Is leaving the car at home an option? A Hume local asks 'Why not?'
Published on 11 August 2023
Sunbury’s Ann Leach is a champion.
She’s a champion for the environment, and also one of Hume City Council’s ‘Enviro Champions’ - a program now in its 12th year - that’s helping Ann make a simple lifestyle choice an option for other locals around her.
Environmentalism has been on Ann’s radar for around 20 years, but it’s been in the last 16 months that she started walking the walk as well as talking the talk...literally.
“16 months ago I gave up car ownership. It’s my lifestyle choice.
Then I started reading books about cities of the world becoming more car centric – Amsterdam, Paris, Bogota, New York – so it’s becoming a thing.”
Having made the decision to give up her car, Ann this year was given the opportunity to spread her message when she was alerted to the Enviro Champions program on Council’s social media.
“On Hume Council’s Facebook page there was a post that said ‘We’re doing Enviro Champs, you should come along’, and it sounded like it would connect me with other people who were interested in environmental issues. And so I went.”
Each week of the 10 week Enviro Champions program meant a different learning opportunity for the participants, including how to connect with Council, how to connect with other environmentally minded community members, and how to fundraise.
Most importantly, Enviro Champions was a chance for each participant to showcase their idea for helping create a greener future as, in Ann’s words, it empowers citizens to go forward with projects.
“It’s a whole set of skills that you can develop if you want to do a project or lead a campaign. It’s free to the public, and it’s brilliant. Everybody should do it!”, she says.
Her idea is called “Why Not Walk”, and it highlights that in Sunbury, and in most cities, everyone lives within 10 minutes of a bus stop.
Essentially, Ann’s idea is that everyone can become less reliant on their car by simply choosing not to use it.
On 17 August Ann will get a chance to present her idea at Hume City Council’s ‘Great Green Get Together’, and then it's time to make it happen.
“I’ll now take the skills that (the program) gave me, and the next thing I need to do is present a presentation at graduation (Great Green Get Together), and then I’ll create a survey to collect some data, then I’ll get the word out.
“I’ll create flyers, talk to others in the community, go to the Rotary or CWA where people are already meeting in groups, and share my story with them.”
She hopes to share with people what she’s learned about how to make the transition, so it’s easier for others.
“It’s the way we think about how we get around. 16 months ago, when I first started walking, I was doing a lot of the math. ‘Oh my gosh it’s 10 minutes to the store, then 10 minutes home, then all that time at the store, 25 minutes to the library’.
“It took me about three or four months to stop doing the math and realise it doesn’t matter. I’m just more intentional about my shopping now.”
Once Ann had begun shifting her outlook to moving around, she shifted her outlook on how those choices were benefiting her.
“There’s the value of being on public transport. It can be viewed as a waste of time, or it can be viewed as ‘I don’t have to drive, I don’t have to make 10,000 decisions and be stressed out. I can read a book, meditate, and write.
“And the thing with the buses is it’s subsidised, so the cost is so much less than owning a car. I save over $300 a month by not owning a car.
Even when I need to rent a car for longer trips it’s a huge financial saving.”
And while she does accept that we have a long way to go to making buses a more natural part of our commute, she believes it’s just going to take the right approach.
“It takes everybody to shift their mindset so see that it’s a viable option.
“And really, it’s easiest with young people. If you can make it the ‘new cool’ then going forward (young people) are already hooked in. It’s all mind work.”
And yes, she says, it can be done!
“There's a book called ‘Happy City’ and one of the cities spoken about is Bogota. They revamped their CBD and bussing system.
“Their bussing system was horrific, and there was vandalism and graffiti, it was just yuck. They had to reshape everyone’s mindset around public transportation to make it the ‘new cool’.”
Revolutionising public transport would be a great outcome for Ann, but really she just wants to start the conversation thanks to the Enviro Champions program.
“It isn't about pushing the choice of ‘no car’ onto people, it’s about planting the seed of the options.”