A Car-Free Future? Not So Fast

September 13, 2019

There’s a lot of talk among some younger Americans about living a car-free lifestyle, especially in urban areas. The growing popularity of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft has made a car-free future seem even more feasible to some.

But new research indicates that there may be strong economic benefits to car ownership. This means that a car-free future may not be as close as some people think.

For example, according to “The Poverty of the Carless: Toward Universal Auto Access,” published by the Journal of Planning Education and Research, households without vehicles lost income over the past half-century compared with households with vehicles.

In 1955, the average car-owning household earned twice as much income as a carless household. By 2013, the average car-owning household earned more than three times as much income as a carless household. Having a vehicle isn’t fully responsible for having a higher income, but there is a link between the two traits.

In addition, owning a vehicle can provide access to safer neighborhoods and better jobs for the working poor. A report, Driving to Opportunity, published by the Urban Institute, determined that low-income people living in high-poverty neighborhoods who own vehicles are twice as likely to be employed — and four times as likely to stay employed.

The benefits of owning a vehicle are especially pronounced for low-income single mothers. According to research cited in the Journal of Urban Economics, vehicle ownership increases the probability of employment among these individuals by 30% and time worked by 13 hours per week. This was true whether the low-income single mothers lived in cities or suburbs.

As for ride-hailing services, research indicates that these are much more expensive than vehicle ownership. A study released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that, in 20 of the largest U.S. cities, relying on ride-hailing services as a primary mode of transportation is at least twice as expensive as owning a vehicle.

These statistics should be encouraging to dealerships that are concerned about the potential of a car-free future hurting their sales. As author Mark Twain might have put it: “The rumors of the automobile’s death have been greatly exaggerated.”

© 2019