The Cities Where People Have The Fewest Cars

Are we headed towards a truly driverless future? One researcher thinks the era of cars has already hit its peak–and these are the cities where it’s starting.

Most people I know don’t own cars. That’s partially a quirk of where I live–a fairly dense city with decent public transportation and bike routes–but it may also be indicative of a larger trend.


In a series of recent reports, Michael Sivak, a research professor at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, speculates that motorization in the U.S. may have peaked years ago, and that we’re entering an age where people have fewer vehicles, drive less, and use less fuel. But some cities are embracing a car-free future more than others.

In part four of his paper, Has Motorization In The U.S. Peaked?, Sivak offers up a ranking of the 30 largest U.S. cities based on the percentage of their households without a vehicle (data is from the census). To the right is the full list, starting with the cities where the most people go car-free.

The cities with better public transportation systems have far fewer residents with cars, but there’s not much of a link between population and car ownership (besides New York City, which also has the best public transportation system in the country). Sivak writes:

The proportion of households without a vehicle is likely influenced by a variety of factors. Examples of such factors include the quality of public transportation, urban layout and walkability, availability and cost of parking, income, price of fuel, and local weather. For example, the five cities with the highest proportions of households without a vehicle were all among the top five cities in a recent ranking of the quality of public transportation (Walkscore, 2012).

Overall, the number of vehicles per household across the country is dropping, as the chart on the right shows.

Vehicles won’t disappear in coming decades, even if ownership continues to fall. Car-sharing services are gaining in popularity, and driverless cars may mitigate the pain of sitting in traffic and cut down on pedestrian accidents, too.

It’s also possible that Sivak isn’t entirely correct–young people who avoided buying vehicles in the recession may now be rethinking their choices or will want one as they get older. But for anyone who travels by foot, bus, train, or bicycle, a dip in car ownership will be a welcome relief.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.