Understanding changes in car ownership over time

By Malcolm Morgan

The UK has a car problem. They are responsible for more than half of all surface transport carbon emissions. High car use is also associated with many other environmental and social issues, such as air pollution, congestion, road deaths, and urban sprawl. Electric cars might help reduce carbon emissions a bit. Still, they are not a complete solution and can’t help with many other problems. For example, a lot of cars’ air pollution is caused by the breaks and tyres. So reducing car use and ownership have long been seen as a desirable outcome of transport and planning policy. It is estimated that we need to reduce car use by 20% by 2030 to meet our net-zero goals.

Unfortunately, the UK is still experiencing rising car ownership, and many of these problems are worsening. So while the national picture looks bleak, there are some local rays of sunshine in specific areas car ownership has stopped growing or even started to decline. The UnCCUT project (Understanding Change in Car Use over Time) investigated areas where car ownership declined to find if any lessons could be learned.

We got data on the number of cars registered in each Lower Super Output Area (LSOA) between 2002 and 2018. LSOAs are statistical neighbourhoods for about 1,500 – 3,000 people. We used it to calculate the number of cars per person in each LSOA. We were interested in cars per person because the population of LSOAs changes over time. We wanted to find places where behaviour was changing rather than people moving out and taking their cars with them.

Find out more about the project and read the final report