The American car culture is slowly shifting. Vehicle sales have been declining for years, and fewer workers are commuting by car. More recently, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic caused auto sales to crash temporarily. But even as the industry has rebounded, the long-term effects on the auto industry remain uncertain. With millions of Americans working from home, fewer people are commuting, but fewer people also want to take public transportation. According to the most recent data from the Census Bureau, there are 0.85 passenger vehicles per person aged 16 and over (slightly less than one vehicle per person), but in certain car-dependent areas, this number remains higher.
While the overwhelming majority of workers commute by car, the share of car commuters has fallen over the last decade to stand at 84.8 percent in 2019. Over the same time period, the share of workers who commute by other modes of transportation—including public transit, walking, and biking—has stayed relatively constant. However, the share of workers who work from home has increased, going from 4.3 percent in 2010 to 5.7 percent in 2019. This figure is likely to increase substantially in 2020 and 2021 as a result of the pandemic.
Alongside declining rates of car commuting, vehicle sales in the U.S. have also been trending downwards since around 2016 as Americans drive less. Experts attribute the decline in driving to a variety of factors, including the fact that young people are delaying getting their driver’s licenses and using them less, the increase in working from home, and the rise in online shopping. Even after the pandemic is over, many Americans are likely to continue working from home at least part of the time, which will affect overall car usage and likely future vehicle sales.
Car dependency varies significantly across the U.S. depending on such factors as the availability of public transportation, the time it takes to commute by car, and the cost of car ownership. Due in large part to its substantial rural population and lack of public transit, the Great Plains states report more cars per capita than the rest of the country. Wyoming and North Dakota have the greatest number of vehicles per person, at 1.12 and 1.09, respectively. The states with the fewest vehicles per driving-age resident, New York (0.59) and Massachusetts (0.76), have large, dense urban populations and well-developed alternative modes of transportation.
To determine the states with the most and fewest cars, researchers at CoPilot analyzed the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau. States were ranked according to the number of vehicles per person aged 16 and over. Researchers also calculated the aggregate number of vehicles, the population aged 16 years and over, median household income, the percentage of workers who drive to work, and the mean commute time (hours per week).
The analysis found that in California, 83.3% of workers drive to work, spending an average of 5.1 hours of commute time per week. In total, there are 0.82 vehicles per person in California, compared to the national average of 0.85. Out of all U.S. states, California has the 10th fewest cars per person. Here is a summary of the data for California:
- Number of vehicles per person aged 16 and over: 0.82
- Aggregate number of vehicles: 25,807,455
- Population aged 16 years and over: 31,617,786
- Median household income: $80,440
- Percentage of workers who drive to work: 83.3%
- Mean commute time (hours per week): 5.1
For reference, here are the statistics for the entire United States:
- Number of vehicles per person aged 16 and over: 0.85
- Aggregate number of vehicles: 224,452,900
- Population aged 16 years and over: 263,534,161
- Median household income: $65,712
- Percentage of workers who drive to work: 84.8%
- Mean commute time (hours per week): 4.6
For more information, a detailed methodology, and complete results, you can find the original report on CoPilot’s website: https://www.copilotsearch.com/posts/cities-with-the-most-cars/