Car Ownership and low income on the urban fringe – benefit or hindrance?

Document Type

Conference Paper

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - urban, mode - car


This paper addresses conflicting views about how owning or not owning a car affects disadvantage for low income groups. Contemporary research has suggested that a lack of access to a car is a major cause of transport disadvantage; however there is also a contrary view that high car ownership creates disadvantage and that car ownership is „forced‟ upon this group. Recent research has also noted that home location and proximity to activities play an important role in mediating the relationship between transport and disadvantage. Resolving these viewpoints is a major focus of the paper.

The paper explores the factors affecting travel and disadvantage as they impact low income groups living in fringe urban Melbourne by contrasting low income no car ownership (LINCO) households (HH) and low income and high car ownership (LIHCO) HH. It is based on the results of a household travel survey covering 535 households selecting using a targeted random sample approach. Although random sampling was adopted the sample was modest and results need to be interpreted with caution.

The research has found that LINCO HH make significantly fewer trips and have greater difficulties with travel than LIHCO HH. However LINCO HH make logical financially sustainable home location decisions to balance mobility and accessibility with limited budgets. Though most acknowledged the limitations imposed by lacking a car, most also emphasised the advantages of not having to pay for a car and said that alternative options met all of their transport needs.

In contrast LIHCO HH are more concerned about home affordability and living in „greener‟ areas than with transport. They emphasised the benefits of the increased mobility of owning cars and none of them regretted their home location decision. In this context it is difficult to see their car ownership as “forced” as their home location decision was quite deliberate. However a third did acknowledge that transport costs were a high proportion of their income and most adopted coping strategies to limit travel expenses such as trip linking and cost minimisation.

Analysis suggests that LINCO exhibit more dimensions of social exclusion, notably low income, unemployment and low social support however these findings may reflect the distinct socio-economic characteristics of LINCO/LIHCO households rather than car ownership influences.

Overall the paper finds that that those with and without cars have different forms of disadvantage suggesting both sides of the argument are both right and wrong. LIHCO HH demonstrate clear vulnerabilities to higher future transport and housing costs which should be addressed by research and policy. LINCO HH in contrast demonstrate both financial and environmental sustainability which should be encouraged by transport and land use policy.