Marketplace Scratch Pad

The Gubbins Experiment

Scott Jagow Jan 13, 2010

Gubbins is a funny word, isn’t it? It means “a silly person” or odds and ends, like small things you have lying around the house. But the Gubbins Experiment doesn’t have much to do with either of those definitions. It was conducted by a guy who decided he wouldn’t set foot in a car for an entire year.

His name is Adam Greenfield, known by certain friends as “Gubbins.” He’s a 29-year-old filmmaker from England who now lives in San Francisco. For all of 2009, Adam did not use anything that could be considered an automobile. Not a friend’s car. Not a taxi. Not even a moped. Except for the occasional plane or train ride, he rode his bicycle everywhere he needed to go.

Time magazine interiewed Adam about the project from a financial standpoint:

Do you have any idea about how much money you would have spent if you had lived that year and done all your getting around town with a car?

AG: Hey, you’re talking to the man who shops around for the best prices on toothbrushes, so saving money is my bag, baby. Using figures from the 2004 Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey, I calculate I’d have spent at least $7,400 in 2009 on owning a car. Of course, those figures would be higher if that survey had been conducted in 2010. Around $10,000 seems a reasonable estimate of what I’d saved.

How did he do it? Well, when he needed to haul some plywood from the store, Adam borrowed a wagon and hitched it to his bike. When he went camping, he chose sites he could access by bicycle. He tells the San Francisco Chronicle how he got to his brother’s wedding:

He flew to England (noting on his blog that his experiment is about reliance on autos, not on every mode of transport) and caught a train to his brother’s house.

He borrowed his brother’s bicycle and pedaled 5 miles uphill through a rainstorm to get to the wedding site, wearing a huge camping backpack with two weeks of traveling gear.

He camped in a field, changing into his suit in his tent.

“You just make it happen. You don’t roll over and die if you don’t use a car,” he said.

Adam says, “not having a car reduces the amount of decisions you have to make – we are flooded with so many choices it’s making us unhappy.”

This year, he plans to stay car-free as much as possible. From his blog:

It’s amazing how much money is spent on something that spends 95% of its life sitting doing nothing. Cars are so expensive; it would be torture for a perpetual money-saver like me to spend so much on an auto. Once you realize that gas prices are only going to rise in the long term, it becomes clear that the car lifestyle is on its last legs.

I don’t think I can take it that far, but hopefully, Adam’s experiment gets people thinking about how much they’re spending and depending on cars. And I thought my fiance and I were doing well sharing one car in Los Angeles. Nice work, Adam!

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