Study Shows Fewer Cars, Less Driving in U.S. Cities


The irony is not lost on us here in the downtown-Chicago-based Editorial Department that a sizable proportion of us do not actually own cars, and an even greater number don't regularly drive to work. We love cars. We're continually driving test cars on the city streets (and sometimes on the racetrack), and we're thinking about them all the time. But in the nation's third-largest and one of the most densely populated cities, more convenient options abound for getting to and from most of our daily destinations, from abundant public transportation to car- and bicycle-sharing services to — if you can imagine — walking.

Study: Millennials Have Less Interest in Cars

A recent study shows that we are not unicorns, though that would be a rad way to commute to the office. In fact, according to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Center, the percentage of people forgoing a car is on the rise, especially in dense urban areas. Using data from the American Community Survey, the study examined recent trends in the proportion of households without a light-duty vehicle, first looking at the entire U.S. from 2005 through 2012 and then at variations in that proportion among the 30 largest cities for 2007 and 2012.


"Recent studies have shown that — per person, per driver and per household — we now have fewer light-duty vehicles, we drive each of them less, and we consume less fuel than in the past," Michael Sivak, of the Transportation Research Center, stated in a report titled "Has Motorization in the U.S. Peaked?" "These trends suggest that motorization in the U.S. might have reached a peak several years ago."

The study's main findings were as follows:

  • In 2012, 9.2 percent of U.S. households were without a vehicle, compared with 8.7 percent in 2007.
  • The proportion of households without a vehicle varies greatly among the 30 largest U.S. cities. In 2012, the greatest number was in (surprise!) New York, with nearly 57 percent car-free, while San Jose, Calif., had the lowest, with less than 6 percent.
  • In six of the 30 cities, more than 30 percent of households do not have a vehicle.
  • From 2007 to 2012, the proportion of car-free households increased in 21 of the 30 cities examined.
  • The 13 cities with the largest proportions all showed an increase from 2007 to 2012.

The greatest increases in car-free households, according to the institute, were in Detroit, which went up 5 percent, and New York and Washington, D.C., both of which rose 2.4 percent. Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest city, increased 0.8 percent for a total of less than 14 percent. The biggest dips in the number of car-free households were in Texas, where El Paso and Fort Worth lost 1.3 and 0.9 percent, respectively.

The top 10 car-free cities, followed by their car-free percentage, according to the institute (as reported by the Wall Street Journal), are:

1. New York, 56.5 percent
2. Washington, D.C., 37.9
3. Boston, 36.9
4. Philadelphia, 32.6
5. San Francisco, 31.4
6. Baltimore, 31.2
7. Chicago, 27.9
8. Detroit, 26.2
9. Milwaukee, 19.9
10. Seattle, 16.6

On the topic of declining car ownership, much has been made of recent surveys finding that Generation Y, or millennials, have waning interest in cars in large part due to economic shortcomings. However, findings reported today by J.D. Power and Associates indicate that consumers age 25 or younger have represented a steadily increasing proportion of total retail automotive sales in the past five years, and that those younger buyers are enthusiastic about ownership. According to the report — based on a nationwide survey of nearly 33,000 drivers of recently acquired new vehicles — many younger buyers are highly interested in the image and personalization of their vehicle, the joy of the driving experience and pride in vehicle ownership.

"Not only do they enjoy driving, but they also see their vehicle as a reflection of their identity," said Arianne Walker, senior director of automotive media and marketing at J.D. Power.

By Matt Schmitz | January 24, 2014 | Comments (14)



Top five reasons younger people have lower rates of car ownership:

#5 Traffic sucks
#4 Gas is much more expensive now
#3 They're poor - job market sucks
#2 They're poor - student loans
#1 They're poor - cars are expensive

I guess that's actually two reasons.


You voted so you will sleep in the bed you made. Hey what's a wasted 8 years of your financial life. LOL

Mike Dunlap

Cars suck. They kill or badly injure millions of people every year, they pollute cities, they destroy an unfathomable amount of property, they've played a significant role in a childhood obesity epidemic by fueling major road-building that confines communities and limits independent mobility for children... Etc, etc, etc. Cars are about as cool as the Baby Boomer washing his Corvette in the driveway. So 20th Century. Just embarrassing at this point.

It definitely has a lot to do with money, and so many cities are offering more ways to drive less like more bus routes or bike borrowing programs.


I am a millennial and I loathe driving. I live in a city with very limited transit options so I have to drive. I make it more bearable by living super close to work (4 miles) and also choosing jobs (and housing) in areas where there are a lot of things nearby so I dont have to drive far.


You loathe driving yet your posting on a car website!? It's no surprise the majority of people believe Millennials are a wasted generation.


Brandon may have found this link from a post on a bike friendly least that's how I got here.


I'm not a Millennial, and I've always loved cars. I live in a small southern city. I have a car and I 300cc Vespa capable of 85-90 miles an hour.

The car is 20 years old, worth half what the Vespa is. The insurance on the car costs twice as much.

The car gets 28-32 mpg. The scooter gets 60-65 mpg. With the exception of I-95, and one or two other major interstates of the same ilk, the scooter can go anywhere the car can.

Being in a small city, especially one with a college, parking is horrible. I'll park the scooter and wait fifteen minutes while you search for a parking spot.

I love cars. I like just about anything fun to drive or ride. Where I live, I can ride about ten months out of the year. The practicality of any kind of alternate transportation beyond a car/truck is too good to pass up. Whether it's bicycle, motorcycle, scooter, whatever, it's just simply that much easier to live in any even remotely urbanized area when you're not driving a car.

I fit this demographic perfectly. I'm a millennial who lives in a major city and loves cars. Even though I have two cars and cherish them, I mostly take the bus, bicycle, or walk most places. Taking public transit is often much more desirable than dealing with traffic, parking, and it gives me an opportunity to see more of my city

One of my cars does about 1900 miles a year and the other about 3k, mostly out-of-town trips. I'm not quite ready to forsake a car, but understand the appeal of it (considering insurance and running costs)


Why would anyone want to drive on a daily basis? No matter where you go the infrastructure has not kept pace with the population. This has led to dreadful drives in dense traffic for hours on end while spending more on gas than food. Not to mention that a new car is dreadfully expensive. And unlike generations before, there is no benefit of driving a extra 15 or 20 minutes for a cheaper or nicer just more time in traffic. So, we are forced to move to places with public transit or be doomed to a traffic and stress filled life where we breathe exhaust fumes for hours per day.


Commuting isn't so bad when you listen to audiobooks.


"Joy" of car ownership huh? Regulated by lines and lights and mandatory insurance and dirty (both physically and politically) expensive fuel and sitting, maybe shifting once a mile, but mainly sitting staring at the back end of another box on wheels... "Joy." Haha, yeehaw America, yeehaw.


So we've reached peak car usage with it going down ½ per cent in 5 years? I wouldn't attribute that too a necessary abandonment of car usage but more a lack of jobs and money in the economy. Now if we start getting double digit decreases then it's time to talk about declining car usage! Get out of your cars people and let's make a real impact towards brighter future!


Are you kidding? Most of the nation is in the deep freeze. Are you going to take your kid to day care on a bike?

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