While Europeans have long been opting for public transport, bicycles, and walking, Americans seem to be determined to stick to their cars. No wonder why “the big garage” has become an essential part of the perfect American family dream house. The truth is that often an average American family is dependent on more than one vehicle.
How many cars does an average American family need?
According to the 2008 Experian Automotive study, an average American family relies precisely on 2.28 cars. The study showed that 66% of Americans owned two or more cars.
Car ownership in the US is determined not so much by income level as by location and proximity. Families that own two or more cars might opt for multiple vehicles, each carrying its purpose. One for short city trips, another for weekend adventures. A family that chooses to invest in a single car will often settle for one all-purpose vehicle.
A recent study showed that most American families today cannot afford to buy a brand new vehicle. Despite the assumption that the choice in favor of a single vehicle may allow for bigger spending on a better, more luxurious brand, the survey showed that interest and insurance rates often make such a purchase go beyond the average budget for a family car.
On the other side of the Atlantic, a family would have fewer reasons to use a car, which is why they rely on fewer vehicles. Instead, they opt for public transport or even walking, especially when it comes to short city trips.
US vs. Europe: transportation choices
Below are the two hypothetical scenarios that illustrate transportation behavior of the families on both sides of the Atlantic.
- Mary lives with her husband and kids in Cedartown, GA. Every morning, at 7 am, she drives 19 miles from Cedartown to Rome, GA to get her children, John and Ryley, to school. After she finishes work at the county hospital in Rome, she picks up the kids, and they head home, which is another 30-minute ride. Mary can’t complain, however, because her husband Clive drives twice as many miles each way to get to his job in Marietta, GA.
- On the other side of the Atlantic, Philip, Clive’s mate from his years at Georgia Tech, has a different transportation routine. He rides the subway from The Hague, Netherlands to Rotterdam every morning to get to work. He covers almost the same distance Mary does on her way to Rome. Occasionally, Philip rides his bike to The Hague.The first time Philip started considering buying a car was a month ago only because his wife Lisa is expecting their first baby.
The differences in transportation behavior might seem too obvious with these examples. Although, it is important to illustrate how basic daily activities define our car dependencies. Public transport has never been an option for Mary and Clive and many American families alike. It would take at least double the time to get to work by public transportation vs. driving there.
The large distances between cities have made buses and trains quite inconvenient. The search for better employment and education opportunities, however, leads most people like Mary & Clive to the only option left – to be dependent on their vehicles. The situation gets worse when the kids grow up and start needing (or more precisely wanting) cars of their own, too.
Car sharing vs. car ownership
Many young people in urban environments have found an alternative to car ownership in using car-sharing services or choosing Uber and Lyft as their transport providers. The conventional wisdom is that youngsters will buy less and share more. The pattern of the sharing economy is changing many industries today.
While the economic reasoning behind car sharing is evident, most Americans do not see the emotional benefit. According to a recent study, many still prefer owning a car. They consider car ownership to be a safer, more convenient and reliable option than the car- and ride-sharing services.
Historical reasons for car dependency
The attachment to one’s car is not a new phenomenon. It’s a mindset that has been developing in Americans continuously over the past centuries. Ralph Buehler, Ph.D. named nine main reasons that have led to the car-dependency the Americans face today.
By the mid-1930s there was already one registered vehicle for every two U.S. households. At the same time, in Europe, only the wealthy could afford a car. As a result, U.S. planners and engineers developed road standards sooner than Europeans. When they had already established standards for roadways, traffic lights, intersections and parking places, Europeans were still only experimenting.
Over the years, Europe has established higher vehicle taxes (ownership and usage) than the United States. Moreover, vehicle tax revenue in Europe goes into the general funds of European governments. In the US, large parts of the gas tax revenue are dedicated to roadway construction and improvement.
The development of the Interstate system in the 1950s has allowed for the smoother transition from and to distant areas. The Interstate penetrates cities, allowing quicker transit access to suburban areas. Most highways in Europe only link cities without connecting different city parts.
Governments and transport infrastructure
Additional Government subsidies in the United States have made driving less costly and highly demanded. Americans see the government invest more resources than what comes from their taxes. In Europe, on the other hand, many people pay more than what they actually see invested in infrastructure and transportation. This puts Europeans off, and they look for alternative means of transport.
At the same time, the way European governments fund transport infrastructure also helped sustain public transit systems. Whereas in the United States many privately owned transit systems failed after the WWII, mostly due to the lack of aid from the government.
In addition, cities in Europe have longer traditions of providing sidewalks and walking areas for people. In the past years, the cycling network in most countries on the old continent has improved significantly.
Residential neighborhoods in the US usually consist of apartment buildings or houses. In Europe, these communities often include medical offices, supermarkets, or cafes. The difference in the zoning laws and policies allows Europeans to make shorter trips to the places they need to visit, thus often making car usage unnecessary. And while in the US zones are still required to have a minimum number of parking spaces in Europe most areas have a maximum number in order to limit parking.
What is most interesting is the way government and the industry handle these differences in each of the two regions. European governments put consistent efforts to curb car use and promote public transport. New improvements are introduced to allow more convenient usage of public transport or bicycle.
On the contrary, the technological focus in the United States seems to be on modifying automotive technology in the cars itself. Better seatbelts and airbags to increase safety, higher performance standards to ensure reliability and driving satisfaction are all factors that make alternative transport usage negligible for Americans.
And yes, you can see families with one car which leaves the garage only on weekends. But you can also see families that spend so much time behind the wheel that the only way they talk to each other is by lowering their car windows.
Analysts say that in the past years Americans have decreased their car dependency. They now drive less and choose smaller and lighter vehicles. So maybe the reality will change, after all. But for now, the car in the American family is still the star. So, if you are moving, which is very common for most Americans, we can help you ship your automobile. Request a car shipping quote online on our website or call our logistics experts now. Thank you!