Counting Cars – Vehicle Ownership and Tenure

According to the Federal Highway Administration, Americans are driving fewer miles than in 2007 and young adults are waiting longer to get their license. A recent study by AAA found that just over half of young adults surveyed acquired a license before turning 18.

It is unclear whether these changes are the result of short-term economic fluctuations or whether they are the result of changing preferences that will persist. It is clear, however, that a strong relationship exists between income, transportation, and housing. Numerous studies show home prices and rents increase with proximity to public transportation.

The purpose of this post is to provide a snapshot of vehicle ownership by tenure (renter and owner). Although this post does not provide a definite answer to whether recent changes in driving habits will persist, it will allow us to highlight current geographic differences in vehicle ownership.

One way to explore these differences is to compute the share of households by tenure without a vehicle. According the 2012 American Community Survey (ACS), the share of owner-occupied housing units without a vehicle was 3.4% for the entire country. This is a slight increase from the 2007 ACS when 3.3% of owner-occupied housing did not have a vehicle.

The map below presents the share of owner-occupied housing units without a vehicle for every county in the United States. Not surprisingly higher shares without a vehicle are observed in areas with lower household income or densely populated areas with access to well established public transportation such as Chicago, New York City, and Washington, DC.

Figure_1

The top five counties with the highest share and populations greater than 65,000 are provided below.

Figure_2

According to the American Community Survey (ACS), the share of renter-occupied housing units without a vehicle was 19.6% for the entire country. The difference between owner-occupied and renter-occupied housing units is partly explained by income. The median household income in 2012 for owner-occupied housing was $65,514. The median household income in 2012 for renter-occupied housing was $31,888.

The map below presents the share of renter-occupied housing units without a vehicle for every county in the United States. Again, higher shares are observed in areas with lower household income or densely populated areas with access to well established public transportation.

Figure_3

The top five counties with the highest share and populations greater than 65,000 are provided below.

Figure_4

The figures above highlight the variation in vehicle ownership by geography. Access to transportation alternatives and income clearly matter. In some parts of the country, vehicle ownership is the only reasonable means of transportation. Owning a vehicle provides access to jobs and affordable housing. In other parts, owning a vehicle is a costly burden. Public transportation provides the necessary access to jobs and housing.



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