We’ve been experiencing a large-scale transformation in how we get around. Once the ownership of cars became sufficiently widespread in the 1950s we’ve seen explosive growth in urban sprawl and suburbs because car ownership allowed people to live much further away from where they worked. As an example, the town of Wayne, New Jersey is now a big suburb 20-30 minutes outside New York City with a population of about 54,000 people. Between 1940 and 1960 Wayne’s population exploded from 6,868 people to 29,353 people (that’s a growth rate of 427%) and that trend has repeated itself all over the country.
Now we’re seeing evidence that that trend is reversing itself. Right now the percentage of American households that don’t own a car is at 9.3 percent which is up from 8.7 percent where it bottomed out in 2007. Forbes has a fascinating article about what the contributing factors are to this trend.
Lack of a driver’s license – Believe it or not there is much less interest in getting a driver’s license compared to a decade ago. Young people who grow up in cities where car ownership is unnecessary are less likely seek a driver’s license when they’re old enough to get one because they don’t see a need for one. However, the biggest adult demographic of people without a driver’s license are people between the ages of 30 and 55.
Access to other transportation – Mass transit, especially around urban areas has expanded to the point where it provides a viable alternative to commuters. Commuter bus and rail lines have expanded to much more areas and have allowed young commuters to be able to put off buying a car.
Cars aren’t available – Increasing population density decreases access to cars. Around 30 percent of people who live in areas with 10,000 people or more per square mile report they do not have access to a car. The further out you get into the countryside, the more that number decreases.
It’s easier to walk places – Walkable communities are hot real estate right now and there is great demand to not have to use a car to do routine errands like grocery shopping. Living in a walkable area decreases the need to own a car and some people are able to ditch it entirely as a result. Also there has been a rise in telecommuting and working from home which further decreases the use of cars.
All of that being said, we’re still a culture very much in love with our cars. Over 90 percent of American households own at least one car and 80 percent of commuters use a car at some point in their commute. But that is changing slowly but surely.
I don’t think anyone enjoys going through that every day.