August 19, 2011 / 8:57 AM / 8 years ago

Car, bus or rail: for some Americans none of above

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than half a million households in the 100 largest U.S. cities do not have cars or any access to public transportation, according to a study released on Thursday by the Brookings Institution.

A man reads on a bus waiting to be shuttled from the closed Port Washington Long Island Railroad station in Port Washington, New York September 16, 2010. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

“These people are terribly constrained in earning a living, getting to the store, or taking their kids to daycare. If this many people were facing a public health scare, this country would be in crisis mode,” Brookings senior research analyst Adie Tomer said in a statement.

The think tank, which researches metropolitan policy, found 700,000 metropolitan households lack access to cars or transit, with more than 100,000 found in Atlanta, Dallas and Houston.

Americans registered more than 133 million private and commercial vehicles in 2009, Brookings said, but there are more than 10 million households that do not own a car. The majority of those, 7.5 million, are in cities, and the largest share of people without cars are low income.

Brookings said these “zero-vehicle households” tend to cluster around major U.S. cities to take advantage of transit and the density of workplaces. Over 90 percent of such households have access to public transportation in their neighbourhoods.

Recently, U.S. public transportation has been hit by a double whammy of increased ridership and reduced funding. During the 2007-09 recession, many Americans turned to public transit as they sought to cut costs, while states and local governments pulled back on funding for rail and buses.

The American Public Transit Association said on Wednesday that more than a third of transportation systems have hiked fares since January 2010 and nearly a third plan on raising fares again. Since January 2010, nearly half have cut services, as well.

Brookings found that the U.S. Midwest has the highest number of zero-vehicle households — 3.2 million. Nearly all of those households, 96.2 percent, can reach transit.

Still, of the top five zero-vehicle metropolitan areas only one, Chicago, is in the Midwest. New York reigns supreme, with 2.1 million going without cars.

Only 17 percent of zero-vehicle households have high incomes, the study found.

While cities and counties struggle to keep their transit systems going, the issue of public transportation has moved closer to the fore in the U.S. Congress.

House of Representatives Transportation Chairman John Mica said he would introduce a bill laying out spending for U.S. surface transportation that could reduce the amount of money available for transit. Mica intends his proposal to only rely on revenues from the gas tax and other transportation-related sources, which would cause spending to shrink. (Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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