Tuesday 7 October 2008

Car Free Living (or... do the Dutch cycle because they can't afford cars ?)

Here in the Netherlands it's not at that unusual for a household not to include a car. Adults without driving licenses are not particularly unusual. There are other practical ways to make journeys.

These things are all relative, of course, and mostly I make my comparisons to the UK where I lived for most of my life. The UK also has quite a lot of households without cars. The figures for car ownership and affordability compared between the UK and the Netherlands make for interesting reading.

Right up through the 1980s and early 1990s, The Netherlands had slightly higher car ownership than the UK, which was to be expected as cars were more easily affordable in The Netherlands than in the UK. However, in 1995 something changed. Car ownership here in the Netherlands stopped growing while it continued in the UK, surpassing the Dutch rate of ownership.

The 1997 figure for car ownership in The Netherlands showed a slight reverse, with 372 per thousand compared with 373 in 1992.

In 1994 in the UK, 30% of households were car free, and 11% were judged to be unable to afford a car. However, in The Netherlands, these figures were 42% and 7%, giving the widest gap between affordability and ownership amongst the EU15 in the table.

The figures together indicate one thing. More Dutch people make a deliberate choice not to own a car than citizens of other countries in this survey. It's not that they can't afford to own a car, but that they have less of a need of it.

By catering well for people who choose not to have a car, and creating an environment in which cycling is a very pleasant and efficient way of travelling, combined with good transport mode integration, an environment has been created where being car free is a more viable choice, both for families and individuals.

However, you don't have to read far into this data to see that the car is still very popular in the Netherlands. Dutch people like driving, and they like cars. Cars remain more affordable in the Netherlands than in the UK. Lots of Dutch people own cars. However, Dutch people are not enslaved by cars. They have a choice of transport modes which work well, and the main alternative choice is the bicycle.

2013 update
Note that Dutch car ownership figures have risen considerably since the statistics used above were published. By 2010, the Dutch owned 528 cars per thousand people while the British owned 519 so again the Dutch own more cars than the British. Both countries have car ownership rates which are above average for Europe (see the Wikipedia list of countries by car ownership rate). However while they own plenty of cars, the Dutch are still opting to use them less than people of other European nations.

2019 update
Dutch car ownership and use have continued to rise.

The figures are from page 63 of a report titled "Are you moving in the right direction?" which was produced by the European Environment Agency back in February 2000. This article is one of many articles with interesting figures which you can find on our cycling articles page. Unfortunately it is the most recent set of comprehensive figures that I've found. The fragmented figures I've found since then suggest a continuation on the same lines, though car ownership has grown all across Europe in the last ten years including in the Netherlands.


Anonymous said...

I wonder what it is here in the U.S. I will check that out.

Duncan said...

We're now down to only 25% of households in the UK without a car, and over 30% who have two (http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/statistics/datatablespublications/trends/current/section1rvc.pdf table 1.10). Be interesting to know how many Dutch homes have two cars. Not only does UK have high car ownership, but we use them more intensively than our European neighbours.

Duncan Watson said...

I was car free in the US from 200->2008. It isn't too hard to do as long as you plan your life around the compromises you make. My wife now has a car so the trend is broken.
ps - I had to post, two Duncan's in a row is pretty rare.

Anonymous said...

This is very interesting. However, according to the latest Eurostat figures
("motorisation rate" table in this list:
http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/transport/data/main_tables), the Dutch caught up with the British in 2009, with 462 passenger cars per 1 000 inhabitants, against 459 for the UK. This is respectively 97 and 98 per cent of the EU average.

Tallycyclist said...

Imagine if countries like Holland and Denmark weren't wealthy as they are. The rest of the world would jump on that fact (the way they do about why the Chinese cycled so much in the past) and for the next 50 years that point would be rehashed over and over again. Thankfully this isn't the case. People in western nations often say that the car is seen as a wealth or status symbol in 3rd world countries. Looking at car ownership and obsession in the US, I'd say the same is true here as well.

We like to think we're at the top of the developed countries list, but things like our mass transit are often inferior than what can be found in developing countries.