post-grad with my full time job, the cost of me having a car is realllyyyy expensive, especially considering I now live a ten minute walk to work and the grocery store. I could have adjusted my monthly budget to adjust for buying one, but being in the city where everything is within walking distance, a car is really a “want” for me, not a “need”.
Once I crunched the numbers, I realized that buying a car made no sense for me personally. Here’s a breakdown of the estimated monthly expenses of me having a car, not including an estimated $15,000 initial cost of buying a car:
- Car payment: $400
- Insurance: $100
- Maintenance & Gas: $100
- Apartment parking: $30
- Office parking: $200
- Total: $830
I don’t care how long it takes me to get groceries…$800 a month for a car, plus the down payment of the car, when I’m a ten minute walk to work is just not worth it for me! Plus, I only have those “I wish I had a car” moments about three times a month, when I can just uber or ride with a friend.
However, walking everywhere was getting kind of old, and it was getting tough to have errands take forever or cause physical exertion- if I wanted to run out and get milk, all I could think about was carrying it home.
So- here’s what I did to make going car-free in Atlanta work.
Moving to the Atlanta Beltline
This past summer, I moved to the Beltline, which is optimal for not having a car, and the main advantage was that it put me within a shorter walking distance to the office. (If you don’t know what the Beltline is, you can read about it here!)
The Atlanta Beltline is perfect for not having a car because there’s no traffic, and businesses are right on the path. It feels like it’s made for people with no car, haha. Unlike Midtown, it feels “normal” for me to be car-free with my electric scooter, because I’m surrounded by a lot of scooters!
Another aspect of me moving to the Beltline was that it was cheaper for me financially than my high rise in Midtown because I moved in with a friend- it allowed me to save hundreds a month that I put directly into my savings. So, my move is also helping me get closer to owning a car financially.
Biking in Atlanta…Not a Love Connection
I bought my bike last spring with the intent on using it to commute to the office, as my work reimburses employees for bikes used for commuting. Here’s the link to the bicycle that I bought- I picked it because I specifically wanted a white bike and the price was less than $300. It’s a good quality basic bike, but I have to admit I bought it for the aesthetics. I also loved this basket that I got with it! I had no previous experiences with Retrospec bikes, but the customer service was really great as my order was delayed (it shipped during the peak of COVID-19 starting in the US), and they compensated me for the whole basket!
My bicycle arrived two days after my office began working from home, haha! So, I’ve actually only used it a few times….despite my love of spin class, I just can’t seem to enjoy riding my bike around. Atlanta is very hilly, I didn’t feel safe on the roads, and I found riding it on the beltline very stressful with the crowds.
I also found biking to be extremely strenuous (again, ATL is not flat at all), which sounds obvious but there’s something to be said for the fact that it didn’t actually fix the problem I was trying to solve: transportation that wasn’t a physical burden. In fact, I found that I preferred walking because it was easier physically for me and overall less sweaty, haha. Also, if I ever wanted to use the bike for carrying things like groceries, it would increase my physical load, not decrease it.
In terms of practicality, I had the issue of parking my bike- as much as I love Atlanta, theft is a problem and I didn’t feel comfortable parking my pretty bike on the Beltline. Plus, every time I want to use my bike, I have to get it out of the bike room in my apartment building, which sounds like it isn’t a big deal but it does add another 10 minutes on each end when I use it. There is also the small maintenance aspect of dealing with bike locks and adding air to the tires- of course, these things aren’t a super big deal but they all add up, and ended up in me choosing to simply walk to avoid them.
Looking for Other Transportation Options around Atlanta
I decided to keep looking for transportation options after walking realizing that getting to places at the other end of the Beltline even Trader Joes would take me an hour of walking round trip, and realizing that biking was just not going to work for me when running errands.
After dealing with the hills, I knew I wanted something with a motor so I considered a few things- a vespa (too expensive), an electric bike (also too expensive and an even worse theft issue), a super old, cheap car (a bad investment that would still have huge monthly costs), and…a scooter.
If you’re reading this, you obviously know that I chose to be car-free on the Atlanta Beltline with my electric scooter! Ultimately, it made the most sense logistically, and it was the cheapest.
Buying an Electric Scooter
I know scooters have taken cities all over the world by storm, and people have a lot of mixed feelings about them, haha. I wasn’t really sure about buying one since I thought they were really expensive and dorky, haha! I don’t know anyone else that has used an electric scooter to be car-free, but it has worked great for me, and it just made sense for my lifestyle.
Money-wise, buying one cost a lot less than I thought, and it is way cheaper per ride than renting them on the apps!). I haven’t decided if I’m embarrassed to be seen on mine in public yet, haha…but, I’m less worried about aesthetics and more focused on practically after over a year of feeling desperate for better transportation.
Here’s the link to the scooter I bought- I did a lot of research about scooters and this one got the best reviews for the price (again, under $300 was my budget). I chose Walmart when purchasing because of the warranty option and it had the fastest shipping- it came in just a few days.
My electric scooter works really well for my car-free lifestyle on the Atlanta Beltline; it’s faster than walking or biking (and sometimes driving in ATL!), and it’s easy to use. I can take it inside and not worry about parking, and keep it inside my apartment and not have to go to the bike room like I did for my bicycle. And, did I mention that it is really fun to ride, haha? For the first time in my whole life (I’ve never loved driving), I enjoy my commute when going places!
Things that used to be a burden or more stressful are just easier. I can get groceries more easily now- I actually wheel my scooter through the grocery store (so far I’ve only attempted this at the Beltline Kroger where the store officer said it was OK). Lately, I’ve been so grateful that I can buy my Spindrifts and not worry about them being too heavy, haha! I just put my reusable grocery bags on my handlebars and scoot on home.
I mostly use my scooter to get to spin class (don’t get me started on the twisted logic of buying a scooter to go to a spin class instead of just riding my bike). Walking there took about 20-30 minutes, while scootering takes 5-8 minutes, every time. My studio stores the scooter behind the front desk while I’m in class, and now that it’s getting dark outside after class I actually feel safer because I’m not walking by myself at night, and I even have a headlight. I should also mention that parking near my spin studio (like everywhere in ATL) is expensive, even just for the hour, which means I’m saving even more money by not driving.
Riding My Electric Scooter on the Atlanta Beltline
Using and riding the electric scooter has been pretty easy so far- maintenance is much less than any of the other options I looked at, and it’s electric so charging is easy.
The scooter gets up to about 15mph and has two gears- you press the little red button to go from 1st gear, which gets up to 8mph (the “scooter speed limit” on the Beltline is 8mph FYI), and then press it again for second gear to go faster. I usually keep mine in 2nd gear, and am very careful when on the Beltline and go slowly when there are crowds. I also avoid using it on weekends after noon- the Beltline is just too crowded.
It also has an automatic cruise control, and after ten seconds of holding your speed it will automatically adjust the speed and keep going. The scooter has a bell too, which is great for when you are passing groups of people that just are not paying attention. I try not to use it too much as I think people find it rude, and instead I just say “excuse me!” when I can.
Passing is a little scary when the Beltline is busy- it’s less like you’re driving, and more like you’re on a crowded boardwalk with people coming in all directions, and dogs on leashes that are paying no attention, haha. I aim to stay as right as possible, and when passing I pass in front of the people that are coming towards me, which sounds counterintuitive but in reality only the people facing you can see you and move if needed. So far I haven’t had any issues, though- people on the Beltline are used to the chaos of all different types of wheels (rollerbladers are my fav!), and easily get out of your way if needed.
There definitely is a learning curve to riding the scooter- the best advice I have is steer with your feet, as a quality scooter-er shouldn’t even need handlebars, according to the scooter-experts (I am laughing as I write this!!). I myself am no expert…I’ve had so many moments of getting distracted by all the crazy things you see on the Beltline- just yesterday I passed a man with a wagon filled with puppies!! I may or may not have accidentally come to a screeching halt right beside them, but he was nice enough to let me pet them! 🙂
Owning an Electric Scooter in Atlanta
Other than daily charging, I haven’t had any maintenance- I did get a three year warranty but so far after about a month I haven’t needed to use it. I charge it in a regular wall outlet every evening before I use it, and it folds up so it’s out of the way. I keep it in my hallway closet when I’m not charging it and it takes up less space than my golf clubs.
I do consider the scooter to be heavy (for me)- not too heavy where I can’t lift it, but I wouldn’t want to take it up or down stairs. When you fold it, you can roll it on a wheel, but I usually just keep it unfolded when it’s not in storage. I have elevators in my building so I just ride it up and down with it unfolded and I’m all set. It can be tricky to wheel/carry if you have your hands full (like through the grocery store), but so far I’ve adapted.
The only major downside of the scooter is that it doesn’t solve my issue of rain- if it rains, the company very clearly says that it’s not safe to use and rain can damage the scooter. That will be my next challenge, but I can’t complain too much because none of my alternatives solved that issue, either. Overall, being car-free with an electric scooter was the best option for me for my life in Atlanta.
My Final Thoughts on Being Car-Free in Atlanta with an Electric Scooter
Obviously I wouldn’t choose to be car-free if I had the money to buy a car, and every time I see a white Jeep Wrangler I do get a little jealous. On the other hand though, this has been a fun adventure and financially it’s so freeing to not have any car expenses. I do spend a fair amount of money on Ubers each month (but to be honest not that much more than my friends), but mostly I’m having fun scootering around Atlanta, and walking is great exercise.
The weirdest part about not having a car is that you are simultaneously so independent, but also so not independent. It’s fun to say that I don’t need a car and to get everywhere I need to on my own two feet- but it’s also super limiting if I wanted to run to HomeGoods or anywhere out of my little 2 mile radius, or even just go out of Atlanta for the weekend.
It’s been a personal challenge to adjust to being dependent on other people- having to ask people for a ride or admit that I ubered somewhere that’s out of the norm of going to the bars can feel uncomfortable for me. I’m not great at asking for help or being “different” in that sense, so I’m learning to get used to that feeling, and try to be as gracious as possible and adjust to the discomfort of asking for rides. To be honest, I’ve been really lucky that Ryan has a car so it doesn’t happen that often (and even luckier that he doesn’t mind a trip to Homegoods).
Overall, being car-free has been a fun challenge (although my feelings on this are less positive when it’s raining), and it’s been neat to have a city lifestyle where I can just scooter everywhere and save money. Plus, it’s great for the environment, so I love that aspect also.
I do plan to buy a car soon, but not as long as I live on the Atlanta Beltline and have no immediate need for it, being car-free with my electric scooter it is!