‘Forced Car Ownership’ identified in Deprived Urban Areas

Monday 9 April 2018

Recent research from our programme has identified that people living in deprived urban areas may be forced into being car owners despite experiencing facing financial difficulties, so that the phenomenon of ‘forced car ownership’ is not confined to remote rural areas.  The research, conducted by Dr Angela Curl, Dr Julie Clark and Professor Ade Kearns, fills a gap in longitudinal studies in the field of transport behaviours and is based on examination of results from household surveys conducted in the years 2006, 2008 and 2011 in deprived communities in Glasgow.   

By examining changes over time in car ownership alongside reported financial difficulties, the research identified four types of ‘forced car owners’, divided into those who adopt or retain a car over time despite continuing or newly arising financial difficulties within the household (e.g. in paying for things such as food, fuel and rent).   Moreover, the size of the forced car owner group has increased over time, from 4.2% of households in 2006, to 7.4% in 2008 and 8.5% in 2011.    

There was evidence that car ownership is associated with problems of accessibility, with drivers found to be living in areas of poorer accessibility (based on public transport journey times) and those who relinquished their car found to be living in areas of better accessibility.  However, other factors were found to be more strongly associated with forced car ownership, including issues of household structure (such as an increase in the number of children or adults in the household) and employment (householders retaining work or moving into work).   

A number of potential explanations for ‘forced car ownership’ in deprived urban areas are posited in the research.  First, the fact that more people in financial difficulty retain rather than adopt a car suggests that car ownership may be seen as a necessary component of modern living, recognised by its recent use in the suggested minimum income standard for families.  The requirement for a car could be in order to search for or take up employment, or to cope with the complexities of household mobility needs where multiple children and adults are concerned. Second, car ownership has become relatively cheaper compared with other modes of transport over the past two decades. Third, problems of accessibility are increasingly related to the quality, frequency and reliability of public transport, rather than being a reflection of lack of proximity. 

Professor Kearns said “Given our findings, we cannot assume that car ownership is simply a matter of choice in dense urban areas.  Our research also raises questions about the use of car ownership as a proxy indicator for income.  The fact that people in deprived urban areas, and those experiencing financial difficulties, adopt and retain the use of a car should be of concern to planners and others responsible for the regeneration of disadvantaged areas and for sustainable transport policy. The findings raise questions about the level of provision of public transport services and the quality of local amenities and services in poor areas, and about the appropriate location of employment opportunities for those on low incomes.” 

The research findings are published as ‘Household car adoption and financial distress in deprived urban communities: a case of forced car ownership?’ in the journal Transport Policy