Car Ownership Continues To Rise Under Mayor de Blasio

Vehicle registrations are up 6.4 percent.

Photo: 78th Precinct.
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.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The growth of the city is another reason. Comparing American Community Survey data from 2006 to 2008 vs. 2017, the number of people driving alone to work increased by 42,795. But the percent of people traveling to work by driving alone fell from 23.3% to 22.3%.

    More people may be getting cars just to have one, for use off peak. That would correspond with additional affluent people in the city, and the sky high cost of rental cars here, especially in Brooklyn.

    Of course, the question the is where do these vehicles get parked while their owners are off at work? Perhaps that’s why parking has become impossible in my neighborhood.

    “Offering 50,000 placards to the teachers union … was probably not a great idea.”

    Knocking seven years off their retirement age and five years off their required years worked for a full pension, guaranteeing a return on their 401Ks at double the market rate, exempting all that retirement income from state and local income taxes, increasing out of classroom assignments, hiring thousands of paras with no public discussion, and increasing the number of unsatisfactory ratings required before a teacher could (theoretically) be replaced from two to three (followed by arbitration and litigation), and then increasing class sizes and cutting the pay and benefits for new hires and telling teachers they owe us nothing because they are being cheated, probably weren’t good ideas either. Then again, it’s not like they are us serfs, and they were good ideas politically, because the people harmed don’t matter.

  • Pundit

    If a mayor left the city worse off when he finished his term than when he began it, he or she would be seen as a failure. Crime, school performance, homelessness, you name it. If those metrics got noticeably worse it would end that person’s political career.

    Yet when it comes to transportation, that’s exactly what’s going to happen to New York under de Blasio’s “leadership.” Getting around this city is absolutely worse than it was four or five years ago and as much as he might like to pin it on Cuomo, it’s not all related to the subway. A subway crisis might be manageable if we had a reliable bus network as a backup, for example. Instead we have a placard giveaway and de Blasio’s cowardly cynicism when it comes to the “crackdown” on placard abuse that leads to bus lanes being blocked by official vehicles all the time. Same with bike lanes. And then there’s all the wasted money on ferries and the zombie project that is the BQX.

    New Yorkers – and not just transportation advocates – should be shouting it over and over again: Bill de Blasio is a failure. A total failure. Don’t ever let him or anyone else forget it.

  • vnm

    Car ownership is a huge drain on household resources, about $15,000 per car per year in New York. So if it’s increasing in NYC, that’s another way of saying Mayor de Blasio is letting a lot of people get poorer on his watch.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Every politician going forward is going to be a failure by that metric, due to what happened in the past.

    Every past politician became a success by cashing in and disinvesting in the future. And now it is the future.

    Of course if they continue many of the same policies rather than biting the bullet, and are primarily focused on maintaining Omerta and shifting the blame to someone else if they can’t (DeBlasio, Cuomo), then I won’t feel bad about the blame they are getting.

    People are going to get madder and madder. What is the election of Trump other than a cry of desperation?

  • qrt145

    It looks like that $15,000 figure assumes you’ll drive downtown every day and pay for parking. I doubt that that is representative of people who own cars in NYC. While it could be a fair measurement of how much you can save by not driving downtown every day, I don’t think it’s a good measurement of how much cars actually cost to actual people in NYC.

    Still, there’s no denying that cars are a huge drain on household resources! I just think $15,000 is an overestimate.

  • Joe R.

    The average nationally is about $8,500 annually:

    https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/loans/total-cost-owning-car/

    However, in NYC insurance easily costs $1,000 a year more. Gas is more costly in this part of the country. So are repairs. Repairs are also more frequent thanks to the poor condition of our streets. Finally, you usually have to pay tolls even going between boroughs. Here someone estimates everything at $1000 to $1500 per month:

    https://www.quora.com/How-much-does-it-cost-to-own-a-car-in-Manhattan

    $15,000 annually isn’t completely out of line.

    What’s amazing to look at is how much money you can have by not having a car. Take that $15,000 annually, invest it in something having a paltry 5% return, and you’ll have $715,906 in 25 years. Calculator:

    https://www.calculator.net/future-value-calculator.html?ctype=endamount&cyearsv=25&cstartingprinciplev=0&cinterestratev=5&ccontributeamountv=15000&ciadditionat1=end&printit=0&x=34&y=4

    If you get a 8% return, which is average for the stock market, you’ll have about $1.1 million.

    Or put another way, by foregoing a car you can easily retire in your 40s or 50s instead of working until you’re 70.

    While we can nitpick about exactly how much cars cost, any way you look at them they’re a money pit. I realized this in my early 20s. That’s when I decided never to own a car.

  • DB

    Note how de Blasio gets to his gym in Brooklyn every day.

  • burnabybob

    Parking requirements for new construction is really dumb policy, especially for a city that prides itself on being environmentally conscious. On the one hand it encourages more people to drive, and on the other hand it drives up the cost of housing, which is already badly out of reach of most working people.

  • qrt145

    I really don’t get those average people who like spending $8,500 on their cars. 🙂 I had a car once, roughly between 2002 and 2007, and even adjusting for inflation it cost nowhere near that. Got the car new for about $9000, and sold it five years later for about $4000, so that’s $1000/year in depreciation. There were hardly any maintenance expenses because of the warranty. I had free parking (this was in CT), and due to fuel efficiency and moderate mileage I don’t think I spent more than $500/year on gas. Insurance did cost nearly $1000/year, and maybe $100 registration, and I did occasionally pay parking or tolls or fines, but adding it all together it couldn’t have been more than $3000/year.

    I guess things are different if you buy a $30,000 SUV, though…

  • kevd

    “Gas is more costly in this part of the country.”
    But people here tend to drive way fewer miles as a large percentage of cars are mostly for weekend use, not daily commuting – so overall all gas and repair costs could be less than the national average.

  • Rider

    You note that “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.”

    This is the most important factor by far, outweighing even the continued construction of parking and the expansion of driving by city workers. In the best of times, the transit system is not very efficient at moving teachers who live in eastern Queens to work at scattered sites in Brooklyn; they will always drive. But it is designed to be very good at getting office workers from Queens to Manhattan. Yet I see many TLC vehicles driving workers across the bridge every morning.

    To a certain extent, this could be a good thing. It has dawned on the MTA that it is actually competing with Uber and Lyft for customers and, more important in this state, political support, and it has begun making improvements to customer service to try to catch up. However, the competition is unfair. The city needs to take its thumb off the scale–stop letting the taxi riders and solo drivers use the streets practically for free, and put that revenue into transit renovations and expansions.

  • Joe R.

    Don’t forget to adjust your figures up by maybe 35% to account for inflation. That’s still less than half of the average. It also looks like you drove a lot less than average if you only spent $500 a year on gas. 15,000 miles a year in the SUVs people buy these days costs $3,000 in gas easily (assuming $3/gallon and 15 mpg).

    I’ll stick with my bike. Even when I ride 4,000 miles annually I’d say the total costs are under $100. That’s mostly for tire, chain, and sprocket wear. The rims wear out eventually also, but that’s highly dependent on how many potholes I encounter. I’ve had rims barely make it to 3,000 miles. Other times they’ve gone over 10,000 miles. My front rim has close to 7,500 miles on it and it’s still in great shape (I hope I didn’t jinx it by saying that).

  • Joe R.

    In Manhattan that’s probably true but where I live people use their cars every day for shopping and/or getting to work (assuming they work in Queens).

  • Larry Littlefield

    “What’s amazing to look at is how much money you can have by not having a car. Take that $15,000 annually, invest it in something having a paltry 5% return, and you’ll have $715,906 in 25 years.”

    That was certainly the theory when we decided to live in Brooklyn.

    But since most places that used to have lots of mass transit have died off economically, the cost or housing in places that are still viable has gone through the roof, wiping out all the savings.

    https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2014/11/23/the-new-urban-crisis/

    FYI, my post came out before Florida’s book of that title. He sees the same problem.

  • kevd

    More like Manhattan, more than 1/2 of Brooklyn, most of the Bronx and a decent chunk of Queens,

  • AnoNYC

    Taxi congestion charge starts in Jan I believe, so it’s a start.

  • AnoNYC

    Well you definitely cannot buy a new car for $9,000. More than double that for the cheapest offering today.

    And everyone is trying to keep up with the Joneses, so you have low wage workers driving BMWs and Audis.

  • qrt145

    There are still some new cars under $15,000, such as the Hyundai Accent or the Kia Rio (yep, mine was that kind of car, and the most barebones you can imagine. Manual transmission, manual windows, and no AC. But it was new! 🙂

  • AnoNYC

    Even the Kia Rio is $13,900 MSRP. That doesn’t include dealer markup and fees (taxes, plates, registration), oh and interest on the financing because people are not buying cars in cash. So you’re looks at paying a good bit more than that for the most basic new automobile possible.

    The used market is a different story of course, but with used vehicles comes greater chance of potential issues. And a lot of people like to buy used vehicles they cannot afford new, which means the vehicles have more than 90,000 miles on the odometer on average (average number of miles per year driven is 12,000 times average 8 year length of car ownership).

    And in NYC, leasing is very popular. Which in a way is beneficial because these new cars are coming with collision avoidance, blind spot monitoring, better visibility, better brakes, and front ends that reduce likelihood of pedestrian fatalities in a collision.

  • Joe R.

    Unless you got in before prices went insane, like my parents did. The only real solution I see is for city governments to built lots of bare bones housing to saturate the market and drive prices down. The free market won’t do it but government can build housing and then rent it out at cost. They’ll never do that unfortunately because it would hurt the real estate developers who are also heavy campaign contributors.

  • billmorgenstein

    DeBiased, Clone No represent the worst in what a politician should be.

  • Joe R.

    On the teachers, why doesn’t the DOE make an effort to assign teachers to the school closest to them which has a teaching position in their specialty? With all the schools in this city, I’ll bet many teachers could walk to work. Even more would probably be within easy biking distance.

    I’ve said a number of times the best fix for our transit woes is reducing demand for transportation, rather than assuming demand is fixed, and seeking to meet that demand. We already accept that there is induced demand for auto travel. It’s much the same for all types of travel. Offering NYC employers incentives to get their employees to telecommute would be a start. A national jobs base would also be a good idea. For example, you might have someone who lives in the city but works in Long Island, and someone who lives in LI but works in the city, doing very similar jobs. A database could find these matches. The workers could then trade jobs. Such a database would help even more for new hires. Companies could be given incentives for hiring those closer to their workplace. The bottom line is if we reduce demand enough, a lot of other problems will solve themselves. The MTA won’t need to invest in new capacity. Buses won’t be stuck in congestion. It’s a no brainer but nobody seems to be looking at the demand side except me.

  • Joe R.

    What bothers me about teachers driving to work is the fact they’re supposed to be examples to their students. How can a teacher give a lesson on global warming or energy wars, then drive to work, without looking like a hypocrite? Don’t think their students won’t pick up on these things, either. I think for starters we should bring back the residency requirement for city employees. And we should get rid of parking placards altogether, except possibly for city vehicles being driven for jobs where it may be necessary to park quickly without circling around for a spot. There’s no reason anybody should have placards for their personal cars.

  • Joe R.

    I don’t understand low-wage people in this city owning any car, let alone something fairly high-end. If you have to take out a loan to buy a car, then that means you really can’t afford it. The idea that car ownership is aspirational belongs in the dustbin of history. I personally consider being comfortably retired the biggest sign of success, not driving a fancy car which the bank owns.

  • Rider

    Commuting is inherent to big cities because distance is only one of the considerations that people take into account when seeking a job, and not the most important one. They are willing to put up with longer commutes if it means living in a nicer neighborhood, earning more money, or having a better work environment. Even if you could get one member of a household to work close to where they lived or vice versa, there is the problem of where their partner is going to work: probably across town. Not to mention that they also want a choice about where their kids go to school, adding even more trips. What we could do more easily is cut down on discretionary travel by building in shops and recreation close to where people live and by encouraging small business so the self-employed could work more easily near home.

  • Joe R.

    Quite a few of the self-employed can work at home. Self-employment and the gig economy is the future, anyway. The idea of people staying at the same job for 25 or 35 or 50 years is mostly dead, other than in the minds of public employee unions.

  • Urbanely

    There still is a residency requirement for most City positions, but one of the problems is that people can’t afford to live here on a City salary. With the lead scandal in NYCHA housing, I learned that many NYCHA residents are also City employees at the bottom of the pay scale. Screwed by the City twice.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Actually, the last residency requirements are gone.

    The highest paid — police, fire, teachers, transit got out the door in the early 1960s.

    Then managers started routinely getting exemptions.

    The state legislature passed a law eliminating residency requirements for Sanitation workers over the city’s objections.

    Then, finally, Bloomberg agreed to get rid of them for everyone else, though the City Council added back a two year residency requirement so people from the suburbs wouldn’t take all the jobs — is generally the case for police, fire, teachers and transit. After two years, you can move there.

    http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/residency-rules-dc-37-live-article-1.354837

  • Daisy Executive Limousine LLC

    Mayor Bill de Blasio is counting on a Democrat-dominated Albany to approve his millionaires tax, but judging by only competitive state Senate race in the city, he’ll be waiting for a long time.

    Democrat Andrew Gounardes, challenging GOP Sen. Martin Golden in Brooklyn, told Crain’s Wednesday that he is opposed to the mayor’s call to raise the city income tax on individuals earning $500,000 or more and funneling the proceeds to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Both candidates, appearing at a Bay Ridge Council for the Aging forum, voiced general support for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s counterproposal: charging cars and trucks for entering Midtown and Lower Manhattan. http://www.daisylimo.com

  • Jatinder

    More cars lead to more congestion and more travel time for all and also risk to pedestrians. I think de-congesting has to start somewhere. Commuters in NYC, or elsewhere in any big town in USA and even all across the world prefer to live at their convenience, where they can, partly driven by how much they afford on housing. But then, they have jobs at crazy distances from their residences. “Not our fault”, they say “if we have to drive to work and back home to save time by not using public transport”. I suggest to start first with curtailing most of the travel undertaken by school-teachers and school children to attend schools. The reason why I choose this section of the society is that the planners should have pity first on young kids being ferried by those yellow school-buses, far away from their places of living, and back again by those buses. In Mumbai city alone there are at least 8,000 school buses plying on roads and contributing to congestion, simply because the parents choose to send them to and ‘IVY’ class exclusive school meant for the children of the rich parents, to keep the class system going. When asked why can’t they send their young kids to the a school near their residence, they cite the low standard of education there. After all, in Mumbai of 1950s and NYC of 1920s, all kids walked to the schools within a km or two of their residences, because this 4-wheel monster, called an automobile was not there as a school-bus.

    I know the shift to nearby schools cannot be done so simply, and can be done only in phases, keeping in mind the future of the students who need to complete their studies at the schools they travel to.

    Let the class system of schools GO. I was educated upto fifth standard in a municipal school in a small town in India in 1950s, and the quality of education was good, because the teachers were good, and there were simply no alternate choices, where the rich from the society could send their wards. So, let us do away with the school buses after admitting the children in schools which are located within one km or so. And a teacher should be chosen to work in a school, only if he/she lives within say 3-4 kms. If necessary spend all the energy and funds in improving the standard of these neighborhood schools, and save the teachers and small kids from the hassles of long travel daily.

    After my retirement from a large government organization in Mumbai, I was entrusted to run its 30 schools located across India for a few years. These schools have good educational standards and together have a strength of about 28,000 students and 1500 teachers, and were all located conveniently in the residential complexes of this Government department. Out of them 6 schools were at Mumbai. And even now we need no school buses, either at Mumbai or at our schools located elsewhere, because all students can walk the short distance to their respective schools. My own two children, who are now aged 41 and 45 had studied in one of these same bus-less schools in Mumbai. The teachers were also allotted Govt. flats in the residential complex of the school they worked for. All travel time was saved for all. There were no security-related issues for small children, which can occur despite the GPS to track a bus, because each child was known personally to the parents of at least a few other classmates residing in the same residential complex, making it a closely-knit and safe society.

    So, let us start a movement to make radical changes in the school system, prohibiting the admission of any kid to a school far away, requiring the need of a school-bus. And instead spend all the funds to improve the nearby school’s educational standards and make it INCLUSIVE, with its teachers too coming from locations not far from the schools. It will save some sleep-time for young kids, in the mornings, which they now spend in school-buses. With appropriate backing from public and governments, all over the world, it can be done, I say from experience.

    The congestion on roads made by commuters from other sections of the society can be done by taking the schools, students and teachers as an example.

  • Frank Kotter

    Miles are irrelevant in stop and go. You have to look to drive time as an indicator of how much gas is being consumed. Full disclosure: I don’t have this data, just pointing out your own caculation assumptions fallacy.

  • jcwconsult

    One should note that New Yorkers SOMETIMES travel beyond the transit range of the city, usually by private cars, and some with frequencies that make rentals too expensive.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Joe R.

    Same problem in NYC. Under the guise of “school choice”, we have a lot more children being bused than we should. Back when I was in public schools in the late 1960s through 1980, the only school you could choose was high school. You went to whatever elementary and middle school your neighborhood was zoned for. With the sheer number of schools in NYC virtually everyone walked to school. For high school there was very little busing. If you chose to go to a high school out of your neighborhood, you were on your own getting there (this usually meant bus or subway). We really need to go back to this system.

    While we’re at it, during school hours the area around schools should be a no parking, no standing, no stopping zone. Far too many parents now choose to drive their kids to school, even when it’s only a few blocks away. These cars congest the roads and make it more dangerous for the kids who walk.

    As for the usual excuse given for school choice, namely that it supposedly gives kids access to a better schools, consider that the $2 billion annually NYC spends on busing could instead go to improve local schools. Also, grade school and middle school are far less important than high school and college in terms of education that matters to employers. Many people have succeeded in life despite going to lousy schools in the early grades. Sure, that’s not an excuse to not improve these schools, but the fact is busing children to supposedly better schools probably has very little benefit in the long run. You have to consider the negative effects of being bounced around in a vomit-inducing school bus for an hour or two a day. That’s time down the drain. The only time kids should get on a school bus is as punishment. Those things really are that bad. NYC is still apparently using the same buses it did when I was a kid. You would think in 40 years they could afford to get new, more comfortable buses, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

  • Joe R.

    But NYC has great public transit within the city, and to many points outside of it (i.e. the commuter rail system). If you drive to points outside the city with enough frequency that it makes sense to own a car, the solution is to keep the car parked somewhere outside the city near a commuter rail station, and take train to the car when you need to use it. It’s probably faster overall doing it that way given that the last 10 miles into NYC can take 2 to 3 hours at the worst times. There’s no reason someone who uses a car solely for out of town trips should ever drive in NYC itself.

  • jcwconsult

    Given that NY is a true four season area with a significant winter, I suspect most owners would not want to rent secure covered parking for 12 months a year to use that system.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Joe R.

    Why the need for covered parking? People park outside by the curb during winter.

  • jcwconsult

    If you are leaving a car for some time between trips, most areas will have time limits on parking at the curb for vehicles that do not move for some time. 48 hours is the technical limit in my town if the car doesn’t move. And most people will prefer covered parking when the car sits for some time, particularly in the winter so snow and ice accumulations do not occur.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Joe R.

    Are those limits ever enforced? Someone had a car parked in front of my house for over six months. I chalked the tires after it was there a week. It was never used once during that interval. My brother called 311 to complain but was told there was nothing they can do. They claimed there wasn’t the manpower, and told my brother if you want problems like this addressed, next time there’s a proposition to increase the number of cops vote yes.

    OK, so even if you need to pay for covered parking it’s probably less than paying for a garage in Manhattan. Parking is one of the costs of owning a car. NYC shouldn’t be subsidizing car ownership by giving away curbside space for free.

  • Joe R.

    Besides that, other than hybrids with regen braking most cars get far worse fuel economy in city driving.

  • jcwconsult

    It might be a good choice to keep the car at a remote location if not used much within NYC AND likely less costly parking than within the city.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Joe R.

    That’s kind of what I was saying. Some people in Manhattan hardly use their cars but need to move them twice a week for alternate side parking. That has to be a royal PITA which takes up a lot of their time given how long it takes to find a parking spot. The few hundred they might pay for a garage across the river is well worth it for the time savings alone, not to mention they avoid the hassle of driving into/out of the city when they actually do use their car.

  • kevd

    true. but if a large percentage of people are driving out of town for the weekend with their cars (and little else) they’re driving much less in terms of hours as well.
    Anecdotally, all the people I know with cars take trains to work.

  • Rex Rocket

    You’re entirely too reasonable to post here.

  • jcwconsult

    Probably true. 🙂 But it is worth trying.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

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