Exploration of a Shift in Household Transportation Spending from Vehicles to Public Transportation

Document Type


Publication Date


Subject Area

operations - capacity, infrastructure - vehicle, ridership - forecasting, ridership - forecasting, ridership - demand


Automobile ownership, Costs, Expenditures, Forecasting, Households, Income, National Household Travel Survey, Public transit, Ridership, Spreadsheets, Transit capacity, Travel behavior, Travel demand


Despite continued and growing public support of public transit, traffic congestion continues to get worse and transit ridership and service levels have grown but not sufficiently to play a more meaningful role in addressing growing travel demands. As a result, interest continues in exploring how significant service increases might provide adequate transit capacity and sufficiently attractive service levels to attract enough ridership to offset the need of households for the current number of vehicles. Similarly, policy analysts speculate that the resources saved by households with fewer autos may represent a sufficient consumer benefit to justify or offset the higher subsidy costs necessary to provide the enhanced services. While speculation on this topic is common amongst transit planners and advocates, the literature currently offers little insight into this issue. This report estimates the average costs of private car ownership in the country based on the household income and expenditures using the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data. Travel behavior as a function of vehicle ownership is explored with the National Household Travel Survey (NHTS). Analysis of the datasets is used to develop a better understanding of the economic and travel implications potentially arising as a result of households reducing their automobile ownership. As part of the study, a scenario analysis was developed using an Excel spreadsheet tool. This tool can be used by analysts to evaluate probable consequences of reduced vehicle ownership. The analysis is driven by utilizing relationships between travel behavior, transportation spending and household vehicle availability. The research offers several observations regarding the magnitude of the behavior changes that might be expected with lower vehicle ownership as well as the capacity and cost of transit expansion required to accommodate the demands.