Car dependence, sustainability and social exclusion: households without a car in Germany and the UK

Giulio Mattioli

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Households without a car are at the peculiar intersection of two contradicting concerns: first, from a sustainable transport perspective, car-free living has to be promoted in order to reduce the environmental impact of mobility. As a matter of fact, there is no way to avoid a dramatic surge in transport-related greenhouse gases emissions worldwide if current trends towards ever increasing motorization and car use are allowed to continue. Of course, such a trend reversal is more likely to take place in the core of urban areas, where transport alternatives are available. On the other hand, however, the literature on transport and social exclusion clearly shows that in the rich west carless living is often the consequence of economic deprivation and/or the cause of difficulties in accessing services and opportunities. This transport disadvantage can in turn lead to (further) social exclusion, and is thus problematic from a social equity perspective. Of course, this association between car ownership and social inclusion is most likely to hold in contexts where the pressure of car dependence is strongest, such as suburban or rural areas, where a high level of mobility is required in order to participate “normally” in society. Accordingly, the size and the nature of the group of households without a car is expected to be highly variable according to the spatial characteristics of the local area: in dense urban areas, this group is expected to be large and complex, with an overrepresentation of households for whom car-free living is a matter of lifestyle choice. By contrast, in territorial contexts where the pressure of car dependence is high, households without a car are likely to be concentrated mostly among the poor and the elderly. In that sense, the internal structure of the group of households without a car in a given local area is of great interest, since it is an indicator of its level of car dependence. This conference paper tackles this crucial issue, that has to be taken into account if both environmental concerns (related to inter-generational equity) and intra-generational, social equity concerns are to be addressed in the field of transport. To do so, it compares the results of a secondary analysis carried out on both the German and the British national travel surveys (MiD 2002 & 2008, NTS 2002-2008). Using the tools of cluster, regression and latent class analysis, it puts forward a typology of households without a car, which is described in relation to five dimensions: economic status, stated reasons for not owning a car, spatial characteristics of the residential area, accessibility to services and opportunities (with different modes of transport) and actual mobility behaviour. The results show that in Germany, the carless group as a whole shows an extreme overrepresentation of singles, inactive households and the elderly – with active nuclear families virtually absent from the picture. On the other hand, there appear to be two main groups of carless households, with quite different characteristics: a “hard core” of old, less mobile people, which represents about the same share of the population in every territorial contexts, and a group of younger, more mobile households, whose size is extremely variable depending on spatial features of the residential area. The British case is similar in many respects, but here carlessness is more common and the issue of transport exclusion appears to be more serious. One might argue that these dissimilarities reflect a more general difference between the German model, consisting of a “social market economy” and a fully motorized society, as opposed to the more liberal UK, where social inequalities are more pronounced. The implications of these findings for the pursuit of sustainable transport are discussed
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2012
EventRGS-IGB Annual International Conference 2012 - University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 3 Jul 20125 Jul 2012


ConferenceRGS-IGB Annual International Conference 2012
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • sustainable transport
  • car dependence
  • transport and social exclusion
  • transport disadvantage
  • car ownership
  • segmentation
  • travel behaviour


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