More District residents getting rid of cars

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Local,DC,Transportation,Liz Essley

More D.C. residents are embracing a car-free existence, or at least cutting back the number of cars they own.

Car registrations in the District have hovered around 275,000 over the last decade, according to D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles Director Lucinda Babers, even as the city's population ballooned by more than 40,000 people in that time.

Experts say two forces are driving the change. There are more ways to get around the city without a car, and the down economy has everyone looking for ways to cut costs, like getting rid of that second vehicle.

"We're seeing fewer vehicles. Some folks are able to be car-light or car-free. Many things can be done by transit or biking or walking," said David Robertson, executive director of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

The need for a car is becoming less critical for District residents as more housing is built near Metro stations, new shopping-oriented bus routes like the D.C. Circulator open, and as car-sharing services like Zipcar become more prevalent, Robertson said.

"Most of the people who come in to the District are younger singles who prefer a more New York-type lifestyle, so programs like Zipcar work wonderfully well for them," said AAA Mid-Atlantic's John Townsend.

Three-fourths of those moving into D.C. in the last 10 years have been between the ages of 18 and 34, said Lisa Sturtevant of the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis.

"The folks moving in don't have cars," Sturtevant said. "They're just choosing the urban lifestyle. The stuff that's going up is near transit. They're younger, and they've sort of made this choice. D.C. is attractive for a lot of reasons, and one of the reasons is they don't need a car."

But the economy is also likely taking its toll, experts said. The number of car-free households in D.C. dropped about 2 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to U.S. Census data -- meaning that the stagnant car-registration numbers can also be explained by families shedding their second or third set of wheels.

And more and more people could start shedding cars as gas prices climb. Analysts expect gas prices to top $4 a gallon this spring and possibly hit record levels this summer.

"As gas prices are knocking around $4 dollar a gallon, I think we're going to see people reconsider whether they really need that vehicle," Robertson said.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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Liz Essley

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner