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Multnomah County car registration is down 8% since 2007, and isn’t rebounding

Posted by on March 3rd, 2015 at 10:20 am

Sunday Parkways Northeast 2011-31-40

Why look back?
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

The Great Recession has left plenty of marks on the Portland area. Here’s one of the happier ones: so far, at least, a lot of the cars aren’t coming back.

The number of registered passenger vehicles in Multnomah County peaked in 2007, a review of 16 years of state records shows. After the economy began shrinking in early 2008, passenger vehicles per resident started a rapid slide, landing 9 percent lower by 2012. Finally, in 2013 and 2014, the local economy began a relatively rapid rebound out of one of the sharpest local downturns in the country.

But in those two years, the number of vehicles the average Multnomah County resident registers has edged back up just 1 percent.

The story is similar in Washington County, where car registrations per capita fell 5 percent from 2007-2012 with a 1 percent rebound over the two years that followed.

cars per person

Data: Oregon Department of Transportation and Portland State University. Chart: BikePortland. For readability, axes do not start at zero.

Nationally, and also in Clackamas County, the ratio of cars to people fell by about 3 percent from 2007 to 2012. In Clackamas, too, the car ratio is up 1 percent from 2012 to 2014.

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The latest vehicle registration totals for 2014 were circulated by Washington County last month.

Interestingly, Multnomah County’s persistently low ratio of cars to residents (for the area, that is) barely seems to have been affected by its influx of jobs and higher-paid residents. As of 2013, the median income of a Portland resident has raced past Washington County’s:

income by county of residence

Data: ACS. Chart: Christian Kaylor, Oregon Employment Department.

Because the population of all three counties keeps growing — Washington and Multnomah counties by an average of about 7,500 people each year, Clackamas by about 3,500 on average — the number of cars in each county has grown in the last few years, too. But even with all that growth, Multnomah County still has fewer registered cars than it did in 2007.

“When Baby Boomers retire, they reduce their vehicle travel by half, and then each year they reduce their travel a little bit more.”
— Todd Litman, Victoria Transport Policy Institute

I asked Todd Litman, the transportation researcher who operates the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, why this might be happening.

“Many of the factors are structural,” he said. “The aging population is the biggest one. When Baby Boomers retire, they reduce their vehicle travel by half, and then each year they reduce their travel a little bit more.”

Litman thinks that trend has combined with the cumulative effect of better walking, biking and transit information to increase the number of households that share a single car for multiple adults.

“Somebody who 10 years ago would have driven to work is now not only seeing better bicycle facilities and hearing about the importance of healthy lifestyles and getting lectures from their physician about the benefits, but they’re also seeing their neighbors make that shift and it’s a little more socially acceptable,” he said. “And higher fuel prices or parking fees or whatever.”

“When the car breaks down,” he concluded, “they’re not going to replace it.”

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Trek 3900Trek 3900Todd BoulangerMichael Andersen (News Editor)SW Recent comment authors
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Jeff Bernards
Guest

When you factor in population growth, this is really great news.

David Hampsten
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David Hampsten

I’d be cautious about drawing a conclusion that because car registration has gone down, that there are fewer cars on the road in Portland. PBOT traffic counts on the bridges have shown a sustained increase (except in 2007), and the parking issues in the inner neighborhoods should raise your suspicions that something isn’t right here. According to the city police, when they come out to the neighborhoods to report on local crime, about 30% of vehicles currently being driven are neither registered nor insured, citywide. The penalty for having neither is no longer what it used to be – the police hardly pull over people over for it anymore, as the paperwork involved just isn’t worth it, and they have more important issues to deal with, such as murders, rape, pedestrian deaths, etc. They also have no economic incentive – vehicle registration fees ultimately go to PBOT, not the general fund, as part of the gas tax package with ODOT and Multomah County.

Dave

J_R
Guest
J_R

I’m also skeptical of this data. I know people who have switched from using what was formerly a vacation residence to their permanent home, at least on paper. They spend plenty of time at these homes and will probably retire there, but in the mean time, they are avoiding DEQ fees and Sellwood Bridge fees. They probably have lower auto insurance premiums, too.

Brad
Guest
Brad

So true. When my car was up for license renewal last fall, it wouldn’t pass emissions, so I sold it. Wasn’t using it for anything but camping trips anyway so it didn’t make sense to pay money to fix it.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

The difficulty is that only vehicle registration statistics are kept, but we don’t know the actual number of vehicles actually on the road, neither nationally nor locally – no one it seems keep tabs on this. Back in 1999, Lyn Hunstad of the California Dept of Insurance did a widely-cited study to estimate the rate of non-registration in California, and came up with an estimate of 28% of vehicles were not registered. They tend to be older-model cars and trucks, often sold person-to-person (now on Criagslist). According to the study, the rate has varied from 28% to 31% over a six-year period.

Mind you, this is in California, 15 years ago. I’m sure Oregon has a much lower rate of non-compliance in these enlightened times of ours.

The 9% uninsured rate cited above was for registered vehicles only. There is also an “under-insured” rate, which is usually 3-4% in most places. No one has any idea what the insurance rate is for unregistered vehicles, but it can’t be very high.

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

My husband and I have never driven much and had only one car for 20 years. We got rid of it a year and a half ago mainly because driving in Portland started making us insane (starting around 2008). I wonder if that’s the impetus for others? The sheer unpleasantness of driving around here now. My sister’s been carless pretty much her whole life. Because we’re all lucky to be fairly close in now, we mainly bike, walk, take TriMet, and rent a car when we really need one (ZipCar, mainly, and rarely). We did when we lived further out, too–much more difficult prospect! As it is now, we haven’t had to miss having a car at all, knock on wood.

Paul
Guest
Paul

Very interesting statistics. It would be interesting to find out how many inner city families have two or more cars vs suburban families, and how many have none.

Lester Burnham
Guest
Lester Burnham

Many illegal residents wanting to stay below the radar are driving. Sorry if that ruffles feathers but it’s true.

Rick
Guest
Rick

What about the abandoned and non-registered cars? I often see this one particular car driving around for the past several months on a regular basis with a California plate.

Terry D-M
Guest
Terry D-M

Thank you Michael for this. I have an on-going bet with someone about congestion and auto registration. He has been waiting for these numbers and it seems he will need to take me out to lunch.

Bald One
Guest
Bald One

Michael, how does the average # of registered cars per resident data compare with the total # of registered cars data? This article seems to imply that there are fewer cars on the road today than 5 years ago, which doesn’t seem possible when population growth/influx is taken into account. How many more cars are registered today than in 2008?

SW
Guest
SW

Is that Emily with the 3 kids in photo ?

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Even with these lower ownership trends (good news that it is for urban areas) there are still often more “cars” than “voters”…and this often seems to be what wags the dog ….when it comes to policies, practices, land use and transportation investments.

And as such the demographics of voters who vote are likely to skew to car ownership and probably higher VMT and units registered per voter. (No current sources, just professional hunch.)

Trek 3900
Guest
Trek 3900

Quote from the article: “Because the population of all three counties keeps growing — Washington and Multnomah counties by an average of about 7,500 people each year, Clackamas by about 3,500 on average — the number of cars in each county has grown in the last few years, too. But even with all that growth, Multnomah County still has fewer registered cars than it did in 2007.”

Please explain how you know there are more cars in Multnomah county if you know there are fewer registered cars. If that is the case, it sounds like families with 2 cars are letting one sit unregistered. People don’t do that without a reason.

Your chart showing rising wages is only for full-time workers. Since the recession, many of the new jobs created have been part-time so even though full-time wages may be going up, for people who used to have a full-time job but now have a part-time job, their income has probably fallen by A LOT.

For many folks in America, times are not good:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/happy-days-no-more-middle-class-families-squeezed-as-expenses-soar-wages-stall/2014/04/26/f4a857f0-7a47-11e3-b1c5-739e63e9c9a7_story.html

For most of us, it could get worse:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmB5SHHvnJU

Go ahead and laugh at the above video. That’s what they did to this guy in 2006 even though his main points did occur. People who didn’t believe him can be seen telling why he is wrong starting at 56:20:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jj8rMwdQf6k

If you’d like to see what can happen if you continually vote for Democrats for decades take a peek: (This is just one city – there are plenty of others in similar condition.)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvJ204yJ3q0

Moral: be cautious in thinking that fewer cars is a good thing.

Trek 3900
Guest
Trek 3900

Quote: “You can see the exact numbers in this spreadsheet, which is also the first link in the post above.”

Per the data, # of cars registered in MC bottomed in 2012 and is rising slowly again. Thus the title of the article is false advertising.

Trek 3900
Guest
Trek 3900

Quote from the article: “Because the population of all three counties keeps growing — Washington and Multnomah counties by an average of about 7,500 people each year, Clackamas by about 3,500 on average — the number of cars in each county has grown in the last few years, too.”

Sentence above contradicts the title of the article which says the number of cars isn’t rebounding, but your own data shows it has been rebounding since 2012, just not very fast. Need to add the words “very fast” to the title of the article.

Trek 3900
Guest
Trek 3900

This article may explain why there are fewer cars with greater population. As usual from zerohedge the comments are priceless.

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-03-07/amazing-math-bls-how-america-added-17-million-jobs-7-years-and-zero-full-time-jobs