TIPPING POINT

After decades of decline, no-car households are becoming more common in the US

Across the United States, households with no car have become more common than five years ago, according to data recently released by the American Census Bureau. The increase is slight: 9.1% of American households didn’t have a car in 2015, compared to 8.9% in 2010, a 0.2% change that represents about 500,000 households.

But the uptick is significant because it follows decades of decline in the number of car-less homes, since the Census started recording them in 1960, as car-centric planning increasingly made owning a car a necessity.

As millennials reject US car culture and ride-sharing companies disrupt the auto industry, many have predicted a shift in this dynamic. The new census numbers (from the sampled American Community Survey, not the full 10-year census) indicate we may have reached that tipping point.

This might be expected in coastal states such as New York and California, due to high urban concentrations and the massive impact of ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft—only it’s not just happening in those states.

Maine, Michigan, Nevada, and Indiana, in addition to New York, showed the highest percentage of households ditching their cars, with nearly one percent more of households claiming to not have a car. For New York, where 29.4% of households are car-free, a 1% change isn’t that impressive. But for Nevada and Indiana, where only 7% and 6.2% of households didn’t own cars in 2010, 1% represents a significant shift. Only two states, Texas and South Dakota, shrank their population of homes without cars.

Sarah Jo Peterson, an urban planner and the author of Planning the Home Front, says that the presence of states like Maine and Vermont debunk a popular myth.

“Indeed, the high showing of states with stable or declining numbers of households, many with large rural populations, indicates that car-free living isn’t just an urban hipster trend,” Peterson wrote in a Medium post.

In Nevada, Indiana, and Michigan, the change can be explained by more city-dwellers living without cars. Las Vegas, Indianapolis, and Detroit all reported a 1% or more increase in the number of households without cars over the same time period. But Colorado saw an increase in car ownership in its most populous city, Denver, but hasn’t reported a statewide change—suggesting that rural Coloradans are ditching cars at a similar rate to Denverites buying them.

The numbers don’t explain all the reasons people are starting to ditch their cars, although the advent of ride-sharing apps has made the switch easier for those who live in cities. One city is even testing subsidizing the service for commuters. It’s also true that fewer young people are getting licenses. Autonomous vehicles may encourage this trend, as visions like Elon Musk’s shared personal car shift into the mainstream. If the cost and convenience of using a car, rather than owning it, becomes feasible, these numbers might see even more of a jump across the country.

Here’s a complete list of the percent increase in car-free households by state:

State Percent change
Nevada 0.9
New York 0.9
Indiana 0.8
Maine 0.8
Michigan 0.8
Florida 0.6
Rhode Island 0.6
Vermont 0.6
Connecticut 0.5
Idaho 0.5
Illinois 0.5
New Mexico 0.5
Oregon 0.5
Washington 0.5
Arizona 0.4
Missouri 0.4
Ohio 0.4
Wisconsin 0.4
Massachusetts 0.3
Minnesota 0.3
Utah 0.3
Georgia 0.2
Tennessee 0.2
California 0.1
Texas -0.2
South Dakota -0.3
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