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ADAPTING TO CAR CULTURE: THE PROCESS OF IMMIGRANT

TRANSPORTATION ASSIMILATION IN NEW GATEWAY CITIES

Michael E. Cline, Ph.D.

The University of Texas at San Antonio, 2010

Supervising Professor: Mary A. Zey, Ph.D.
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New gateway cities in the United States have emerged in the past few decades as a result

of economic growth and immigrants settling in areas where their labor is needed. These

immigrants impact demands for local services such as new and different demands for educational

services, among other things. Presumably, changes in demographic characteristics of local areas

may impact demand for transportation services – both the level of overall demand and the

demand in different types of services (i.e. public transportation). Despite the potential for these

changes in demand as a result of growth in immigrant populations, our knowledge about how

immigrants use transportation and assimilate to U.S. norms is limited. This dissertation expands

our knowledge of the process of assimilation by understanding household automobile acquisition

and use for Hispanic and Asian immigrants in selected new gateway cities in the U.S. In this

dissertation, immigrant assimilation to the U.S. norm of vehicle ownership and driving alone on

the work commute is modeled using logistic regression. I find that immigrants assimilate to the

U.S. norm rapidly within the first five years of arrival in the U.S. but that there are differences in

vehicle ownership and use that are not explained by demographic, household, and socioeconomic

characteristics.
Household Income

Household income and home ownership have been found to be the most important predictors

of vehicle ownership (Dargay, Gately et al. 2007). In fact, travel demand models typically

include only a few predictor variables and among these are income and homeownership. For

most households, the cost of purchasing and owning a car is the second largest expense behind

25

housing. Households spend on average $8,091 per year on vehicle financing, fuel and



maintenance (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2008). This equates to 12.7% of an average household

budget per year. Thus households with higher incomes are more likely to be able to afford the

costs of vehicle acquisition and maintenance for one or more automobiles. Over and above the

positive benefits of household income on the ability of a household to purchase an automobile,

certain federal and state level policies indirectly effect household automobile acquisition for low

income households. Low income households receiving welfare benefits in most states are

restricted from owning vehicles worth more than a set dollar amount (Blumenberg 2008). This

causes some low income households to forgo purchasing an automobile or to purchase an

automobile that is older and less reliable (Blumenberg 2008). With less reliable transportation,

individuals may choose to use alternative forms of transportation for some or all of their trips.

In addition to the effects of financial capital on vehicle ownership and use, household income

affects residential settlement patterns. Higher income households are less restricted in their

residential choices. This allows higher income households to choose to live in neighborhoods in

order to access schools or benefit from other neighborhood amenities. For middle-income

households, neighborhoods with high amenities and relatively lower household costs are located

in suburban areas far away from their employers. These suburban communities typically have

limited or no public transportation services because the costs of operating public transportation

systems are higher in suburban areas where transportation networks and population densities are

lower and federal subsidies for local transportation capital investments and operations are not

available. Automobiles become a necessity for travel and serve to lessen the perceptual distance

from home to work. Conversely, low income households may choose to live in areas within

walking distance or accessible by public transportation.

26

Most studies of immigrant assimilation have confirmed the importance of household income



on vehicle ownership and transportation use. In order to understand transportation use of

race/ethnic groups, Guiliano (2003) used race/ethnic categories as interactive terms in several

regression models modeling different measures of transportation behavior. She found that

household income remains an important determinant for travel behavior (as measured in total

daily travel distance and time) for all groups. In an analysis of vehicle ownership of immigrants

by origin, Tal and Handy (2010) found that household income, household size, and life cycle

have the largest effects on vehicle ownership across all immigrant groups. In addition,

household income had a larger positive effect on the number of vehicles per household for

immigrants from Central and South American than the overall population and for immigrants

from other areas. These findings may be a result of the spatial characteristics of the settlement

patterns of immigrant groups and the limitations of the sample. The National Household

Transportation Survey of 2001 is used for the analysis. In general, Hispanic immigrants are

more dispersed in metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas alike. In addition, Hispanic

immigrants are located in small and large metropolitan areas. In contrast, immigrants from other

areas are typically located in the largest metropolitan areas such as New York City, Chicago, and

Los Angeles, two of which have extensive public rail and bus systems.

In addition to vehicle ownership, other studies have investigated the relationship between

immigrant status and transportation behavior. In a study of immigrant transportation behaviors

in metropolitan areas, Kim (2009) found a significant and positive association between

household income and carpool use for all immigrants. However, for long term immigrants, the

effect of income on the propensity to carpool over driving alone on the journey-to-work

27

disappears. This may provide some evidence of the use of social capital in the process of spatial



assimilation and adjustment to the local transportation system.

Household income also influences public transit use. Blumenberg and Shiki (2007) in a

study of transit use among immigrants found that household income is an important determinant

of public transit use and that transit use is inversely related to household income. While this

result is likely to remain for other areas, their analysis is limited to a few metropolitan areas in

California.

H6. Immigrants with higher incomes are more likely to own a car and drive alone on the

work commute than lower income immigrants.

Access

Access refers to the range of possible transportation choices available to an individual.



On the journey from home to work, individuals may have different options available to them

depending upon their location – both in terms of which city one lives in as well as where they

live within a city. The characteristics of an immigrant’s neighborhood may affect how

transportation is used and how quickly immigrants assimilate to “car culture.” Neighborhood

characteristics include both physical and social composition of the local neighborhood.

Neighborhood designs have changed over time and have been influenced by changes in the

transportation system. Traditional neighborhoods were designed before the advent of the

automobile or in a time when fewer households owned one or more cars. Streets in these

neighborhoods are typically laid out in a gridded fashion and housing lots are smaller than most

lots today. As a result, population and housing densities are higher. For some of these

31

neighborhoods, commercial properties are nearby so that employment and retail opportunities are



within walking distance of a residence. These neighborhoods are located within or near the

central city – areas more likely to have public transportation routes. Thus, because of the

availability of public transportation and the potential accessibility of destinations through a

combination of walking, bicycling, or using public transit, automobiles may not be as necessary

in these types of neighborhoods. Automobile ownership and use would therefore be expected to

be lower for immigrants living in older, traditional neighborhoods.

Using year housing unit built as a proxy for central city or suburban location, Kim (2009)

found that immigrants who had lived in the U.S. for longer periods of time and lived in new

areas are less likely to use public transit than drive alone, while those living in older

neighborhoods are more likely to use public transit. At the same time, recent immigrants (<1

year) showed no differences in mode choice regardless of residential location within a city -

likely a limitation of the sample or a real difference caused by acquisition of knowledge about

how to access transportation modes and negotiate a person’s way through the transportation

system.


Immigrants may choose to share a ride with friends or family – particularly when other

options are limited (such as public transit). Thus access to mobility may be acquired through the

use of social capital. Social capital is defined as “…the commodity which individuals use in

non-market, social interactions to extract valuable resources (Charles and Kline 2006).” Charles

and Kline (2006) argued that carpool use is a direct indicator of social capital (as opposed to

other latent measures derived from survey responses or limited by counts of organization

membership – in which membership may not necessarily require interaction). They theorized

32

that people are more likely to use social capital, as measured in carpooling propensity, when they



are in areas with a larger number of people who speak their language and are of their own

race/ethnicity.

Minorities have been found to be more likely than non-Hispanic Whites to carpool. In a

study of transportation behaviors for immigrants in California, Blumenberg and Shiki (2007)

found that immigrants belonging to Hispanic, Asian, or Black ethnic groups are more likely to

carpool than non-Hispanic Whites even after living in the U.S. for five years and controlling for

other factors. But when using a nested logit model to model car ownership then carpool use (vs.

other modes), Blumenberg and Smart (2010) found that, after controlling for other factors,

Hispanic and Asian ethnic groups are more likely to carpool than non-Hispanic Whites but that

there are no differences in carpool use between blacks and non-Hispanic Whites, but the non-

Hispanic blacks are more likely to use public transit than the other groups. Similarly, Kim

(2009), when using a multinomial logit model to predict transportation mode choice for

immigrants, finds that Hispanic and Asians are more likely to carpool than non-Hispanic Whites,

while blacks are more likely to use public transportation. When looking at carpool use among

Hispanics in Texas, Cline, Sparks, and Eschbach (2009) find that Hispanics had a higher

propensity to use carpools than non-Hispanic Whites when controlling for other factors. They

further separated Hispanics into three categories – native born, foreign born and migrated at ages

prior to age 17, and foreign born and migrated at older ages. For Hispanics, only those foreign

born that migrated at older ages showed greater propensity to use carpools than non-Hispanic

Whites. This suggests that carpooling serves as a way to meet the needs of immigrants who may

have not obtained the skills, the knowledge, or overcome legal restrictions in order to drive. At

the same time, those immigrants that immigrated at younger ages are more likely to have

33

obtained language skills and other knowledge that enables them to more readily assimilate to



U.S. norms.

Vehicle ownership varies among the immigrant groups. Fewer Hispanic households

owned at least one vehicle than Asians and non-Hispanic Whites (see Table 6). For both

immigrant groups, vehicle ownership increases with duration in the U.S., although Hispanic

immigrants had lower rates of vehicle ownership upon arrival (within 0-4 years) and their rates

of vehicle ownership remain lower than Asian and non-Hispanic white households even after

living in the United States more than 15 years. Indeed, Asian immigrants had vehicle ownership

rates that are the same as non-Hispanic Whites after 10 years of living in the U.S. On most other

demographic, socio-economic, and household characteristics, Hispanic immigrants had lower

vehicle ownership rates than Asians and non-Hispanic Whites (see Table 7). The highest rates of

vehicle ownership are for those Hispanic immigrants who are married, had higher levels of

formal education, and who arrived in the United States before age 12. In contrast, Asian

immigrants have similar rates of auto ownership as Whites across many of these same

characteristics. Interestingly, Hispanic immigrants living in the heavy transit MSAs have much

lower rates of vehicle ownership than Asian immigrants (85 percent of households versus 95

percent of households).

The models for vehicle ownership shows the assimilation process occur as immigrants

live in the U.S. for a longer period of time. As with many other characteristics, Asian

households have characteristics more similar to households headed by non-Hispanic White

householders. In this case, Asian immigrants have vehicle ownership rates that are similar to

non-Hispanic Native Whites – even those who are new arrivals. In contrast, Hispanic

households have lower vehicle ownership rates, even when immigrants have lived in the United

States for a long period of time. As expected, duration in the U.S. increases the odds of owning

an automobile for both Hispanic and Asian households. Including demographic, household, and

socioeconomic characteristics help explain many differences in vehicle ownership, although for

Hispanic households – who begin with much lower rates of vehicle ownership – the rates

increase but never converge with that of non-Hispanic native households.

83

Despite the fact that the United States, and in particularly urban areas, are becoming more



demographically diverse our knowledge about transportation behaviors are limited due to a

failure to recognize that how people use transportation may differ as a result of past experience

and the context within which different ethnic groups live. I add to the contemporary literature on

ethnic transportation behavior and immigrant assimilation by analyzing the process of immigrant

transportation assimilation for Hispanic and Asian immigrants in new gateway cities in the

United States. In this dissertation I ask four broad questions about immigrant transportation

assimilation. In this chapter, I restate each question and summarize my findings. Then I discuss

my findings relative to the theories of assimilation as stated in Chapter 2. Then I conclude with

the implications of these findings for public policy and academic research.

Dissertation Questions

In this dissertation I answer four broad questions about immigrant transportation

assimilation. In this section I list each question and summarize my findings. The first of these

questions is:

1.) What is the degree to which immigrants differ from U.S. born non-Hispanic

Whites in their level of automobility (as measured by automobile ownership and

driving alone) and how much does their time living in the U.S. influence changes

in ownership and use?

Both Asian and Hispanic immigrants have levels of automobility that are lower than U.S.

born non-Hispanic Whites. However, in terms of vehicle ownership, Asian immigrants are

similar to native Whites even for those who had lived in the U.S. less than five years. And while

96

their rates of driving alone are not as high as Native Whites, their rates of driving alone are



higher than Hispanic immigrants. For both immigrant groups, assimilation to automobility

occurs primarily during the first five years of living in the U.S. Even after considering

demographic, household, and socioeconomic characteristics, both Hispanic and Asian

immigrants who lived in the U.S. for 5 to 9 years are 1.3 times more likely to drive alone on the

journey to work than new immigrants. At the same time, these same immigrants are 1.6

(Hispanic) and 1.7 (Asian) times more likely to own a vehicle. For Hispanic immigrants, those

who live in the U.S. for 15 or more years are 2.5 times more likely to own a vehicle than recent

arrivals.





  1. BOOK NAME:Transportation problems in the American economy

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3.« previousnext »Can Americans’ Car Dependence Be Changed? A Q&A With the Author of ‘Carjacked’



Posted on Thursday May 6th by Melissa Lafsky
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The American relationship to cars is a fascinating and complex web of economic, political, social, and psychological factors that combine to shape the identity of our nation, not to mention fuel multi-billion dollar industries. But just where did we get all our notions about cars, from “station wagons are the middle-class mommy staple” to “I need a car to maintain my independence”? In their book Carjacked: The Culture of the Automobile and Its Effect on Our Lives, Catherine Lutz and Anne Lutz Fernandez examine every aspect of our relationships to and with automobiles, and how we can change them in the face of diminishing fossil fuels, increasing traffic, and ever-rising costs.
Catherine Lutz kindly agreed to answer our questions about the book.
Infrastructurist: How can we change our relationship to cars, to create a more viable transportation system in the U.S.?
Catherine Lutz: We made some fairly modest recommendations for this in the book, which are not exactly what we’d prefer that people do, but rather what we think most readers would be willing to do. They included ways to do significant reductions in car use, and also ways to think about sustainability in other senses — financial, safety-wise, etc. — rather than just thinking about the issue of alternative fuels and gas. We argue that the cultural emphasis on putting faith in technology to save us from the fuel problem is dangerous — rather, we need to see the sociopolitical financial mess of the automobile industry for what it is. Some of the problems with it are more foundational than the technology itself.[SButtonZ button="digg"]
I: What are some of the suggestions you make?
CL: Try to go from two cars to one, rather than trying to go completely car free. We didn’t really push the fact (and it’s a fact) that most of us COULD be car free if we wanted to be, Rather, we said look at your life and try to minimize car use. That’s the big difference: We imagined that saying “you can go car free” is a scary proposition for many people, and that lifestyle improvements through car reductions would be a more attractive option. Also we focused on how to improve YOUR life rather than hammering away at the larger political picture for the U.S. and transit policy. Look to make individual changes, including potentially getting more politically active — “I should really care about the debate about the gas tax, including whether car dealers get included in the financial reform bill,” that sort of thing. Look at these issues through a lens of family self-interest, and then you get more community oriented as a result.
We wanted to start where people are at right now. We were dealing with cultural beliefs and a love of cars that is just so strong. We spoke at a college a couple days ago, and spoke to students, and it was amazing: People really believe more strongly that the car is more convenient, and really does make them free. The fact that these beliefs are so powerful makes it hard to say that these beliefs really hurt you. And they do.
I: What are some ways in which the idea that “The Car Makes You Free” is harmful?
CL: It’s the main way you’re likely to die, for one. If you drive a car, you are never free of this incredible safety risk of death or disability.
Also you are not free of the incredible amounts of indebtedness that usually come with having a car. It’s one of the main ways people have lost their entire savings, even before the recession.
Also you’re trapped on the road. Everyone can see congestion: You will spend many hours of your life each day sitting in traffic — an average of 18.5 hours per passenger or driver per week, to be exact. Though some people argue that this is a form of freedom, they say that they have alone time and relaxation time in cars. But we would argue that it’s actually a time of forced isolation. Some of the craziness of people texting and using cell phones in cars is a result of people feeling socially cut off and imprisoned — this is their way of trying to get back in touch with other people. When you think about it, 18.5 hours a week is a lot of time.
I: What is your view on how to achieve sustainability in the context of American driving habits?
CL: Our view of sustainability is that we need alternative forms of transit: more biking, walking, rail, and less sprawl — all of which would reduce the number of miles driven per year. If we give people attractive options besides cars, and turn people’s attention towards all the disadvantages of driving so much, then they will change their behavior.
I: But attitudes towards using public transit have been consistently tepid. How can we transition from single-person commuting in cars to greater acceptance of public transit? Is there a good way to incorporate the two?
CL: We recommend that people try the transit they have now. Just for one day, try it out. A lot of people are imagining public transit based on what it might have been 10 or even 20 years ago in their community. Some may have had a bad experience of waiting for a bus that never came, or being in a dirty or dangerous car. The experience of transit now is really safer and better than ever.
We also focus on the role the highway construction and auto industries play in pushing for more traffic lanes and a policy preference for roads. Car companies lobby and push for car-centered transit policy. This huge stream of profit for these industries is relevant to why things haven’t changed and shifted towards public transit as quickly as they should.
People also have a fairly distorted view of what car safety technology can do — they feel much safer than they should, because of new safety features. The illusion of safety is created by all these devices that are so heavily marketed to consumers.
The key is giving people a sense that public transit is incredibly, statistically safe, and what’s unsafe is to be in a vehicle with other people. The OnStar system is a product that directly combats this idea. It is marketed towards the fear of a lot of people, the idea that they’re safe inside their cars as long as the car doesn’t break down. So the OnStar system becomes this presumably fail safe system, and so people say “I would never take public transit, it’s an unsafe place, and I couldn’t put my kid on a bus because someone might kidnap him, but I’m safe in my car.”
And this is just not true if you look at car crash death and disability stats. You’d have to have an incredible epidemic of kidnapping and muggings on the subway to even come close to the dangers of driving.
Also we need some big cultural changes, particularly in the media and politics. There are many political uses of the idea of the criminal — when you’re running for office, you push these ideas that you have made or will make your region safer. In the media, the “little blond girl” kidnappings are always there, and so people think there are so many of those. But it’s really misleading, and can have an impact on public transit use. These ideas get parents thinking that their children are safer in a car. Which is not true.
I: What was the most shocking thing you uncovered about cars and car use in the U.S.?
CL: People really had no idea what their cars were costing them, when you fold in all the costs. When you asked, “How much do you pay for your car,” they had their monthly payment in mind, since most people buy cars on credit — they walk in with a sticker number and walk out with a price number, and that sticks in their head. Then they add insurance, and that’s usually as far as they go. So they don’t include depreciation, and the extra costs (such as having to pay for a house with a garage, or a parking space at home or at work, and parking or traffic tickets, etc.) as well as the opportunity cost of not putting that monthly car and insurance payment in a 401K or other savings account, which could be earning interest.
Another thing we noticed, based on interviewing people, is that they tend to do a comparison on costs of public transit versus cars based on the out-of-pocket expenses only. So they say “Parking at the station and buying a train ticket would cost X dollars a day, times 20 work days a month, while my gas only costs Y dollars a month.” But that’s not even considering all the other costs of driving — insurance, parking tickets, loans, increase in personal injury risk, car repairs, the list goes on.
The amazing thing is that even if we collectively drive just 10% fewer miles, that’s 10% fewer expenses collectively, which amounts to an enormous amount in savings both for individuals and larger communities — fewer crashes, fewer injuries, fewer hospital bills that have to be publicly subsidized. The numbers are hard to calculate, but the personal and public savings would be huge.
I: In the book, you argue that the U.S. could already have more efficient, non-polluting cars if our government and corporations hadn’t steered us away from them. Is this really true? Was the technology really there and working well enough to put these cars in every driver’s garage? And are consumers partly to blame for the late arrival of hybrids and other more sustainable options?
CL: The electric car has been promised to the market for years and years — it is there and has been there. But its failure to take off in popularity is partly an issue of consumers being afraid to go that direction. They’re afraid the range for the plug-in won’t be long enough, and things like that. A lot of people could have just pulled into their driveways and plugged the car in, had they known that was a viable option. But car companies weren’t that interested in marketing electric cars.
I have talked to people who say there really is a story to be written about oil companies putting pressure on car companies not to market electric cars, since it would be to the great disadvantage of oil companies if more people are not using the internal combustion engine. Plus the profit car companies make off the sale of an SUV is monumental, versus a much smaller profit on an electric car.
I: Are electric cars really the answer? All that electricity has to come from somewhere, meaning coal plants.
CL: Electric cars make a difference in the sense that you then create the possibility that the energy you use is coming from wind or solar rather than coal. The way it is now, alternative energy is not even an option. So at least electric cars get that part of the infrastructure ready to go. People have a tendency to not look at the whole picture. As such, it’s true that saying we should just switch to a coal-fired electric car isn’t necessarily a great step in the right direction. Creating true sustainability would require more public education and political work to make sure the energy sources are actually sustainable.
I: What about the car industry? It has undergone tremendous turmoil in the last few years. Is there a specific way that the industry is shooting itself in the foot? Is there a way to save it?
CL: It’s shooting itself in the foot by not being more forward-thinking about sustainability — both financial sustainability and environmental. Car companies and dealerships have been predatory lenders in a fundamental sense. They have been selling people more and more cars that they can’t afford, and getting people to take the value of the home equity out of their house and put it in their cars. Cars just keep getting bigger and more expensive, and are heavily marketed as “bigger is better.” People have gotten down to this situation of zero savings and no margin for error, all because of car purchases.
Granted, some good has come from the economic downturn and the collapse in the industry. While we were writing this book, the car market collapsed, with profits tanking. Some people have gone from two cars to one because of lost jobs, and some have gone from one to none and have discovered that not having a car offers a reasonable lifestyle.
In Japan, the younger generation is not as interested in buying cars as their parents were. The Japanese had their great recession 10 or more years before us. And there are signs that the same thing is happening here — young people come to the conclusion that they don’t need a car, so they either don’t get a license or don’t jump into purchasing a car. The car industry set itself up for this situation. You can only extract so much blood from a stone. When you look at the big picture — where all this money for cars goes — it really is remarkable. I think of it like a giant sucking sound going out of everyone’s driveway, straight to the oil and insurance industries, This is just not sustainable. It’s not just the recession — this car decline has been a long slow process. The numbers will go up again for the auto industry, but what we’re in need of is real, long-term change.
4:Automobile Dependency

Transportation and Land Use Patterns That Cause High Levels of Automobile Use and Reduced Transport Options

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



TDM Encyclopedia

Victoria Transport Policy Institute

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Updated28 November 2010



This chapter describes Automobile Dependency, its causes and implications.
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Defining and Measuring Automobile Dependency

Automobile dependency (also called automobile oriented transportation and land use patterns) refers to transportation and land use patterns that favor automobile travel and provide relatively inferior transportation alternatives (in this case, “automobile” includes cars, vans, light trucks, SUVs and motorcycles).

The alternative to Automobile Dependency is not a total lack of private vehicles (called Carfree Planning), rather, it is a multi-modal transport system (often called Transit-Oriented Development), meaning that consumers have various Transport Options from which to choose, that these options are integrated effectively to provide a high degree of accessibility even for non-drivers, and incentives to use the most efficient option for each trip. Automobile Dependency is a matter of degree. Table 1 compares various attributes of Automobile Dependency . There are few places in the world that are totally automobile dependent (that is, driving is the only form of transport). Even areas that appear to be highly Automobile Dependent often have a significant amount of walking, cycling and transit travel among certain groups or in certain areas, although use of these modes tends to be undercounted by conventional transportation planning (Measuring Transportation).



Table 1 Attributes of Automobile Dependency

Indicator

Description

Low

Medium

High

Popular Name




Carfree

Multi-modal

Automobile Dependent

Vehicle Ownership

Per capita motor vehicle ownership (usually measured per 1,000 population)

Less than 250 per 1,000 pop.

250-450

450+

Vehicle Travel

Per capita annual motor vehicle mileage

Less than 4,000 miles (6,500 km)

4,000-8,000 miles (6,500-13,000 kms)

8,000+ (13,000 km plus)

Vehicle Trips

Automobile trips as a portion of total personal trips

Less than 50%

50-80%

80%+

Quality of Transportation Alternatives

Convenience, speed, comfort, affordability and prestige of walking, cycling and public transit relative to driving.

Alternative modes are of competitive quality.

Alternative modes are somewhat inferior.

Alternative modes are very inferior.

Relative Mobility Of Non-Drivers

Mobility of personal travel by non-drivers compared with drivers.

Non-drivers are not severely disadvantaged.

Non-drivers are moderately disadvantaged.

Non-drivers are severely disadvantaged.

Land use patterns

Land use density (residents and jobs per acre) and mix (proximity of different land use types).

Very compact and mixed.

Moderately compact and mixed

Dispersed and homogenous

Transport system

Type of transportation facilities and services available.

Mainly nonmotorized and public transit

Very mixed: nonmotorized, public transit and automobile.

Mainly automobile (roads and parking facilities).

Roadway design

Design features of public roads.

Highly pedestrian oriented

Mixed.

Designed to maximize auto traffic speeds and volumes.

Shopping Options

Where retail and other public services are located

Along public streets

Mainly along public streets near transit areas

In private malls, located along major highways

Market Distortions Favoring Automobile Use

Relative advantage provided to automobile transportation over other modes in planning, funding, tax policy, etc.

Minimal bias favoring automobile travel.

Moderate bias favoring automobile travel.

Significant bias favoring automobile travel.

Automobile commute mode split

How people travel to work and school.

Less than 35%

35-65%

More than 65%

Errand travel

How people normally travel to stores, professional appointments, recreation activities, etc.

Mostly walking, cycling and public transit.

Walking, cycling, public transit and automobile.

Mostly automobile.

Performance Indicators

How transport system performance is evaluated

Quality of walking, cycling and public transit

Multi-modal

Automobile-oriented

This table summarizes various indicators of automobile dependency.

In an automobile dependent transportation system, automobile travel becomes “compulsory” due to inadequate alternatives (Soron 2009). As a result, virtually every adult is expected to have a personal automobile (as opposed to a household automobile shared by more than one driver). Non-drivers must be chauffeured, and it becomes difficult to withdraw driving privileges for people who are physically, mentally or emotionally unfit, since there are few viable transportation alternatives. Automobile Dependency reduces the range of solutions that can be used to address problems such as traffic congestion, road and parking facility costs, crashes and pollution.

Most North American communities are relatively automobile dependent: The majority of households own automobiles and rely on them for most trips. Land use patterns are easily Accessible by automobile but not by other modes. Public policies favor automobile travel, and few resources are devoted to non-automobile transportation. Although consumers have many choices when choosing an automobile and vehicle services, they often have few viable alternatives to driving for mobility.



Experiencing Automobile Dependency

If you are a typical motorist, try this experiment: Give up driving for two typical weeks. This period should require normal travel for work, shopping, socializing and family obligations. You’ll discover that non-drivers face many obstacles, including limited travel options, high financial and time costs, and poor service. As a result you may travel less, foregoing some trips and choosing more convenient destinations for others. You may experience embarrassment when asking for a ride or when you use stigmatized modes such as transit, bicycling and walking.



The problems you experience as a non-driver depend on where you live. If your community is highly automobile dependent you will experience significant difficulties. You may have trouble getting to a store or even crossing busy streets. If your community is multi-modal, with good transit service, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, you may experience few problems.



After two weeks you may be glad to drive again. You may also have experienced some benefits during the period of abstinence. You may discover unexpected joys from walking and bicycling, reduced stress, increased exercise, and friendship with fellow car pool or transit passengers. You may have appreciated being more home-centered and community oriented. You may take pride in reducing pollution, and saving energy.

As a community becomes more automobile dependent, the people who rely on alternative modes becomes an increasingly small minority, so decision-makers become less familiar with their needs and their political influence declines. As a result, countless public policy and planning decisions become more favorable to automobile travel, and less consideration is given to supporting other modes.

Until recently, public officials and transportation professionals generally considered Automobile Dependency acceptable or even desirable. They assume that Automobile Dependency reflects consumer preferences and is inevitable with increased wealth. They associated automobile travel with comfort, convenience, success and economic development, and alternative modes with deprivation and failure. Most had no experience with efficient, multi-modal transportation systems.

But this assumption is increasingly questioned. Although automobile transportation provides significant benefits to society, these benefits experience diminishing marginal returns. Beyond an optimal level, increased motor vehicle traffic provides little additional benefits, while imposing increasing costs, and reducing the viability of other transport modes. These diminishing marginal benefits occur at both an individual level (although a consumer may benefit from driving 10,000 annual vehicle-miles, few would want to drive 100,000 annual vehicle-miles regardless of how low their financial cost), and at the community level (although a certain amount of vehicle traffic is contributes to economic and social activities, increased vehicle traffic does not necessarily cause more economic and social development). Automobile Dependency is harmful overall because it represents levels of automobile use beyond what is economically and socially optimal (Litman 2000).

Automobile ownership and use tend to increase with wealth up to a point, but they eventually reach saturation. An international study found that per capita automobile ownership peaks at about $21,000 (1996 U.S. dollars) annual income and levels off, or even declines due to increased congestion, loss of novelty, and public policy responses (Talukadar, 1997). Using U.S. data, Holtzclaw (2000) found that vehicle travel increases strongly with annual income up to about $30,000, but then levels off and declines slightly with incomes over $100,000. Increased wealth allows consumers to choose alternatives to driving. For example, some wealthy commuters prefer using transit rather than driving, provided that the service is comfortable, convenient and reliable. Similarly, many wealthy people value living in more accessible neighborhoods, where they are close to commercial and cultural activities, and can walk and bicycle for both recreation and transportation (New Urbanism).



Factors That Contribute to Automobile Dependency

A number of transportation and land use market distortions tend to encourage automobile ownership and use, including underpricing, inadequate consumer choice, weak competition, bias in transportation planning and investment practices, and other public policies that favor automobile travel (Litman 2006; Brown, Morris and Taylor 2009).



During the last century there has been a self-reinforcing cycle of increased automobile travel, reduced travel options, and more automobile-oriented transportation and land use policies which result in a high level of automobile dependency in most communities (Turcotte 2008). Figure 1 illustrates this cycle.

Figure 1 Cycle of Automobile Dependency



Automobile dependency results from a self-reinforcing cycling of increased automobile ownership, reduced travel options and more dispersed automobile-oriented land use patterns.

Conventional Transportation Planning practices tend to create a self-fulfilling prophecy that supports this cycle: past traffic growth rates are extrapolated to predict future vehicle traffic demand, and road and parking capacity is built to meet this projected demand (called predict and provide planning). Little consideration is given to the negative impacts that more dispersed destinations, larger roads and parking facilities, and reduced resources for other travel modes will have on overall Accessibility. The result is increasingly automobile-oriented transportation systems and land use patterns (Condon, 2004). More Comprehensive Planning can help create more balanced transportation systems.

Transportation Evaluation practices often favor automobile dependency. Transportation service quality is often Measured primarily in terms of vehicle traffic (e.g., roadway level of service, average traffic speed, vehicle congestion delay), with little or no consideration to other modes. Nonmotorized Transportation tends to be undervalued in conventional transportation surveys and Models, which ignore or undercount short trips, travel by children, leisure travel, and walking links to access automobiles and transit service. As a result, few resources are devoted to walking and cycling.

Current investment practices also contribute to Automobile Dependency. Transportation funding is often dedicated to roads and parking, and cannot be used for other types of transportation facilities or services, even when they are more cost effective overall. Zoning codes often include minimum parking requirements, which represent a subsidy of automobile travel, and by increasing land requirements, results in lower-density, urban fringe development. Least Cost Transportation Planning, Smart Growth Policy Reforms and Parking Management are TDM strategies that can help correct these distortions.

Automobile use is considered Prestigious, while other mode are stigmatized, many urban communities have become unattractive to middle-class residents, and some people assume, incorrectly, that automobile dependency contributes to Economic Development. The public officials and community leaders most involved in transportation planning tend to be automobile dependent, and so are particularly conscious of problems facing motorists and less aware of problems facing people who depend on other modes. This is not to suggest that public officials are unconcerned about the negative impacts of increased vehicle traffic and problems facing non-drivers. Many work hard to improve Transport Options. However, this occurs despite, rather than supported by current transportation evaluation and planning practices.

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