Car-deficit households: determinants and implications for household travel in the U.S.

Abstract

In the U.S., households with less than one car per driver (auto-deficit households) are more than twice as common as zero-vehicle households. Yet we know very little about these households and their travel behavior. In this study, therefore, we examine whether car deficits, like carlessness, are largely a result of financial constraint or of other factors such as built environment characteristics, household structure, or household resources. We then analyze the mobility outcomes of car-deficit households compared to the severely restricted mobility of carless households and the largely uninhibited movement of fully-equipped households, households with at least one car per driver. Data from the California Household Travel Survey show that car-deficit households are different than fully-equipped households. They have different household characteristics, travel less, and are more likely to use public transit. While many auto-deficit households have incomes that presumably enable them to successfully manage with fewer cars than adults, low-income auto-deficit households are—by definition—income constrained. Our analysis suggests that low-income car-deficit households manage their travel needs by carefully negotiating the use of household vehicles. In so doing, they travel far more than carless households and use their household vehicles almost as much as low-income households with at least one car per driver. These results suggest that the mobility benefits of having at least one car per driver are more limited than we had anticipated. Results also indicate the importance of transportation and employment programs to ease the potential difficulties associated with sharing cars among household drivers.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The final survey weights were developed at the county level. However, the demographic controls and trip correction factors were balanced at the statewide level only. All analysis utilizes survey weights.

  2. 2.

    In predictions, we hold all continuous variables constant at the mean. For categorical variables, we predict travel outcomes using the largest category, with neighborhood type as “New Development,” and race as non-Hispanic white.

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Acknowledgements

Funding was provided by the University of California Center on Economic Competitiveness in Transportation (UCCONNECT). 

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Contributions

E. Blumenberg: developed funding proposal including research question and analytical approach, supervised all research, editing. A. Brown: helped guide research, manuscript writing, editing. A. Schouten: data analysis, manuscript writing, editing.

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Correspondence to Evelyn Blumenberg.

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On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

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Blumenberg, E., Brown, A. & Schouten, A. Car-deficit households: determinants and implications for household travel in the U.S.. Transportation 47, 1103–1125 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11116-018-9956-6

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Keywords

  • Automobile ownership
  • Car-deficit households
  • Travel behavior