Car Ownership Continues To Rise Under Mayor de Blasio

Vehicle registrations are up 6.4 percent.

Mr. Car Culture himself. Photo: 78th Precinct.
Mr. Car Culture himself. Photo: 78th Precinct.

The de Blasio administration says it’s committed to the Vision Zero goal of fewer and fewer car trips — but for every year of the mayor’s first term, car ownership in New York City increased.

And that trend shows no signs of reversal.

“Auto ownership is going up in New York City right now,” DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told a crowd at the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ annual conference in Los Angeles, confirming DMV records.

Overall, there were 1,923,041 cars registered to city residents at the end of 2017, compared to 1,808,038 four years earlier. And that number doesn’t include commercial vehicles, buses, trailers, motorcycles, farm vehicles, or taxis. Overall registrations increased 8.59 percent over the four-year period. The bulk of that growth was in the taxi industry, which, thanks to Uber and Lyft, has nearly doubled in size since de Blasio took office.

One obvious reason: the subways and buses are unreliable, especially at off-peak hours. Last year, subway ridership declined even as the city’s population increased.

“It’s not a surprise that you start to see some modal shifts when the systems that everyone has relied on for so long are not performing,” former DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who is also in L.A., told Streetsblog.

But the collapse of the city’s transit system under Governor Cuomo is just one reason for the growth in auto ownership, according to advocates. Mayor de Blasio’s policies — such as dolling out 50,000 new parking placards to teachers — aren’t helping.

“That transit use is declining even when the population is increasing for the first time makes it clear that people don’t feel they can rely on the transit system and looking for other means,” StreetsPAC Executive Director Eric McClure said. “Offering 50,000 placards to the teachers union … was probably not a great idea.”

That’s not to say the mayor hasn’t paid lip service to getting New Yorkers “out of their cars.” He’s done so, many times, in reference to his highly subsidized ferry service, Citi Bike expansion, the opening of new Select Bus Service routes, and his push to build a Queens-to-Brooklyn waterfront streetcar — just to name a few examples.

Those policies aren’t enough, however, to counterbalance the droves of New Yorkers abandoning transit. The city isn’t taking advantage of the policy levers at its disposal, like changing zoning rules that require developers to include off-street parking in their new projects. And on Monday, advocacy groups lambasted the mayor for not devoting more energy to ensuring bus priority on crowded city streets.

“It’s not like buses are picking up the slack, and ridership on the ferry is just not high enough. it’s not serving enough neighborhoods,” said Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Nick Sifuentes. “The chicken’s coming home to roost. Four years of not great transportation policy are resulting in people saying ‘Okay, I’m driving.'”

Meanwhile, parking requirements remain in place for all new market-level development. That means booming neighborhoods like Long island City are actually getting more parking, as studies show tenants are much more likely to own a car if they have a convenient space to leave it.

“Transportation and land-use mix, and if you get that equation wrong, [these] are the kind of outcomes you get,” Sadik-Khan said.

With reporting from Gersh Kuntzman in Los Angeles.

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