A typical American family like mine—with three kids, three drivers, and a middle-class income—drives their three vehicles a total of about 100 miles a day. That’s 36,000 miles a year. (This is a higher number than I would have believed but it’s from a giant dataset maintained by the US Department of Transportation, so I’ll trust it for now.)

Before my family started its experiment in car-less living in February, we were averaging about 22 miles a day in our aged station wagon. (That’s 8,000 miles a year.) In other words, we were already driving about 22 percent of the norm.

What’s happened since?

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  • In March, our first full month without a car of our own, our FlexCar bill says we drove 120 miles. We also borrowed cars a couple of times or got friends and family to go out of their way to give us rides. I’ll estimate the month’s total driving on our behalf at 200 miles. That’s less than 7 miles a day (or 2,400 miles a year). We cut our already low mileage by two thirds.

    The norm is 100 miles a day; we drove 7. I’m not bragging. I’m shocked. Who would have guessed such a reduction was possible?

    Two observations.

    1. Even for a family like ours that lives in a complete, compact community, there’s still a huge amount of change that happens when prices tell the truth and you start paying to drive by the hour: staring at $8 an hour every time we consider driving a FlexCar has inspired a first-month reduction of two-thirds from us. Apparently, we’re not unusual: driving reductions of 50 to 70 percent are normal among households that shed a vehicle and start car sharing, according to the Transportation Research Board.

    2. When you own a car, ownership is expensive but driving is cheap. When you don’t, driving is expensive but everything else is cheap. Replacing our old car with another old car would have cost us at least $425 a month. In March, we spent $160 on FlexCar, plus another $65 on taxis, extra bus fares, gas money for friends, and a basic “non-owner” insurance policy for when we’re driving friends’ cars. We were left with an extra $200 a month. That’s equivalent to a $3,000 raise, because it’s tax free.

    We decided to devote $60 a month of that savings to cell phones for our kids. The other $140 is, literally, walking around money. When we’re out and about, we can afford to stop for a slice of pizza or an ice cream cone. (This new reality makes the car-less life much more palatable to our kids.)