Seattle has reversed a decades-long trend of rising car ownership — and millennials are the reason

For the first time since at least 1970, the percentage of Seattle households that own a car is declining. Census data show it’s all because of young people, who increasingly are choosing to live carless in the city.

Has Seattle reached “peak car”?

When it comes to the rate of ownership, it sure looks that way.

Census data show that from 2010 to 2015, the percentage of Seattle households that own a vehicle declined — that’s noteworthy because it’s something that hasn’t happened in decades.

I checked the data back to 1970. Car-ownership rates have creeped up every 10 years, right through to 2010. That year, 84.6 percent of city households owned at least one vehicle.

But suddenly, that number is dropping. As of 2015, it’s down by about 1 percentage point. And that’s almost entirely because of one group.

You guessed it: millennials.

At the start of this decade, someone under the age of 35 was just as likely to own a car as anyone else in Seattle. Five years later, car ownership among the city’s young had declined by about 3 percentage points.

In fact, among the 50 largest U.S. cities, none saw a bigger drop in the ownership rate among millennials in this period than Seattle.

For Seattle households headed by someone age 35 and up, there was no change in the rate of ownership.

The data suggests that young newcomers to the city are, more often than not, choosing to forgo owning a car.

It’s a combination of economics and priorities, says Mark Hallenbeck, director of the Washington State Transportation Center at the University of Washington. As Seattle housing costs go through the roof, he says, cars are one expense that many young city dwellers are willing to sacrifice.

“If you get away from the high set of fixed expenses that go with owning a car — monthly payments, parking, insurance — you can pay for the apartment that allows you to live on Capitol Hill,” he said. “You…

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