The passenger car is seen as a necessity rather than a luxury item in developed countries. In fact, in 2014, 80% of households in the developed world owned at least one car. Despite omnipresent passenger cars, there are areas where car dependency is surprisingly low in developed countries – namely, some of the most affluent and largest urban centres actually record notably more modest vehicle ownership rates. For example, only 67% of households own a vehicle in the New York metropolitan area, compared to an average of 89% in the US.

Table 1. 15 Major Cities by Largest Difference in Vehicle Ownership Rate, Developed Countries, % of Households with Passenger Car, 2014

Berlin (Germany)53.277.3(24.1)
New York (US)67.489(21.6)
Brussels (Belgium)63.184.2(21.1)
Hamburg (Germany)56.477.3(20.9)
Vienna (Austria)67.186.2(19.1)
Helsinki (Finland)6479.2(15.2)
Tokyo (Japan)60.575.6(15.1)
Paris (France)69.983.9(14)
Jerusalem (Israel)51.965.1(13.2)
Copenhagen (Denmark)62.174.8(12.7)
London (UK)63.375.4(12.1)
Osaka (Japan)64.475.6(11.2)
Zurich (Switzerland)70.680.7(10.1)
Taipei (Taiwan)48.858.4(9.6)
Amsterdam (Netherlands)71.280.6(9.4)

Source: Euromonitor International

What drives cars out of town?

Seven out of 15 cities listed in table 1 are mega cities with over four million cars. Hence, in most cases, low vehicle ownership is partly a result of capacity limitations to accommodate cars in the streets. Among the world’s 10 developed cities with over four million cars, only Chicago, Los Angeles and Nagoya still maintain both huge numbers of cars and a high overall ownership rate of passenger vehicles.

Graph 1. Number of Vehicles and Household Possession of Passenger Cars in 60 Cities in the Developed Word: 2014


Source: Euromonitor International

Affluent mega cities maintain low vehicle ownership rates as huge flows of passengers also help maintain and support development of attractive public transit routes in these cities. Paris, London and Tokyo recorded over 300 passenger trips by public transit per capita in 2014, while the second most public transit-orientated city in their respective countries boasted only 160-200 passenger trips per capita. In the US, New York had over 221 passenger trips per capita in 2014, in comparison to 96 in San Francisco, America’s second-ranked city by intensity of public transit usage.

The remaining eight cities with low vehicle ownership rate made (see table 1) it to the list thanks to their consistent orientation towards improving urban mobility and investing in innovative smart city projects. Hamburg, Vienna, Helsinki, Amsterdam, Copenhagen or Zurich consistently feature in the lists of most technologically advanced cities.

For example, in 2014, the Arthur D Little consultancy categorised these cities as the most mature worldwide in terms of their urban mobility. The urban mobility index was compiled based on proliferation of public transit, cycle routes or car sharing options in the city. Similarly, urban analyst Boyd Cohen recently listed the same cities among the top 10 with the most smart city solutions in Europe. In addition, Amsterdam and Copenhagen are the world’s most bicycle-orientated cities, according to the Copenhagenize index, which evaluates a city infrastructure’s bicycle-friendliness.

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