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Collins' Capital

Steve Collins covers urban affairs and other issues facing the nation's capital.

Life without wheels is great if it's by choice

Most of the time, I like being carless, saving the costs of insuring, maintaining, parking and feeding a vehicle, and missing out on the aggravation of the automotive horn-and-middle-finger parade. Part of the point of living in a city for me is being able to walk and bus anywhere I'm going.

There are drawbacks, of course. Buses can be a frustrating way to get somewhere on time, and trips to suburban locales that OC Transpo touches only rarely and glancingly leave me budgeting an extra hour to get there and back, or bumming yet another ride from one of my long-suffering friends. (Hi, Matt!)

Overall, though, I don't miss driving. There's something that just seems lazy about it. Get in, turn key, go. You don't have to give much thought to how you'll get anywhere, so you miss out on mental exercise as well as physical.

The car also has a way of creating errands. I rented one this past weekend for an out-of-town trip, and one of the first things I found myself doing was shopping, picking up a few things I'd been meaning to get because it was now easier, but also a few things I might not have bothered with otherwise. Cars are shopping machines.

I'm hardly a modal chauvinist pig, though, smugly flaunting my dainty, wee carbon footprint at the car-bound. You use the transport that works for your situation. People have kids and commutes and other needs that demand wheels.

I'm also (reasonably) able-bodied and carless by choice. The city can be hard on those who aren't, and that's why I was impressed this week by Jana Mitchell, the 27-year-old entrepreneur behind Wheels for the Wise, a new driver-companion service aimed at seniors, particularly those with physical or mental disabilities.

Their drivers pick up clients, take them to the medical appointment, shopping trip or social happening, and help them get whatever they came to do done, carrying bags, helping with wheelchairs or just providing a bit of company.

"Even though some clients don't necessarily need the constant physical assistance, it's just simply knowing that someone is there if they need them," Mitchell said.

At $45 an hour, the service might take a biggish bite out of some fixed incomes, but it struck even my auto-agnostic self as a pretty smart use of a car. Wheels for the Wise is at 613-709-9473 or

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