By on January 26, 2018

New York City and San Francisco, besides having the most tailored beards and bike activists on both coasts (Note: Portland might have something to say about this) might not like some of the data emerging from the University of Michigan.

While some Millennials, especially ones working at startups and paying the equivalent of a Cadillac for a shoebox apartment in a trendy, upcoming part of their building, might think personal car ownership is as dated a concept as VCR tapes and telephone banking, there’s a vast gulf between that lifestyle and that of the average American. It’s clear to see in the U-M Transportation Research Institute’s latest findings.

The data also pours a cold glass of asparagus water over an earlier poll that suggests we’re poised to kick car ownership to the curb.

The contrast between the two studies, illustrated by Automotive News, can’t be denied. Early last year, a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll asked those who traded in or sold a vehicle in the previous 12 months what they ended up driving. Some 9 percent of respondents claimed they didn’t pick up a new car — ride services and carsharing filled in the vehicular absence.

Roughly the same number of respondents who planned to get rid of their car in the next 12 months claimed they’d go the mobility route, too.

Naturally, the Reuters piece profiled one such American who made the switch to modern mobility. A Michigan expat living in New York City discovered owning a car in New York City was a pain in the ass, and an expensive one at that. After jettisoning his car, lo and behold, the man soon discovered his pockets bulging with saved cash. Choosing mobility options meant his monthly car budget sank from $820 a month to $250 a month.

Who wouldn’t expect this? Living in a congested city with stratospheric rents and expensive (and severely limited) parking, coupled with nearby rapid transit and multiple mobility offerings, just might compel someone to walk away from their car — if not for convenience than for fiscal salvation.

The U-M study paints a different picture, though. As use of carsharing and ride services like Uber and Lyft increases (in some cases, just to avoid taxi company gouging and slow bus travel), personal car ownership rates have climbed for the past four years, now sitting at the highest point since the recession.

In 2016, the ownership rate per person was 0.766, while the household rate was 1.968. That’s down from 2006’s record high by about 2.5 percent for individuals and 4 percent for households, but still on par with 2003 for individuals) and 1994 (for households).

 

There’s a myriad of factors that go into ownership rates and annual miles driven, from the economy to migration to technology, but financial turmoil certainly took a bit out of driving in 2008-2009. The recovery has been slow but steady. In 2016, the number of miles driven per person (8,819 miles) was the same as in 1999, and the per-household rate (22,649 miles) matched 1995.

Both of those figures are down from the peak miles-travelled year of 2004, but interestingly, both figures climbed in the past three years. New vehicle sales hit a record high in 2016, barely beating out a stellar 2015. With low, stable gas prices over the past few years, coupled with a strong economy and low interest rates on new car purchases (plus an increase in subprime lending), the stage was clearly set for an uptick in cars owned and miles driven.

Eventually, and for a number of reasons, these figures will fall off again. And yes, many people moving to the big city for that thinkfluencing job will look at their options, do the math, and replace their vehicle with the kind they can summon with an app and never have to worry about parking, overdue payments, or repairs.

Still, the U-M numbers put into perspective the image painted by the 1,150-person strong Reuters/Ipsos poll. The personal car is not on its last set of tires; not by a long shot.

[Image: Bryce Watanabe/Flickr]

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68 Comments on “Yet More Evidence That America’s Car Addiction Is Not About To Die...”


  • avatar

    Let’s play Picture Analysis.

    1) Where’s this highway?

    2) When is the picture from?

    I can only guess for number 2, and I’ll say 2003. Ain’t no clean Windstars in modern times.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Can we please dispense with this “folks in San Fran and New York are anti-car” stuff already?

    Of course they like cars. They’d probably own one if a) they actually needed one where they live, b) car ownership wasn’t ridiculously expensive, and c) owning a car wasn’t such an incredible pain.

    If I lived in New York, and didn’t have seven figure net worth, a car would be the last thing I’d want. It’s more trouble than it’s worth.

    • 0 avatar
      cammark

      Confirmation bias. Folks looking for data that supports their narrative.

      Consider a bell curve. Horizontal axis is enthusiasm for or against cars, vertical is a given population. Most people in the middle don’t care one way or the other. If driving is easy, practical, the only option… that’s what they do. If it’s a pain, expensive, one of many options… they don’t. In urban areas, pro-autos begrudgingly take public transport. In- everywhere else, the anti-autos begrudgingly drive appliances or …work from home? I don’t know.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeremiah Mckenna

      Exactly

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      Agreed. For a city full of lunatic activists I think Seattle easily takes that crown. We’re the city with a paid “Bike Czar” on the City Hall payroll for starters.

  • avatar
    OzCop

    I could see how an anti car trend might develop in the future. I have to look no further than 6 grand children of driving age, from a low age of 17 and high age of 25, and only half of them care a twit about cars and driving and possess a DL. Which is kinda odd considering their grandfather has been a fanatic all his life, and their father’s are enthusiastic, but less so than old dad. One of the 3 DL holders is 21 and only considered getting his DL when he finally left the nest.

    That said, I understand they have been in school and really didn’t need transportation, nor could they afford it on their own, but even offers to from their respective parents to assist them getting a car if they would get a DL fell on deaf ears at the time. These guys are intelligent, very active, and the older are well educated and have decent jobs, but own basic transportation cars…At this point, their parents and I should be thankful for that…

    • 0 avatar
      SunnyvaleCA

      I’d advise people to get their drivers license as soon as they reasonably can. This way, when they are 25 years old and actually going to buy their first car, they can claim they have 8 or 9 years of accident-free driver license ownership! I wonder if insurance companies will ask to see your previous insurance or if you can skate on that item. Maybe you will have to self-insure—which would be safe if you never got behind the wheel.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        Using the family car is good enough. How long you’ve been licensed is what’s important to insurance companies. They assume you can rent a car and have driven.

        Also, you need a picture ID, sometimes two, for a number of transactions, and to get into a bar or buy alcohol, or in some states, vote, enter a courthouse, or buy sundry items like airplane glue, cigarettes, spray paint, or even nicotine gum, if you’re trying to quit. I imagine Tide laundry pods will be added to the list.

  • avatar
    MrIcky

    The most obvious message from this is that most of America isn’t New York or San Francisco (and Chicago and LA) but most of the press is. They keep do interest stories to illustrate poll results that just aren’t that reflective.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Or maybe for people in New York or San Francisco (and Chicago and LA), owning a car is a whole different ball game than it is in Dallas, or Memphis, or Kansas City.

      • 0 avatar
        SunnyvaleCA

        It’s a whole different ball game in the rest of the sprawling mecca known as the Bay Area as well. Public transportation isn’t so great and distances to places can be beyond reasonable walking; many roads would be downright scary on a bicycle. Anyway, compared to housing and tax costs, a car is so cheap that everyone seems to have one or two.

    • 0 avatar
      stingray65

      MrIcky – I agree completely – the media lives in their NY/DC/LA bubble where owning a car is expensive and often unnecessary, BUT they also hate cars and/or they hate that so many “deplorable” people can afford cars and clog the highways and kill the planet. The media is very elitist – cars should only be for big shots.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Does that ownership count running and non-running vehicles? ;-)

    There’s a single wide near my school that has approximately 6 cars sitting on the property but only about 1/2 are running at any given time.

    I do see young people getting their licenses but I don’t see them owning their own vehicles. But I live in rural America.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    That’s the new exchange that connects Pixley and Crabwell Corners in Tennessee. There’s a viaduct that leads to Hooterville then north to Bug Tussle, Kentucky. Cars traveling east in the picture will pass through Petticoat Junction and then turn left at the International Fly Swatter Museum to pick up the interstate.

    • 0 avatar
      Rick T.

      Have to disagree. Looks more like the one between Bucksnort and Gobbler’s Knob to me but that’s also in TN. I get off at the Bugscuffle exit to get home in Fly*.

      * These are real places and I did NOT have to look them up. I have a framed and treasured picture of the Fly Cemetery sign on my desk as well.

  • avatar
    HahnZahn

    Not a perfect analogue, but I think about when I stopped feeling like I needed to own DVDs of films. When I first heard about streaming, I thought it was dumb. And now, 10 years later, I’ve been a cord-cutter for probably seven years and can’t remember the last time I purchased a movie.

    I imagine something similar will happen for me regarding car ownership. My wife and I live in San Diego, so it’s about as dense an urban environment as it can be where car ownership doesn’t tip into more burden than benefit. But I don’t doubt something could unfold – quicker than I think it would – that might convince us to get rid of one car.

    If, right now, I could pay, say, $300 per month for a service that guaranteed I could have quick, effective transportation when I needed it, that would also work toward freeing up some of the highway gridlock at rush hour, I’d probably go for it. It’s hypothetical for now, but might not be for long.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeremiah Mckenna

      How would one person in the back seat of each vehicle on the highway free up space on the highway during rush hour? What I am saying is there needs to be ride sharing going on not just hiring a person to drive you around.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        Jez,
        There is most likely more than one person in the back.

        Have you never shared a cab from the airport with another going to two different, but close destinations?

        Abstract?

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Right now, in either of my exceedingly suburban winter or summer haunts I could probably ditch all my cars and just use Uber for local travel and rentals for anything out of town, and save money. But I won’t because I like cars. I like MY cars in particular. And I can afford it. You can’t take it with you.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Bill Ford: “Hackett, you’re fired!”

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    Miles driven has gone up due to the drop in fuel prices. Increased vehicle purchases is tied to an improving economy. Sampling only large metropolitan areas where car ownership makes little sense and does not paint a clear national picture.

  • avatar
    Jeremiah Mckenna

    If you go back 10, 20, 30, 40 or even 50 years and ask the same question to people living in the same large metro areas, yo’d get the same answers and percentages. NYC/LA/San Fran/ etc have large public transportation means, and have had these for decades. These studies are not reflective of the entire country.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      Jez,
      If you go back far enough public transport was cheaper.

      Trams/trolleys, metro/subways and suburban trains we utilised.

      Cities that have seen large growth in the 20th Century tend to have poor public transport. This is evident with Californian, Texan and SW cities.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I think there are a couple of things that point to car ownership diminishing.

    – Globally, more and more people are moving to cities
    – As tired as the “millenials dont care about cars” meme is, less of them are getting drivers licenses
    – The whole process of car purchasing and ownership is a PITA for most people, ranging from mildly annoying to a pathway to incarceration and chronic unemployment (via draconian + punitive traffic violation enforcement)

    Truthfully, if I could get around with some kind of autonomous ride hailing service I’d consider selling my car. I’d keep my wife’s car though as I don’t want my daughter constantly riding around in stranger filth.

    • 0 avatar
      MoparRocker74

      “Truthfully, if I could get around with some kind of autonomous ride hailing service I’d consider selling my car.”

      Why does it have to be one or the other? I live outside Portland where traffic absolutely SUCKS. I still use rideshare services or ride the MAX when being in that quagmire is prohibitive, or if I’m going barhopping, to a brewfest, party etc where I’m tying one on. Parking, break-ins and DUI’s are a non issue. That, and a stupidly short commute makes my choice to have a Challenger as my only car that much more feasible since it completely negates the need for a boring appliance pod to even exist in my driveway.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I think kids are delaying getting licenses because their parents are willing to shuttle them around. 30+ years ago I walked or biked to get anywhere from about age 10 – my parents worked, and when they were done with work they were not leaving the house to take me anywhere. My friends with kids age 10 now drive them to and from school in a town with school buses!

      Why bother with a license when you have a chauffeur? And a cell phone…

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        That’s a significant factor in kids getting licenses later. A friend who lives near a middle school complained because the city eliminated street parking for a whole block next to the school, making it 30 minute parking only. I used to walk a mile and half home from middle school, taking a bus only in the morning, and home only in bad weather. Now 13 and 14 year olds need a ride home. I blame the milk cartons.

  • avatar
    bluegoose

    Due to the geographic layout of the US, Car ownership isn’t going away. In cities it may drop. However in the suburbs it won’t.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      During my stays in the Denver, CO, area, I made extensive use of the Light Rail system, starting out at the Mineral station and going anywhere and everywhere using just one Senior Day Pass. (Dirt cheap!)

      That Denver system impressed the hell out of me, and I’ve traveled all over the world, used all sorts of public transportation, including EuRail Pass, and Tokyo’s rail&bus system.

      But once way from such an excellent public transportation system like Denver’s, there is no substitute for a car to get where you want to go, when you want to go.

      Driving in traffic can be a real nightmare and finding a parking spot a genuine b!tch, but if you gotta go, you gotta go.

      I once had to attend a dinner at the Jasmine Restaurant on Convoy Street in San Diego, CA and the nearest parking spot I found was a little more than a mile away. Hoofed it, both ways, after parking.

      Next time? Taxi.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “Reuters piece profiled one such American who made the switch to modern mobility”

    What sort of NewSpeak is this? There is nothing modern about jitney cabs, and as vehicles they too add to congestion and ManBearPig etc. Taxis were already a common choice for residents NYC, SF, DC but because its Lyft its Uber cool? Mass transit such as subways, trains, and buses are also not new with the latter adding to congestion with diesel fumes from constant empties as a bonus.

    Private vehicle ownership is prohibitive due to cost and storage space, I don’t see this changing. “Modern mobility” would be a Jetsons car or this style transportation system or possibly the tubes from Futurama.

    I will NewSpeak the NewSpeak, I now deem this term to be: Legacy Mobility.

    Have fun with your legacy mobility proles! XO

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      “Taxis were already a common choice for residents NYC, SF, DC but because its Lyft its Uber cool?”

      Lyft and Uber have definitely changed people’s approach, especially in cities like DC where the cabs were notorious for sucking. When I lived in DC, all of the young professionals who were overpaid in social capital but underpaid in money took Metro. After neverending cuts and safety problems on Metro, they pretty much switched en mass to Uber/Lyft. Now the ridesharing services are just How You Get Around DC if you are a twentysomething aide or assistant.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        “En masse” – can’t edit out my typo for some reason.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        In my travels I have also turned to Uber as opposed to a run of the mill rental, so I could see how this is successful in tightly urbanized areas. But in the grand scheme, it simply takes the place of a taxi. I don’t see anything revolutionary about the basic concept, all that changed is the medallion holders have been squeezed by actual competitors and convenience has been greatly increased for the end user.

        • 0 avatar
          jthorner

          Yep. Using a taxi isn’t new. Uber and Lyft have put thousand of more taxis on the roads and have given us a slightly easier way of calling once. Hence a modest uptick in taxi use.

          One problem people rarely talk about is cost. I live about 5 miles from my office, which is close compared to my neighbors who often commute 20-50 miles each way. An Uber from my office to home costs around $11 each way. I’m not about to spend $22/day x 22 days/month = $484/month just for my basic commute. My job often requires me to go to several locations during the day. Forgeting weekends and other personal use, ride sharing would cost me at least $800 / month just for my work related expenses.

          I actually put more miles on my car for personal use, vacations, etc than I do for work. No way ride sharing is going to replace a personal car for me.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I am in a very similar situation as you, being about six miles away from the urban death maze where my office is located. I also looked into Uber which I believe I was quoted $12 one way at 9am, and I don’t believe this took into account any unforseen delays. The before 10am rate for parking in my building was $18, so since you really need a private vehicle in Pittsburgh to begin with it did not make sense to utilize Uber/Lyft so long as the arrival time was before 10am (after 10, $25 which is the rough cost up there and back via rideshare). I have since acquired a lease which works out to be $15/day assuming I get no use from it on weekends (I don’t).

            If you can walk directly to public transit (I can’t) the cheapest it will run you is $2.50 each way by bus and I believe $3.50 by streetcar. I think the yearly “T” pass is about $1,100 which as cheap as it gets (240 working days per year/ $1100 = $4.58 per day), but then you’re driving to the stop and paying for parking depending on the stop location (some are free but fill up early).

            I can see the market for Uber in the right locations and how it can indeed be cheaper than private ownership. I know the Escape/Mariner Hybrid has enjoyed a lot of success in taxi/fleet but I do wonder why the industry has not produced a vehicle specifically aimed at rideshare. I suppose Accord Hybrid is close.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            I’m in about the ideal situation for ridesharing: 3 miles from work in the middle of a large city. If I got rid of all of my cars, it would be cheaper than car ownership for me. But I also use my cars mostly for personal use, for much of which rideshares aren’t practical. And once I have them, so many of the costs of ownership are fixed that rideshare doesn’t make financial sense.

            I do cut my expenses hugely by using the bus (which is slowish, but runs often and literally door-to-door) to get to and from work. My employer subsidizes the pass, with the result that the cost is just $50/month (which was in pretax dollars until the idiot tax bill passed).

  • avatar
    MoparRocker74

    And this is why it doesn’t pay to live in these super expensive cities, at least not for an extended time. Yes, you can make a pretty penny in a high paying job there but what exactly is the appeal of a huge paycheck when your buying power is limited to a tiny ass apartment and some IKEA trinkets? That’s the equivalent to being gifted 10 million dollars but the condition is that you must live on a deserted island with no way to actually enjoy said money.

    Personally as a car enthusiast, what I’m driving is a prime motivator for me to have a good paying job. That electric blue Hemi powered death machine out in the parking lot is my reward for putting up with 8 hours per day of my life working for The Man. Yes, its nice owning a house, being able to travel, take a beautiful woman out on a date, go to whatever rock/metal shows I want etc etc. At the end of the day, I’m a gearhead. When I was 14 and trying to get hired onto every jackass job in my town under the table, my eye was on the prize which was my very own Jeep CJ which in turn was my ticket to freedom, women, adventure and a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. I cant be the only car guy who feels the same, based on the strong sales of cars and trucks that are much more than basic point A to point B mobility pods.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      Mopar,
      Freedom! That’s great, but as we age we evolve, we still like cars and the freedom they offer, but you tend to alter the balance of vehicle ownership to other responsibilities vs wants.

      In the suburbs were I live, most cars are boring. The pickup and CUV/SUV sits in every driveway. Most would love a perfomance car, but a roof, food and electricity come first, along with the negotiations with your spouse on what you are allowed to buy.

      Reality.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Meh, buy a smaller house and you can afford a nicer car, if that is your priority.

        An observation of mine is that it is primarily the wives that require the McMansion. We single guys will pretty much live in caves with microwave ovens if it means we can have a decent set of wheels.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I agree with you on both points, but I wanted to add depending on your market the floor for cave with microwave may be very high. In this zip code, nearly everything not falling apart is north of 150K (many 1100SF postwar starter homes), occasionally a 2BR springs up cheaper, or two miles down the road you could get a 900SF shack for 100K in a lesser borough. My thought was if I am going to get ripped off I want something for it, so I bought this 2000SF 4BR stuck in disco inferno. She’s superfreaky.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Yep. Most of the cost in an expensive area is for location. Not a huge difference in my stupidly expensive market between the price of a teardown and the price of a nice house.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      “And this is why it doesn’t pay to live in these super expensive cities, at least not for an extended time.”

      What I’ve noticed is that a number of people when leaving these super expensive cities choose to move to less populated areas in fly-over country where having at least one vehicle is a must in order to get around.

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      Tough time to be alive for a car enthusiast. My lease is expiring on my 2015 Accord Sport 6-speed soon and for the first time in my driving career, I have no interest in any new vehicle.

      I hate CUVs, no matter how much marketing says I need one, and current performance cars are either uber expensive and automatic-only (Audi S3, Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio), dated and tired (VW GTI, Focus ST), big, wasteful and dumb (Mustang, Camaro, Challenger), or a BMW. The best, Civic Type-R, is a good effort but too boy racer for anyone under 35.

      So I’m just going to buy my Accord off lease and drive it until the wheels fall off, unless things change. Nothing tempts me enough to go through the trouble.

  • avatar
    amca

    America’s car addiction can’t die when our cities and suburbs are built to require cars. Raze the suburbs, abolish large lots, dynamite the big shopping centers and rebuild everything in high density. Then maybe cars would no longer be needed or wanted. But the scale of the destruction required would be epic. What WWII did to European cities would look like child’s play.

    Take my current home, Phoenix. You’d have to flatten 98% of the housing stock in order to bring about the no car fantasy.

    Personal space means distance. Distance means cars. End of story.

    • 0 avatar
      Sub-600

      Move to Wickenburg, you can ride a horse.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Funny, but urbanists who want density, mass transit and walkability don’t realize they’re describing 19th and early 20th century New York tenement living. Neighborhoods there had names like “The Bowery” and “Hell’s Kitchen”. Most cities called them slums so they could get federal urban renewal money to tear them down and build public housing, which turned out to be much worse.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        There are these things called “building codes” that have done a pretty good job of preventing any repeat of the mistakes of the tenements.

        Modern dense neighborhoods are almost always the sort of places about which out-of-town visitors say “Oooh… it’s nice here!” when they visit. Especially if they visit on foot.

  • avatar
    ernest

    .Gov has noticed that a number of urban areas are losing population to suburban and ex-urban areas. Even those few urban areas with strong population growth (translation: Seattle and Portland)are experiencing faster population growth outside of the urban areas. Hmmm. The housing implosion of the past decade was more likely a blip in a larger trend, rather than the dawning of a new urban age. Urban planners are crying in their (specialty craft brewed) beers.

    http://www.governing.com/topics/urban/gov-urban-counties-lose-population-2016.html

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Seattleite here. We’re having faster growth in the suburbs for only one reason: because the baby boomer homeowners have marched in lockstep to prevent any new development in the city. Prices have grown much faster in the city, showing that people would rather be there if they could afford to. When new city condos are built, people literally camp out on the sidewalks to put down deposits.

      • 0 avatar
        ernest

        We aren’t having development issues in inner Portland as much as pricing issues. Pretty much the same story- inner city prices are crazy. One trend though- as the younger affluents have kids, they move to the suburbs or ex-urbs. Big tell there is declining enrollment in PPS, vs. exploding growth in the suburban school districts. It’s making for a weird urban demographic. One one hand, affluent younger empty nesters. On the other, retirees who want to live close in for a variety of reasons. What’s missing is the working poor (they’re completely screwed anywhere on the Left Coast) and middle/upper-middle families, who fled to the suburbs.

        Seattle’s not that much different- brother-in-law lives in Sammamish. I used to think home prices out there were insane. Now they’re just 30% more insane than ours.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    Car ownership in cities like New York and Tokyo has been a horrible idea for at least 40 years. That hasn’t really changed. All these professional prognosticators are really predicting the future they personally would like to see. That, and saying controversial things is kind of expected if you are going to get big Key Note Speaker fees and/or get time of the TV.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    Well said AMCA.

    To that, I would add that pedestrians and cars really cannot coexist.

    The thinks that make car traffic flow better, like simple right-hand turn lanes, or limited access roads, make it harder for pedestrians.

    The things that make it easier for pedestrians, like crossing zones, or ‘narrower streets’ (to make it easier to cross), snarl traffic.

    The Europeans seem to have the best mix, IMO. The price they pay is much less ‘space’. But they’ve preserved more of their (limited) countryside this way. They walk more (because it’s the quickest way to travel short distances) and thus are healthier and less obese.

    Yet, given a choice, they would prefer to live like Americans if they could, in a detached home with two SUVs.


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