Do You Need a Car in Boston? Let’s Count the Cost

Owning a Car in the City

Do You Need a Car in Boston?

The other day on Dave Ramsey’sFacebook wall the topic of conversation was how to save on cars.

Ten years ago it would have sounded funny to me if someone said they didn’t have a car, but now it sounds smart. Boston is definitely the kind of city where it makes sense to not own a car, for a number of reasons.

Reasons for Not Owning a Car in Boston

With a robust public transit system, cabs for late night jaunts, and no part of town that can’t rather easily be reached via foot, you don’t miss a car.

According to a story from, Massachusetts is in the top six states for highest auto insurance in the country.

I moved here from New Jersey, which made the top three, and I’m not willing to take that kind of cost on again.

Did you hear the story of the parking space last year that sold for $300,000? Yep. A PARKING spot.

And some folks think that price is well worth it. Each neighborhood has a limited amount of free street parking, and even if you’ve paid for your neighborhood resident parking sticker, it can be tough to find a spot. And no, if you have a resident sticker in one neighborhood, you can’t park in another neighborhood’s resident spots.

And that’s just to park at home! There are plenty of parking garages in the city once you get to where you’re going, and they’re happy to charge you crazy rates!

Recommended reading: How to Live Well Without Owning a Car: Save Money, Breathe Easier, and Get More Mileage Out of Life

How to Get Around Boston Without a Car

If I need to get outside of the city I can take the train or rent a car, and my fiancé and I use Zipcar on the weekends to make runs to Target or Home Depot.

Since the only transportation cost I have is my $90 monthly T pass, plus sporadic car rental and Zipcar costs, it makes sense not to own a car in the city, right? Except…

Reasons to Own a Car in Boston

If I spend 70% of my day at my desk, I spend another 20% of it waiting for buses and trains. Many points in the system only connect in one or two places in the city, so in some instances, it’s actually faster to walk across town than to ride.

For most of the year I also have to plan evening travel around the Red Sox schedule, since the bus I take home picks up at the major train and bus hub used to get to Fenway Park. After working late, the last thing you want to do is stand elbow to elbow on a bus of tipsy sports fans.

We’re at the whim of Zipcar and rental car availability. If there are none available, or if we’re trying to limit our spending, we have to run errands on the bus, which can mean sometimes buying smaller, more expensive items.

Have you ever tried carrying a 25 lb bag of kitty litter on a crowded city bus because it was on sale? I don’t advise it. There are easier ways to afford your pet.

Overall the biggest problem with not owning a car in the city is that it removes a certain sense of freedom. I’ve learned to adapt my life around schedules and car availabilities, but there’s a definite worry of what would happen if I had a family emergency and needed to be somewhere far quickly. Being able to get where you need to be when you need to be there – what’s that peace of mind worth?

Jennifer Scott is the Digital Communications Manager at PerkStreet Financial. When she's not at PerkStreet HQ, she's usually waiting for a bus.

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  1. @Jennifer Scott / No joke! I had a used beat up car so just had the minimal insurance costs and parked for free on my campus (all you had to worry about is break ins – so you were good if you had nothing in your car).

  2. Jennifer Scott says:

    @Jason – come on up to Boston! But when it’s still winter in April, I’ll bet you change your mind!

    @Jenna – I have a lot of friends who never use their cars, but then get frustrated that they’re still paying a ridiculously high insurance rate. I wonder if Boston drivers have the option of a “I only drive this on the weekends” insurance plan? They should!

    @Andrew – thanks! When I lived in Virginia I used to just get in my car and drive and explore. It was so relaxing and I saw so many amazing things. Now when the city gets to feeling too close it makes me crave those days when I could go anywhere I wanted as long as I could afford the gas.

  3. Awesome. Great tips. I’m all about Zipcar. I live in chicago and it would cost hundreds of dollars a month to rent a car, when I only use it for trips to Costcco and the occasional trip that takes me away from public transportation. It works great and it’s a fraction of the cost of owning a car. And public transport is great too.

    I do agree with the “freedom” point however. I often stop myself from going somewhere because I am considering the hourly rental cost or even the public transport cost. A car would be nice in these cases.

  4. Jason @ One Money Design says:

    Okay, that’s it! I’m moving to Boston. Enough with these high car expenses in Dallas. Seriously, I would love to get rid of one of our cars. Unfortunately, Dallas is too spread out and their isn’t sufficient public transportation. Still, I feel like I’m creative in that I drive half way to work and ride the bus the other half. The day I can take public transportation for my entire commuite (or perhaps work from home) you’ll see a for sale sign on one of my cars.

  5. I went to college in Boston and didn’t have a car my first three years there, however, my senior year I had a car due to the fact that both sets of my grandparents were getting older and there was piece of mind knowing that I could get to them quickly in my car versus by bus (not to mention someone would have to pick me up from a station). I honestly never used my car for an entire year other than to drive to visit them. Now I live in another city and am thinking about buying a new (to me) car that I will probably only use on the weekends.