Blog Post

Understanding car ownership in London

Zarin Mahmud explores car ownership trends from the census and the gap betwen inner and outer London.

For London to achieve the mayor’s aim of reaching net zero carbon by 2030, a shift away from cars is essential.

Newly released census data shows the need for policymakers to concentrate on outer London, where people are much more likely to own a car than those living in the inner parts of the city.

What the data tells us about car ownership

Data from the 2021 census has revealed that of all regions across England and Wales, London has the highest proportion of households with no cars or vans – 42 per cent.

The local authorities with the highest percentage of households with no cars or vans are all in London: the City of London (77 per cent), Islington (66 per cent) and Tower Hamlets (66 per cent).

However, the data also shows that car ownership varies substantially across the capital. In particular, households in outer London are much more likely than those in inner London to own or have access to a car.

69 per cent of households in outer London have access to or own at least one car or van, compared to 42 per cent in inner London.

Even across outer London, there is variation between boroughs:

  • In Bexley, Hillingdon, and Havering, almost 80 per cent of households have access to/own at least one car or van
  • In Brent, Greenwich, and Waltham Forest, less than 60 per cent of households have access to/own at least one car or van

Why is car ownership higher in outer London?

There are a few reasons why residents in outer London may be more likely to own and travel in private cars.

Of course, for some people, it’s simply comfort and familiarity that makes them choose cars. But for many people, it’s the lack of other practical transport options that pushes them towards cars.

Research commissioned by Green London Assembly Member Sian Berry found that 24 per cent of outer Londoners feel forced to own a car, compared to 14 per cent of people in inner London. Similarly, 50 per cent of people in inner London say they are already able to live car-free, compared with less than one in three (32 per cent) outer Londoners.

The nature of London’s transport system means inner London is much better connected than outer London.

Indeed, the outer London boroughs with the highest rates of car ownership – Bexley, Hillingdon and Havering – are also lowest ranked in TfL’s Public Transport Accessibility Levels (PTAL) data.

And the PTAL data also shows us the reverse – the outer London boroughs with higher levels of public transport accessibility have lower levels of car ownership.

It should be noted, however, that  this borough level PTAL data comes from 2015, and there have since been a number of changes to London’s public transport network, such as the opening of the Elizabeth Line.

Using more active travel methods such as walking and cycling can also be more of a challenge for those in outer London than those living closer to the centre.

For example, residents in outer London typically have less access to cycle lanes which are separated from car traffic and less on-street cycle parking when they arrive at their destination.


Reducing private car ownership is a necessary response to the climate emergency.

Though it is encouraging to see a large proportion of car-free households in inner London, more needs to be done to allow residents in outer London to make the switch from private cars to more sustainable modes.

As part of our transport research programme, Moving with The Times, we will be exploring outer London’s travel needs, including how to reduce car dependency and increase the use of active and sustainable modes of transport.