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These Are the American Cities Where No One Wants to Drive

8 minute read

Roads are the arteries of the nation, and the automobile has been the centerpiece of American culture for decades. Despite Americans’ love for their cars, however, the rush hours are no more pleasant, and not everyone wants or can afford a car. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 9.1% of American households did not own a car in 2013.

According to a review of carless households in American cities, residents in some urban areas are far less likely to own a vehicle. In New York City, 54.4% of households did not have a car, the highest percentage nationwide. Based on the percent of households who did not own a vehicle in 2013, these are the cities where no one wants to drive.

Click here to see the cities where no one wants to drive

The concentration of businesses and people plays a major role in both traffic congestion and in many peoples’ decisions to own a car or not. Seven of the 10 cities with the highest proportion of carless households were home to more than 1,000 people per square mile, and all had above average population densities. The average population density across U.S. metro areas was 273.5 per square mile in 2010, by contrast. In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Clifford Winston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that above all, “density is an indication of accessibility.”

Residents of cities with high percentages of carless households were far more likely to use public transportation to commute than most Americans. In all of the 10 cities the percentage of working age residents commuting by public transportation was greater than the national rate of 5.2%. In five of the cities, more than one-quarter of residents used public transit to commute each day. And in New York City, nearly 57% of commuters did so, the highest rate nationwide.

According to Winston, while many people have access to a vehicle and are not forced to take public transit, “the transit system is sort of bailing them out.” That is, “the nature of where they live, their lifestyle, [and] their job accessibility,” permit them to live without a car.

Living without a car in these areas makes sense, Winston continued, because “densely populated areas also have a lot of jobs around them.” Despite the advantages presented by mobility, the unemployment rate in eight of the 10 cities exceeded the national rate of 7.4% in 2013. And while public transportation drastically improves access, this does not mean the journey is fast, or pleasant. The average commute time to work in seven of the 10 cities with high percentages of carless households exceeded the national mean travel time of 25.8 minutes in 2013.

To determine the 10 cities where no one wants to drive, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 575 cities included in the 2013 one-year American Community Survey estimates. Two hundred sixteen of these cities serve as the principal city in their respective metro areas. Our list was based on the percentage of households without a vehicle in these principal cities. We also considered households with one or multiple vehicles. The percentages of individuals commuting to work by car, carpool, public transit, and by foot, were also from the Census. Median household income, poverty rates and population density data came from the Census as well. Population density data are by metropolitan statistical area from 2010. From the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we considered the 2013 unemployment rate for each city. Lastly, cost of living in 2012 in each city’s metro area was from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

These are the 10 cities where no one wants to drive.

10. San Francisco, Calif.
> Pct. of households without a vehicle: 29.3%
> Pct. commuting to work via public transportation: 32.7% (6th highest)
> Metropolitan area: San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA
> Population: 837,442

More than 29% of San Francisco households did not have a car in 2013, the 10th highest proportion among U.S. cities reviewed. Nationwide, just 9.1% of households did not have a car. Like nearly all cities where a relatively large share of residents choose not to own a vehicle, San Francisco is among the nation’s most densely populated. The surrounding metropolitan area was home to 1,754.8 people per square mile on average in 2010 — the third most densely populated metro area in the country. San Francisco also has among the most used public transportation systems, which likely makes living without a vehicle far more convenient than in many other cities. Nearly one third of city residents used public transit in 2013, the sixth-highest usage rate nationwide. The affordability of public transit compared to owning a car may be especially important to San Francisco residents. The metro area had one of the higher costs of living in the country — 21.3% more than the average cost of living across the nation.

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9. Baltimore, Md.
> Pct. of households without a vehicle: 29.8%
> Pct. commuting to work via public transportation: 18.8% (25th highest)
> Metropolitan area: Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD
> Population: 622,104

As in most cities where a relatively large share of households do not own a vehicle, Baltimore residents were far more likely than most Americans to use public transportation. Nearly 19% of commuters in the city used public transit, excluding taxis, versus the national proportion of 5.2%. While public transportation is used frequently in Baltimore, this does not mean it is an efficient system. Most large cities had longer than average commute times, and Baltimore was no exception. City residents spent more than 30 minutes on average commuting to work, versus a national average of 25.8 minutes. Public transit usage is cheaper than owning a car. This likely played a bigger role in Baltimore residents’ decision whether or not to own a car as a typical family earned $42,266 in 2013, one of the lower median household incomes among large U.S. cities. The Baltimore metropolitan area is also more expensive than the nation as a whole.

8. Trenton, N.J.
> Pct. of households without a vehicle: 30.0%
> Pct. commuting to work via public transportation: 13.3% (12th lowest)
> Metropolitan area: Trenton, NJ
> Population: 84,344

Finances may be a relatively large consideration for Trenton residents deciding whether to purchase a vehicle. The cost of living was relatively high in Trenton, and the household median income was less than $37,000 in 2013, one of the lowest nationwide. The city also had relatively high unemployment and poverty rates, at 10.9% and 22.9%, respectively. Perhaps to help cut costs, Trenton residents were far more likely than other Americans to either carpool or take public transportation. Nearly 24% of Trenton commuters carpooled in 2013, the third highest rate nationwide. Also, 13.3% of commuters used public transit, one of the higher proportions, and considerably higher than the national percentage of 5.2%.

7. New Haven, Conn.
> Pct. of households without a vehicle: 30.1%
> Pct. commuting to work via public transportation: 9.6% (70th highest)
> Metropolitan area: New Haven-Milford, CT
> Population: 130,654

New Haven was one of only a handful of U.S. cities where residents were more likely to walk to work than take public transit. While less than 10% of commuters used public transportation, 14.5% of commuters walked to work — the fifth highest rate in the nation. New Haven residents were still much more likely than most Americans to use public transit. However, while better access via public transit improves access to employment opportunities, 11.2% of New Haven’s workforce was unemployed in 2013, much higher than the national rate of 7.4%. The Connecticut Department of Transportation’s I-95 NHHC Corridor Improvement Program is intended to improve traffic flow through the New Haven area, and includes commuter rail enhancements. The project is currently underway, and will likely improve public transit service and benefit the more than 30% of carless New Haven households.

6. Philadelphia, Pa.
> Pct. of households without a vehicle: 31.5%
> Pct. commuting to work via public transportation: 27.2% (13th highest)
> Metropolitan area: Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MO
> Population: 1,553,165

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) maintains rail, trolley, and bus routes throughout the Philadelphia region, including the more than 100 bus stations. There were nearly 1,300 people per square mile in Philadelphia in 2010, making the city one of the most densely populated in the country. Perhaps as a result of the high concentration of people and businesses, more than 27% of commuters used SEPTA to commute to work as of 2013, among the highest proportions nationwide. As in other cities with high proportions of carless households, Philadelphia residents were not especially wealthy. The city had a median household income of less than $37,000 in 2013, versus a typical American household’s income of $52,250.

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5. Reading, Pa.
> Pct. of households without a vehicle: 31.7%
> Pct. commuting to work via public transportation: 8.5% (79th highest)
> Metropolitan area: Reading, PA
> Population: 87,894

Compared with other cities with high percentages of carless households, Reading residents were not as likely to use public transit, with 8.5% of commuters doing so in 2013. However, this was still higher than the national rate of 5.2%. While Reading commuters were more likely to drive to work, 21% opted to carpool, the fifth highest proportion among large U.S. cities and more than double the national carpool rate of 9.4%. The high cost of owning a car has likely prevented many area households from owning one. Reading had a poverty rate of nearly 40% in 2013, a higher rate than in all but a handful of U.S. cities. And the unemployment rate of 10.5% was far higher than the national rate of 7.4% that year.

For the rest of the list, please go to 24/7WallStreet.com.

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