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Thinking About Ditching Your Car? You May Need to Think Again

Chances are you're like 91 percent of American households, you own a car. And it’s no wonder. With ever-growing distances between jobs and housing, how else could you reach all the places you need to go?

This is certainly my family’s story. We both take transit to work every day, live in a dense, buzzworthy neighborhood--and yet we still own a vehicle. It just makes weekend errands and out-of-town trips that much easier.

But what about the 7.5 million American households in large metropolitan area that don’t have access to a car? How do they get around? That’s the general question my report, “Transit Access and Zero-Vehicle Households,” begins to answer.

Using our transit accessibility work from May as an analytical base, this analysis looks at that particular subset of households that live without a personal vehicle in the country’s 100 largest metropolitan areas. And as that 7.5 million number suggests, there are probably more of them than you originally thought.

Some elements of these zero-vehicle households are unique relative to other households. They’re typically low-income and live in a city. They also travel more by transit, bike, and old-fashioned walking. But when it comes to their transit accessibility, they face the same problems we found for the general working age population--most can board transit service of some kind, but that service fails to reach a majority of their region’s jobs.

While this paradox was a problem for the general population, it gets more serious considering the lack of alternatives for zero-vehicle households. How do we get the 700,000 households to work if they don’t have a vehicle and live out of reach of transit? To put that number in perspective, that’s bigger than the entire population of Columbus, Ohio. And even for those zero-vehicle households than can board transit, how effective is the service if they can’t reach most jobs? Remember, these households can’t just fall back on a car like most American workers.

In this slow economic recovery, we’re seeing unemployment rates over 10 percent in large metro areas across the country. The last thing we need is a built environment that makes it even harder to reach jobs. It’s time for policymakers at all levels to recognize this disconnect and work on solutions.