In the face of widespread discourse surrounding climate protection and the transition towards sustainable mobility, the truth is still painful:
- Germany saw a staggering 12% surge in car density between 2009 and 2019, catapulting the average from 509 to 569 cars per 1,000 inhabitants, as reported by Destatis.
- Nearly 76% of the workers in the U.S. commuted to work alone back in 2019 (U.S. Census).
- In Brazil and South Korea people also drive to work in their own car, but the percentage is lower than in the US or Europe below 60% – Statista Global Consumer Survey.
And yes, we’re in this together, and we all need to play our part: as individuals, as businesses, as communities.
This is why we are starting a series of articles that speak of sustainable cities and businesses.
The current article will tackle car driving: its costs, how cars affect communities, and how reducing the drive alone rate can change the face of cities.
Let’s dig in.
What causes car density
The rapid adoption of the automobile in the 20th century has completely changed the face of both rural and urban areas. It allowed people to travel further and faster, with greater flexibility than ever.
Cars even have an impact on the structures of cities. Cities started developing at peripheries as well. Companies and people started to move there because of cheaper land and rent.
Often, these areas are not as well connected via public transportation, forcing people to commute by car more often.
Let’s dig deeper a bit into the topic and understand what causes the rise in car density.
- Driving alone to work. Imagine what cities would look like with only half the number of cars on the city roads.
- Cheaper cars. Because cars and gas became more affordable over the years, many people now live much further from their work. This is why they need to rely on personal cars and not on public transportation for commuting. For example, travel has become cheap and fast, many people now live much further from their work than they did 50 to 100 years ago. Pooley and Turnbull (2000) show that in Britain, commuting distances have increased from about 3.5km in 1900 to 15km now.
- Economic prosperity. Higher levels of economic development often correlate with increased car ownership rates. As individuals and households become more affluent, they are more likely to buy cars for personal transportation.
- Urban sprawl and suburbanization. The expansion of cities into suburban areas often leads to increased car dependency. Suburban neighborhoods are typically designed with automobile-centric infrastructure, such as highways, parking lots, and limited public transportation options, which encourage car ownership and usage.
- Lack of efficient public transportation. In areas where public transportation systems are inadequate or inefficient, people are more likely to rely on private cars for their daily commute and transportation needs.
- Cultural preferences and societal norms. Societal norms and cultural preferences can play a role in car ownership and usage patterns. In some societies, owning a car is seen as a status symbol or a symbol of independence and convenience, leading to higher car ownership rates.
- Lack of alternative transportation options. When alternative transportation options like walking, cycling, or reliable public transportation are limited or not easily accessible, people are more likely to choose cars as their primary mode of transportation.
- Lack of land use planning and zoning. Poor land use planning, which separates residential areas from commercial and recreational areas, can lead to longer travel distances and increased car usage. Zoning regulations that prioritize car-centric developments that do not promote mixed-use developments can also contribute to higher car density.
- Infrastructure and parking availability. Sufficient road infrastructure and availability of parking spaces can influence car ownership and usage. Areas with well-developed road networks and ample parking facilities tend to have higher car densities.
Now, if we were to pick one factor that can drive a lower car density, it would be the drive alone rate. It can be approached more easily and with faster results than the rest.
And because most cars inside cities are heading to work, or from work, we want to see what measures can employers undertake to foster fresh mindsets about car commuting, so that they can minimize traffic congestion and air pollution.
Businesses can be more agile than public administrations. The public administration should be able to ensure proper public transportation and road infrastructure, but this is taking years…
The costs of driving alone to work
So, we said that one of the factors of car density around urban areas is the high drive alone rate.
Now, let’s see how this is affecting our day-to-day life as well as our communities.
High drive alone rates lead to:
- Traffic congestion. High rates of solo commuting contribute to traffic congestion, leading to increased travel times and reduced efficiency for individuals and businesses.
- Environmental impact. Traffic congestion leads to greenhouse gases and other pollutants, contributing to air pollution and climate change. This leads to health effects, reduced quality of life for residents, and environmental degradation.
- Infrastructure expenses. The need to accommodate and maintain extensive road networks, parking facilities, and related infrastructure to support solo commuting places a financial burden on cities and communities. The construction, maintenance, and expansion of roads and parking spaces require substantial investments of public funds.
- Increased stress. Prolonged periods spent in traffic can lead to stress and sedentary behavior, affecting the overall well-being of people.
Now, there is also a debate happening around urban sprawl and suburbanization. As previously mentioned, the expansion of cities into suburban areas often leads to increased car dependency.
Studies in the US show that city size and density are positively associated with using transit (0.64), biking (0.36), walking (0.43), and carpooling (0.68). Lower density is significantly associated with driving to work alone (-0.36). This is happening mostly because these areas are not well connected to the nearby cities via proper public transport.
Now, people move to suburban areas because housing is cheaper, maybe they have access to more space, or greener areas. They might enjoy a more qualitative life there.
On the other hand, they end up being dependent on at least one car. And the vicious circle begins: traffic congestion, pollution, stress…
Recognizing and addressing the issue of driving alone is crucial for cities and communities to promote sustainable transportation alternatives and create healthier, more vibrant, and economically prosperous urban environments.
How can companies contribute to lower drive alone rates
The initiatives aimed at transforming commuting behaviors have primarily revolved around stimulating and motivating employees to explore alternative modes of transportation for their journey to work.
But it’s not only about the environment, it’s also about how companies build an employer brand.
Just think about it: the way employees get to work is part of their whole work experience. The commute can be a factor whether someone chooses to work at a particular company or not.
Now, let’s see how companies can drive the change in commuting behavior:
- Encouraging shared rides
Carpooling and vanpooling offer compelling, cost-effective, and eco-friendly options to combat traffic congestion and reduce emissions. Lots of companies out there enrolled in such programs or even developed their own carpooling app.
And here’s a success story that can serve as inspiration.
Nissan partnered with Hytch in Nashville to provide cash rewards if people opted in for carpooling. The users of the Hytch Rewards app can connect with their friends, family, co-workers and neighbors to share a ride. Once engaged, the technology tracks route details and pays drivers and passengers to ride together.
Hytch data shows that a 6% adoption rate in carpooling would eliminate 1,500 daily trips into Nashville! We love that across Tennesse, state and local governments, as well as companies such as Nissan, have pledged funds for the new project to influence transit behavior.
- Installing bike racks and showers
Another way to support sustainable transportation is to make it easier for employees to bike to work. Businesses can install bike racks or provide secure bike storage. Showers are a nice-to-have as well, because employees need to freshen up after their ride.
- Promoting hybrid work and flexible work schedules
What’s better than ride sharing or biking?
Staying at home 😊. In addition to promoting sustainable transportation, businesses can offer their employees hybrid work arrangements or flexible schedules. This can help reduce the number of cars on the road and the amount of time employees spend commuting.
- Hosting car-free days and other sustainability events
By organizing events such as car-free days or bike-to-work days, businesses can raise awareness about alternative transportation options and encourage employees to consider them. These events can also help with building an employer brand as well as show the company’s commitment to sustainability.
- Offering incentives for public transportation
Companies can offer their employees incentives for public transit. This can include discounted or free public transportation passes or even cash incentives for employees who choose to take public transit to work.
By reducing the drive alone rate in their cities, companies are not only reducing their carbon footprint but also improving the health and well-being of their employees.
They are also changing the way cities look, smell, vibrate…
It’s true that the invention of cars was a blessing to our society. But now, it can transform cities into nightmares. But we can all be the drivers of change.
It starts with the individual, then the businesses, and then the whole community will join.
So, let’s build both sustainable businesses and cities.