Michael Pihach grew up in St. Catharines, where you needed a car to get around. Like most teenagers at the time, he thought about getting his driver’s licence, but he was busy fast-tracking through high school—taking extra classes at night and in the summer—and left for university when he turned 17.
“So I left home younger than most people. And in the process of that, I just never ended up getting my licence,” said Pihach. Instead, he went to University of Toronto Mississauga, a satellite campus of U of T, that was “just as suburban as St. Catharines.” But by 18, he had moved to Toronto.
“And because I was in the city for many, many years after that, it just never dawned on me that I should get a licence,” said Pihach, who now works as a travel writer. “However, when I was in my late 20s, I decided that I should, just for the sake of having it. So I went to drivers’ school, learned how to drive a car, did the test and got my G1. And that’s when the momentum ended. I literally just let the G1 expire.”
The main reason for getting his G1? So he’d have an ID to get into clubs. “I don’t go to clubs anymore,” he said.
“Now that I’m 37 there’s absolutely no reason for me to have that identification because I don’t get carded.”
Beyond that, a lot has changed since he was a teenager, like the emergence of ride-hailing services. He also used to cycle to work, before the pandemic, but now works from home.
“In the long run, having an Uber ride here and there is much cheaper than paying insurance, parking and repairs and everything else that comes with owning and driving a car,” he said.
“So when those [ride-hailing] programs came along, I was even less inclined to get my licence.”
Getting a driver’s licence doesn’t appear to be the rite of passage it once used to be—and there are several reasons for this.
Mohsen Alavi is a PhD student at York University’s faculty of environment and urban change and a co-researcher on the StudentMoveTO project, led by Professor Roger Keil. The project is supported by 10 colleges and universities and four government and community organizations, aimed at generating insights that will help to improve the transportation experiences of post-secondary students in the GTHA.
In fall 2019, StudentMoveTO conducted a large-scale survey of more than 18,500 students at 10 post-secondary institutions across the GTHA. More than 22 per cent of survey respondents said they didn’t have a driver’s licence. And of those who did, not all of them own a car or drive regularly.
Alavi can relate. He lives in Newmarket, and he used to take the bus — but waiting 40 minutes at a bus stop in wintertime when it’s below zero isn’t ideal.
“At first I didn’t want to have a car,” he said, “but car dependency forced me to have a driver’s licence and have a car.”
The group’s research also found that 65 per cent of students who have a driver’s licence don’t own a car, and of those, just 15 per cent indicated they would buy a car in the future.
The three main reasons for not having a licence were:
- Good access to public transit services (83 per cent)
- Costs associated with driving and owning a car (66 per cent)
- Negative impacts of driving on the environment (50 per cent)
Some of the anonymized student responses they received as part of the study included: “I prefer walking as much as I can,” “I don’t want to be stuck in traffic jams,” and “I just didn’t want to have the financial burdens of car ownership on top of all the other costs of being a student.”
“There’s a correlation between having a job and having a driver’s licence,” said Alavi. Living downtown with better access to public transit was also more likely to reduce car dependency.
It’s too early to say how the COVID-19 pandemic may have pushed more people to get their driver’s licence or buy a car.
For Pihach, because of the pandemic, he’s been subletting his apartment in Toronto to help out his mom in St. Catharines.
“I found myself as a 37-year-old man back in St. Catharines, without a licence. And it became very clear to me that, wow, you really can’t do much here without a car,” he said.
“There’s even a car at my disposal—my mom won a car in a raffle five, six years ago … so there’s an extra car there sitting for me to use.”
But he plans to move back to Toronto shortly, so he doesn’t see a need to start driving just yet.
“It’s not that I’m lazy. I just have no interest,” he said.
However, Pihach does see a day when he may start driving again: if he ever has children, or if he ends up leaving Toronto permanently.
“I wouldn’t rule it out completely. But I’d want to have a really nice car.”
Celebrities who don’t drive
Cardi B: The American rapper often shows off her fleet of luxury vehicles on Instagram, including a Fiat 124 Spider. But she doesn’t actually drive them, since she doesn’t have her driver’s licence.
Mariah Carey: The songstress has quite a collection of cars, including a custom pink Porsche Cayenne. And while apparently she has a driver’s licence, she chooses not to drive—and why bother, when you have a personal driver to chauffeur you around?
Ricky Gervais: The British comedian was reportedly asked to host “Top Gear” a few years back, but alas, he turned down the gig—because he doesn’t have a driver’s licence. Though he has appeared in an Audi A3 commercial (as a passenger, of course).
Jennifer Lopez: The triple-threat performer does have a driver’s licence, but it’s mainly for ID purposes — not for driving. This is despite the fact former fiancée Alex Rodriguez gifted her with a red 911 Carrera GTS Porsche for her 50th birthday.
The late Charlie Watts: The former drummer extraordinaire of the Rolling Stones, who passed away this year at the age of 80, never got his driver’s licence. He owned several classic and exotic cars, but never drove them — he spent most of his life on a tour bus.