A How-To for living in Davis without a car

Whether you've been forced into a car-free existence by your student status or you've entered into the car-free lifestyle to save something (the environment, our sense of community, your sanity, your hard earned money, etc.), WELCOME! You're in good company in Davis. There is probably no easier place in all of the United States to be 100% car-free.

Most people who live or study in Davis explore non-car transportation during their time here. If you're a beginner ("dabbler"), start with the Wiki's biking or general transportation pages. If you're ready to give up your car or commit to living life in Davis without one, read on. 2 in-town errand bikes and 1 commuter bike Go to Comments


Noun or adjective. Pursuing life without a car. This doesn't mean you can hop into a friend's car. Car-free means you don't get into cars. A practitioner of a car-free lifestyle may or may not be part of the car-free movement
Noun One who experiments with non-car transportation. To a dabbler, all non-car transportation is "alternative".
Not completely car-free, but uses alternative transport modes in addition to the car. May engage in car-sharing or car-pooling
Adj. Espousing or reflecting values that are different from those of the establishment or mainstream
Car-free credit
The amount of money you save by living without a car. A "premium" car-free credit may also include intangible benefits derived from your car-free lifestyle.
Lug It Rule
If you can't lug it, you can't buy it. See Exceptions

Key steps to being Car-free in Davis

Accept and embrace your car-free existence

Car-free is an attitude as much as it is a mode of transportation. There are some serious perks. There are also some significant drawbacks. Better get used to them now – your car-free life will be nothing like your car-bound life.

Choosing your modes of travel

Giving up your car opens up lots of options. You may already know them from your days as a "dabbler". Now it's time to look at alternative modes of transportation with fresh, new eyes. These are no longer "alternative": they are YOUR modes of transport.

Use the Transit Destinations guide to find the best way to get to destinations outside of Davis on public transit.

Not car-free, but occasionally needed:

Live close to the things you care most about

Sample list of top ten most frequently visited places

  • Make a list of the top 10 places you go, organized by neighborhood.
  • Live in a neighborhood that allows you to travel easily to your most-frequented destinations.
  • Add your car-free credit to the cost of your rent or house payment. This will help you justify the higher rents of living in the Central areas of Davis, for instance.

Getting to work

  • Pick a job that's close by. Applying your car-free credit will help you justify taking a local job over a higher-paying out-of-town job.
  • Pick your main mode of Commuter transportation
  • Pick your alternative mode for the days when your main mode just won't work.

Shopping and errands

Note some businesses and other venues may not let you bring your backpack in. See No Backpack Policy.

Grocery Shopping

Do you love to impulsively load up on stuff when you spot a big sale? Well, cut it out. Whether your favorite liter of soda goes on sale at Safeway, or you come across a mad summer sidewalk sale, your "Buy Now" button is gonna have to stop working. See the Lug It Rule.

You can still get what you need — you just have to plan a bit. Make multiple trips during the sale. See Emergency Measures. If your "Buy Now" button is a precious part of you that you'd like to keep, buy a bike trailer.


Two words: delivery service. How else are you gonna get that futon home? Buying furniture is seriously difficult without a car. But it's one of the few things that is. You have a couple of options in this task:

  1. Convince your friend with a truck that their old sofa is crappy and offer to go shopping with them. Find nothing at the store that suits their house, but happen to find something perfect for yourself.

  2. As stated above, pay for the delivery service offered by the furniture store.

  3. Realize that we can't buy from our great Davis local businesses all the time, and shop online.

  4. Taxi!

Electronics and delicate things

Um, you really shouldn't buy a TV and take it home on your bike rack. I've tried this, and it turns out that it's not a good idea. You're gonna wanna explore some of the above solutions (see "furniture"). Maybe if you're daring, plunk it in a trailer. It's also a good time to explore some of the more creative solutions to Car-freedom.

  1. For instance, shop at Ace or another downtown store, and "borrow" a shopping cart to bring home your goods.

  2. Buy a handtruck, wheelbarrow, or child's wagon to schlep home your electronics or delicate goods.

  3. Electronic stores will sometimes deliver for free if you buy over a certain dollar amount. Plan ahead and save up your purchases to buy all at once.

Coping with water

When living without a car, you'll probably want to consider how you obtain your drinking water. Some people drink municipal water from the tap, hose, or drinking fountains. Others buy bulk filtered water from dispensers attached to the municipal supply. If you buy your water in refillable bottles, water is one of the things that you need to plan errand trips around. Consider yourself like many others of the world (16%, according to a WikiPedia article) that walk to their water source. You'll become aware of how heavy water is and how much work it is to carry enough to live on.

If you aren't getting your water from the tap you can:

No Car, No Cry

Things you never have to worry about once you're car-free

Pure Profits

The special benefits of car-freeness.

  • Save tons of money (See Car-free Credit)

  • 100% of your non-online purchases will be local. If you can't lug it, you can't buy it.

  • Exercise becomes integrated into your life. You don't have to take time out to do it, or pay a gym to help you add it in.

  • Smaller environmental footprint. Your little wolf paw in a land of Big-Foots. Calculate your carbon footprint with a car-free or car-full life and see the difference for yourself.

  • You see a lot more of Davis that is only accessible by bike/walking. Anyone can be a weekend biker/walker and see these things — the difference is that you see them every day.

  • Neighborliness — learning how to ask for help when you need it (e.g. "I need a ride.") may also make you more eager to give help to others when they needed it, or even to offer before you're asked.

  • More balanced perspective on Time.

Practical Considerations

Unique concerns, and making it all work

Choosing a primary mode of transportation

You have lots of car-free options, but since some of them take an initial investment or commitment to a monthly pass to make them affordable, you'll want to choose at least one primary mode of transportation. Assuming that going to a job or to school is the most common reason that you leave the house, pick a primary mode that will best get you there. "Best way" when you have a car usually means the quickest. Not so with a car-free life. Some days, getting to work without being wet is the "best way". Other considerations are listed below. Google Transit can help you plan your trip using public transportation. Unfortunately, GT does not currently include Davis transit systems, but it does include Sacramento, so you can take Yolobus into Sac, then use GT to help plan your trip within Sac.

If you.../if it is...then consider...
Work in Sac
OK if you're hardcore
Work in Woodland
OK if you're hardcore
Work in Winters
OK if you're hardcore
very limited schedule
Live close to work
don't bother
Rainy weather
OK if properly outfitted
short distances only, unless you're a duck
Cold weather
great, your body heat is your friend
great, your body heat is your friend
Hot weather
fine, but use caution over 105 degrees
use caution
12-20 mph
12 min to Sac, plus waiting
30 min to Woodland, 40-70 min to Sac, 30 min to Winters
20 min across town, plus waiting
3-4 mph
Transfers to another bus line will add time
Lug stuff (laptop, files, etc)
OK, but not great
Wear classy clothes to work
OK if you can shower & change
fine (carry work shoes)
Must drink coffee on way to work
OK if careful and have a travel mug and coffee holder
only if you are naughty
no food or drink allowed
bike+train, bike+Yolobus, bike+walk
train+bus, train+walk, train+Unitrans
Yolo+bike, Yolo+walk, Yolo+Unitrans
Uni+wak, Uni+train, Uni+Yolobus
walk+train, walk+Yolo, walk+Uni, walk+bike (?)
Sometimes you need to use more than one transport option to get to work. These are the ones possible in Davis.
Cost compared to other car-free options, NOT between a car-free option or having a car. NOTE: Lucky undergrads can ride Unitrans and Yolobus for free.

Daily errands around Davis

So now you can get to work or school everyday. But what about your other daily needs? If you commute to work with Amtrak or Yolobus, you need to invest in secondary mode of transportation for getting around town. Here are some things to consider:

Lugging stuff:

  • Bike- OK for heavy things, bad for awkward things
  • Walking- Good for light to moderate weight (10-15 lbs) or weirdly shaped items
  • Unitrans- OK for heavy things


Time of week:

  • Unitrans- Limited schedule on weekends

Time of day (nighttime /early morning):

  • Public transit often does not extend into late night and early morning, depending on your route
  • Walking may not be considered acceptable by some folks due to the (very small) possibility of being mugged or assaulted

Choosing an Emergency mode

Life is different every day. A car may make you ignore or forget this, but in your car-free world you will know this well. The weather changes; your muscles hurt; you need to be to work earlier or stay later than usual; you have to bring in a cake for someone's birthday... any of these things may be a reason to use your secondary mode of transport. If you usually walk or bike, sometimes you may instead need to bus it.

But sometimes you can't even do that. See above for examples. Now it's time to use your emergency, often car-FULL, measures.

Car-free Credit

Your car-free credit is all the money you would be spending to maintain and use a car for your transportation needs. This credit can be applied to your other living expenses — it is a credit that can offset the costs of taking a local job in Davis, renting an apartment in a central neighborhood, or purchasing from less competitively-priced local stores.

How to Calculate

STEP 1 Tally up your current expenses. If you've never had a car, find a friend who drives about as far as you do for work/school/entertainment and pump them for the nitty gritty.

STEP 2 Insert numbers into the below sheet, and total them up.

Car Expense
2004 Saturn Sedan, 40 miles/weekday
Used Hyundai Elantra
2006 Prius, 40 m/wkday
Your choice
Purchase Price
$enter figure
Average monthly car payment
$enter figure
Average monthly car insurance, assuming excellent driving history
$enter figure
Average monthly gas bill
$enter figure
Total Monthly Car Expenses
$enter figure
Yearly maintence
$enter figure
Car registration
$enter figure
Total Yearly Car Expenses
$1,460 after car purchase
$enter figure

STEP 3 Calculate the expenses of your new primary and secondary modes of transportation. Example, a non-student using Unitrans to commute to work and a bike for errands would cost you $677 in the first year, and $447 for each year after that.

Your Car-free Expenses
Commuter Bike
Second Bike
Purchase or Pass
Public transport passes often include money-saving transfers to lightrail or bus lines
Dealing with Darkness
bring flashlight
bring flashlight
bring flashlight
bring flashlight
With certain removable headlights, you'd only need the proper handlebar mount on your second bike.
Hot Weather
short trips only
nothing special7
Above 105 is a good time to get a ride!
Cold Weather
short trips only
nothing special
nothing special
nothing special
nothing special
Rainy Weather
wait til it stops
use 2nd transport choice
Lugging your stuff
Not a lugging option13
Safety concerns
$40 if you don't have a commuter bike17
$6 for pepper spray?
Regular Maintenance
$0 if you have a commuter bike
Yearly Maintenance
$60- 12019
$60- 12020
Year 1 Car-free Cost
Each year after Year 1
$135 – 195
$60 -195

Top of "Car-free Calculator"

STEP 4 Subtract the expenses from Step 3 from the Total in Step 2. This gives you the basic Car-Free Credit. Example: Using Unitrans and a bike instead of a recent but not new car earns you a $4,983 Car-Free Credit in the first year of your car-free life. Whoa!

How to Apply to your lifestyle choices

Some ideas to apply your credit to a useful purpose

  • Considering moving apartments? Apply the Car-Free Credit to your new rent - you may actually be saving money in the end.
  • Bummed that your trips to Costco may take a hit during your car-free transition? Apply the Car-free credit and you may find that buying in smaller quantities from local stores will save you on your bills overall.
  • Tempted to take an out-of-town job? Add back in all those car expenses and see if will truly be worth it in car transportation costs.

Note: The Car-Free credit must be applied to your overall monthly or annual expenses to be used for budgeting. However, the Car-Free Credit is endlessly useful for psychological applications, such as rationalizing buying a small X, or feeling superior for making choice Y or Z.

Special Considerations

Car-free with kids

Note: California law requires all children under 18 wear an appropriate helmet while riding on a bike, in an attached baby seat or bike trailer, or on another wheeled vehicle such as a scooter or skates.

Children under a year

This is the most difficult stage to be car-free with kids, as biking with an infant is controversial. Most experts do not recommend bike or trailer travel for infants, as they don't have the neck strength for upright sitting positions in a trailer or bike seat, and the vibrations could be dangerous for their brains. Furthermore, California helmet law states that all minor passengers on a bike or in a trailer pulled by a bike must wear a helmet, but helmets are not normally made for infants under a year old due to these safety concerns.

However, many parents rig a car seat into a trailer, stick to well-paved roads and paths, and feel, probably quite reasonably, that the vibrations and other possible dangers are no worse than would be experienced in a car. Chariot Carriers makes an infant sling attachment for their trailers, but recommend it for use in stroller mode only, though they can't really suggest otherwise for liability reasons and some websites suggest using it for biking.

A good baby carrier is essential. Get a carrier with a wide weight range that distributes the weight across both shoulders and can be used in a wide variety of positions, such as a mei tai or Ergo carrier. The standard Baby Bjorn (and similar carriers, such as a Snugli), commonly causes back pain past about 15lbs (the Baby Bjorn Advanced is supposed to work better). Slings that go over one shoulder are excellent for small babies and short trips, but may cause shoulder pain with larger babies or for longer trips. Mother & Baby Source carries an assortment of baby carriers, and has samples on hand for you to try out.

A stroller is useful, too. Choose a good stroller - one that you'll feel comfortable pushing for long distances over uneven surfaces, with adequate storage for baby paraphernalia, groceries, or other cargo. A jogging stroller may be a good choice, as the four wheel strollers can be difficult to manage with Davis's annoying disability-inaccessible street corners. If you don't have interest in buying a separate stroller, most new bike trailers have attachments that convert them into strollers, and they're surprisingly easy to use.

Toddlers and Preschoolers

Once the child is past a year, you can stick them in a bike trailer or baby seat without controversy. Most people consider bike trailers to be safer, easier to manage, and easier to weatherproof than the baby seats that attach directly to the front or back of the bike, plus they provide storage for whatever else you're bringing along.

If you don't already have a jogging stroller, you may want one at this stage, as your child outgrows the more baby-oriented stroller or gets too heavy to carry long distances. People may look askance at you if you have an older toddler or preschooler in a stroller, but that's their problem - they wouldn't have an issue if you were taking the same child in a car, and sometimes it just isn't efficient or possible to make a child walk on their own when there are distance or time constraints.

That said, encourage your child to walk distances when feasible - if you start building up young, they'll be used to it when they're older. They can start learning to ride a bike at this age, too.

Older Children

Children who are too big (or believe they are too big!) for a trailer but who can't easily ride independently can ride on a Trail-A-Bike - a kid's half-bike that attaches to an adult bike. These attachments can be obtained at local bike shops. A traditional tandem bike can also be used for children who are large enough.

You can switch off, too. For longer trips where a child might get bored, tired, or want to sleep, they can ride in a trailer (provided they're within the weight limits), and use a trail-a-bike for shorter trips.

If your child is riding for transportation regularly, get them a good quality bike, not one of the cheap ones commonly marketed towards kids.

More Than One Child

Double bike trailers and strollers are obvious choices. One child can be carried in a baby carrier while the other rides in a stroller. A bike trailer can be connected to a trail-a-bike connected to an adult bike, making a train that can handle multiple kids. Use a tandem bike, trail-a-bike, and a double trailer and one adult could drive a bike train of four kids!

The nice folks down the street do exactly that, and it's interesting to watch the procession go by StevenDaubert



bike/trail-a-bike/trailer combo bike/bike seat/trailer combo

Public Transportation With Kids

Yolobus is free for children under 5, reduced price for children 5-18. The Unitrans website does not specify a child discount. A $15 summer pass, valid on both Unitrans and Yolobus, is available for children under 18.

Amtrak is free for children under 2 (one child per adult ticket), and half off for children 2-15 (up to two children per adult fare).


Where to get stuff for biking:

  • Freecycle- Subscribe to the listserv for major acquisitions such as a bike trailer.

  • Buy Nothing Davis - Ask community members for help with maintenance or if they could share some gear.

  • Davis Food Co-op Bulletin Board- Used bikes, bike trailers, and accessories are often posted there.

  • Bicycle Shops

  • iWasteNot website for Davis

  • Garage Sales Especially bike trailers, since they often go unused once children are big enough to ride on their own.

  • Davis Bike Collective Empower your inner wrench and do your own tune-ups and repairs. Donate the cash you save. They also have reasonably priced used parts.

Are you car-free?

How many car-free people are there in Davis? Let's find out...

If you're car-free, enter yourself into the tally below.

Car-free or Car-lite in Davis Name/Login, Carfree or Car-lite?, How many years?, Student or Davisite?

  • JoRo, Car-free since 2000, Davisite
  • Daubert's Father, car free since 1974ish, Davisite
  • ImNotABear, Car-free since 1999, Davisite
  • ArlenAbraham — ex-student, car free since 2004
  • PhilipNeustrom — doesn't have a driver's license. used to roller blade everywhere 'cuz he's a cyber punk. now he bikes.
  • JackkiCox, — Car-Free on again off again since 2004.
  • JasonDunne — I drove a CNG Truck for my job this past summer about half a dozen times. Otherwise I haven't driven since October 2005. (side note - isn't this list a little trivial and egotistical when you consider the high number of people that don't drive in Davis?)
  • ChristaJones — Car-free since December 2007.
  • KellyM — Car-free since 2007. Dragged to Davis by girlfriend, sometimes uses her car to go out since she doesn't bike :(
  • JenniferRutherford doesn't drive (scares people), Davisite
  • OmgStarKitty carless student since car was stolen and chopped in April 2010 :(
  • KyleAmbroff Gave my car to a friend in September 2010 after not having driven it for almost 6 months. Car free ever since! Davisite
  • ElliotMarshall Carfree since 2007. Davisite. Carfree means not hopping in friends cars, buses, etc. I've used train-bike for some longer trips in the past but now get around just on my own power.

See Also...

Top of Page

2007-01-14 18:07:52   my fathers main mode of transportation to and from UCD campus is his bike. He has done so now for almost 30 years —StevenDaubert

2007-01-16 16:57:14   This is a great page! —LisaBriggs

2007-01-23 14:58:23   Car-free for 9+ years and loving it! —ImNotABear

2007-01-28 16:57:34   While Amtrak is an "expensive" option, almost every bus system (except San Francisco) accepts Amtrak transfers for free to/from transporation (you can get two transfers every time you ride Amtrak). In Sacramento, this is especially nice if you want to travel by light rail. In the East Bay, I understand, there are some good options as well. Unitrans also accepts Amtrak transfers, which may be useful for some situations. —JaimeRaba

2007-04-02 14:44:20   no quite car free...but usually commute on Yolobus to Woodland. and soon willl be commuting on bike (to the landfill). Our family has one regular car and one GEM (oversize electric golf cart). so, often we don't use the gas car for days and days. —RocksandDirt

2007-05-16 22:41:50   I was car-lite before my second child, and it pained me to resort to driving during those awkward early months. Thankfully I'm car-lite once again, with additional help of a second, cargo-only trailer that I found on the cheap. After the Whole Earth Festival I saw some trailers parked outside of the EC that looked excitingly homebrew, which would have been a fun way to go had I thought of it earlier. —KevinChin

2007-08-14 19:30:04   If the automobile is king in the United States, in California, it is GOD! (unfortunately).

I just returned after nearly 12 years of living on the other side of the planet (Ankara, Turkey), and I can only say that the availability of convenient mass transit in the urban areas of California is absolutely pathetic compared even to developing countries. True enough in Davis (in which I have lived and/or worked in the years 1978-1983, 1986-1993, 2001-2004, and since July 2007) one can certainly deal with intracity commerce and living on bicycle and foot alone, as long as one is a homeowner or a renter who doesn't change dwellings and who works for the university (living in the Davis bubble?). But isn't that the rare individual? For intercity travel, I have relatives in Galt and Rocklin, and it takes 40 min by car and on my schedule to get to either of those places, 2-3 hours trying to get there without a car and on some mass transit system's own particular schedule (often Sundays and holidays excepted).

I don't have a car as of this moment, but it's not by choice after just getting back from 3 years abroad. The feeling of powerlessness, while certainly not daily, and sometimes not even weekly, hits one square in the face when one is faced with a crisis of some kind. Yes, the monthly payments, the insurance, the outrageousness of gasoline prices, the depreciation...I am sure it all adds up to eating $500-800 a month of my income if I joined the auto club today—with an environmentally conscious hybrid, of course—but I sure do feel better when I don't have to spend an inordinate amount of time going from point A to point B. And no, despite being free to get things done when someone else is doing the driving (train, bus, etc.) I don't catch up on "Harry Potter" or that mass spectrometry journal article I have been intending to read, unless I want motion sickness. —MaviGozler

2007-11-04 19:17:43   I think that saying yolobus is expensive is totally wrong, especially since all undergrads with an undergrad i.d. card can ride for FREE. trust me, I commute from Woodland-Davis everyday. —ArianeMetz

2008-02-09 07:51:22   I guess you could say my husband and I are car-lite - we use the car for errands such as grocery shopping, but he works close to home and I commute to work in Sacramento on Yolobus. I think yolobus is great - but it depends on where you live whether it is convenient. I moved to a house that was right on the bus line, and that makes all the difference. I especially like the fact that as gas prices rise, it doesn't really impact us (except, of course, in higher grocery prices, etc.). Being car-lite is great - it saves money and the environment. —AcMach

2008-08-12 13:01:03   It's very easy to be car free in Davis. I work in Sac and take teh Amtrak daily. Bus would be a little cheaper but would take longer. Committing to the commute and buying a monthly train pass saves a lot of $$$. My per-trip cost is a little over $2 each way. Plus, many large employers will reimburse some amount of the cost of commuting by train or bus to incentivize doing your part to reduce pollution. With all of this, I pay about $1 each way to use Amtrak. Biking to/from the train stations is simple & easy and although there are lots of bikes on the train, conductors are tolerant of bikes in excess of racks as long as they don't block the pathways. Finally, the 8:02 morning train is often late but rarely more than 10 minutes. The 9:17am train is opften a disaster but there is a 9:30am Amtrak bus that is quick & they accept train passes. The return trip from Sac is always on time. —Dora5

2008-10-08 17:01:56   Does a "car free" lifestyle include all the vehicles it takes to bring goods to town that we buy? I'd feel pretty silly if I called myself "car free" but then found out my bananas weren't wheeled over here on a Huffy, but, say, on the back of a big-rig! —JesseSingh

  • "Car free" is just means you don't have a car, or you have a car but you never use it (basically the same thing). You transport yourself via other means other than a car. This doesn't include anything past the first degree of separation. The general meaning is that by being car free, you are "one less car" on the road. —KellyM

2010-04-09 16:24:23   Car free since 2008, when after moving from LA, my husband and I got rid of both of our cars. —LisaA


1. Sacramento-Davis Monthly pass is $113, $342 for pass to SF-Davis, call 1-877-974-3322 for more info on Amtrak Monthly Passes.
2. Monthly Pass is $21, free for undergrads, quarter or year passes are cheaper (especially for grad students)
3. Monthly Pass @$85, free for undergrads
4. Bike Light (Front) @ $35, Bike Light (back) @ $20, Reflective jacket @ $30
5. Bike Light (Front), Bike Light (back)
6. Tank to sweat in @$25, Shorts @ $30, Visor (comes with helmet), Mandatory sunscreen @$10, Water container @ $10
7. H20, sunscreen
8. Goofy black stretch pants @ $40, Wool long sleeve shirt @$40
9. Fenders @ $15, Shoe covers @ $40, Rain pants @ $35, Rain proof gloves @ $30, Rain proof outer coat @ $45, Extra socks
10. Serious umbrella @ $30
11. Bike Bracket @ $15, pannier (light) @ $30 (light)
12. Bike Bracket @ $15, Bike bracket (sturdy) @ $4
13. Maybe a roller luggage, if you REALLY have to use Amtrak to lug something
14. Large capacity backpack
15. best to use 2nd transport choice for lugging
16. Helmet
17. Helmet
18. Tire pump @ $20, Grease @ $10, Emergency gear (patches, tubes, etc) @ $45
19. $60 for a decent tune-up, $120 for overhaul every few years—or go to Bike Forth, the new location of the Davis Bike Collective (donate the cash you save to them) and do the tune-ups and overhauls yourself
20. $60 for a decent tune-up, $120 for overhaul every few years—or go to Bike Forth, the new location of the Davis Bike Collective (donate the cash you save to them) and do the tune-ups and overhauls yourself

2016-03-04 22:43:57   It'd be great to meet other non-motorists. If you know of a way to connect to a community please let me know. —ElliotMarshall