Chapter 1: Car ownership, use and parking in London

Reclaim the kerb: The future of parking and kerbside management

Chapter 1: Car ownership, use and parking in London

This chapter examines how Londoners’ car ownership and use has changed over time. It also looks at how these measures differ across the capital, and analyses what they mean in terms of the amount of space physically taken up by parked cars on our roads.

Travel habits are changing, but modal shift is slow

London’s population continues to grow, albeit at a slower pace than in previous years. In the 10 years to mid-2018, London’s population grew by 14 per cent to reach 8.9 million people. 4 But travel demand has not changed at the same pace. The overall number of trips made by London residents increased by eight per cent in the 10 years between 2009 and 2018, but the rate of daily trips per person declined by 11 per cent over the same period. 5 The sharpest declines have been in trips by car drivers (down by 23 per cent since 2013/14), for shopping or personal business (down by 32 per cent since 2011/12), and for leisure purposes (down by 23 per cent since 2013/14) although these remain the purposes that people make the most trips for. 6

This is a consequence of changing lifestyles: the rise of e-commerce and online entertainment means that people are increasingly having shopping delivered (more than a fifth of Londoners receive at least one online purchase delivery a week). 7 Meanwhile, a squeeze on disposable incomes has affected discretionary consumer spending, such as on leisure trips. 8 A shift towards more flexible working patterns and remote working may be another contributing factor. In 2017/18, one-third of London adults worked either from home or from multiple locations, up from a quarter in 2012/13. 9

These trends are in line with our survey of adult London residents, which found that leisure (e.g. visiting friends, the cinema, or a restaurant) and running errands (e.g. visiting the supermarket, post office or bank) were the most common reasons Londoners used cars (private or car club). 67 per cent of car owners drove for leisure purposes at least once each week, and 81 per cent did so for running errands. By comparison, 50 per cent drove at least weekly to commute to work, study or other business, and 31 per cent did so for the school run or other childcare.

Despite the changes in travel patterns, the shift towards sustainable modes has been slow. The proportion of trips made by public transport, walking or cycling (as the main trip mode) increased from 59 per cent in 2009 to 63 per cent in 2015 – but there has been no change in this number over the last three years. 10 This presents a significant challenge to reaching the Mayor’s target of 80 per cent by 2041.

In terms of overall vehicle usage there was a decline over the longer term, but this amounted to only two per cent between 2009-2018, while total vehicle kilometres driven in London remained steady (see Figure 1), albeit decreasing relative to a growing population. Whereas distance travelled by car decreased slightly (by five per cent in 10 years), there was a notable increase in van usage over the same period (26 per cent). Vans, or Light Goods Vehicles (LGVs), make up 16 per cent of the kilometres travelled by all motorised vehicles, and 80 per cent of the kilometres travelled by freight vehicles in London. 11

Car ownership in London has changed little over time

Rates of car ownership in London are lower than in the rest of the country. While 80 per cent of households in the rest of England have at least one vehicle, only 56 per cent of households in London do so. London also has lower car ownership rates than other English cities (see Figure 2). Car is the usual mode of travel to work for only 29 per cent of Londoners, compared to the English average of 67 per cent. 12

In recent years, commentators have discussed a shift away from car ownership towards “Mobility as a Service” (or MaaS) – using services such as private hire, car clubs or bike hire instead of owning vehicles. In reality, car ownership in London has remained largely unchanged over the last few years. Looking at data from 2005/06 to 2017/18, ownership peaked at 60 per cent in 2008/09, and has declined by only four per cent since then (see Figure 3) – though with a more rapid decline in inner London.

Unsurprisingly, car ownership varies by area of London, with public transport availability undoubtedly a factor. The inner London boroughs of Islington, Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Westminster have the lowest car ownership rates, while the outer London boroughs of Sutton, Hillingdon, Havering and Bromley have the highest (see Appendix 1). But there are also boroughs that buck the trend: the inner London boroughs of Wandsworth and Lewisham have relatively high levels of ownership, and the outer London boroughs of Waltham Forest, Barking and Dagenham and Brent have relatively low levels.

Factors other than public transport availability affect car ownership. The literature suggests that these include:

  • Affluence. Car ownership rises steadily with household income, and higher income households are much more likely to own two or more cars. 13
  • Parking availability. Households without access to off-street parking are more than twice as likely not to own a car compared to households with offstreet parking. 14
  • Household composition. Couples are more than twice as likely to own a car as single adult and lone parent households. 15
  • Accommodation type and tenure. People who live in a house, either with a mortgage or as outright homeowners, are more likely to own a car than those who live in a flat or rent their home. 16
  • Age. Younger Londoners have the lowest levels of car ownership (although many live with parents who own cars). 17

Cars take up valuable public space

There are more than three million licensed vehicles in London, and the average car is parked for at least 95 per cent of the time. 18, 19 TfL data shows that 43 per cent of all cars are parked on-street (at the kerbside) rather than off-street (in parking lots, garages and driveways). A simple calculation taking into account the size of a standard parking space shows that parked vehicles take up well over 14 km2 (1,400 hectares) of space on our roads and streets – or the size of 10 Hyde Parks.

Data from kerb management company AppyWay indicates that there are the equivalent of over one million paid resident and short-stay (pay and display) parking spaces in London, taking up over 5,000 kilometres of kerbside space. 20 (This does not include uncontrolled kerb space that is free to park in at any time.) To put this in perspective, this is roughly the distance from the UK to the US across the Atlantic Ocean.

The location of parking spaces also varies across London. In outer London only one-third of cars are parked on-street, but in inner London – with much denser housing and fewer homes with private garages – two-thirds of cars are parked at the kerbside (see Figure 4 and detailed borough breakdown in Appendix 1).

  • 4 Office for National Statistics (2019). Population estimates for the UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland: mid-2018. Retrieved from:
  • 5 Transport for London (2019). Travel in London Report 12, p.60. Retrieved from:
  • 6 Ibid., p. 62
  • 7 Transport for London (2018). Travel in London Report 11, p.67. Retrieved from:
  • 8 Ibid., p.65
  • 9 Ibid., p. 72
  • 10 Transport for London (2019). Travel in London Report 12, p.37. Retrieved from:
  • 11 Ibid., p.159
  • 12 Department for Transport (2018). Table TSGB0108: Usual method of travel to work by region of residence, Great Britain: October to December 2017. Retrieved from: https://www.
  • 13 Transport for London (2019). Travel in London Report 12, p.72. Retrieved from:
  • 14 Ibid., p.76
  • 15 Transport for London (2012). Residential Parking Provision in New Developments: Travel in London Research Report. Retrieved from:
  • 16 Ibid.
  • 17 Transport for London (2019). Travel in London Report 12, p.74. Retrieved from:
  • 18 RAC Foundation (2012). Spaced Out: Perspectives on Parking Policy. Retrieved from: rac_foundation/content/downloadables/spaced_out-bates_leibling-jul12.pdf
  • 19 3.07 million total vehicles of which 2,661,200 cars, 217,300 vans (LGVs), 115,900 motorcycles, 20,100 lorries (HGVs), 19,600 buses and coaches, and 36,000 others. See Department for Transport (2019). Table VEH0105: Licensed vehicles at the end of the year by body type and upper and lower tier local authority, including diesel cars and vans, United Kingdom, 2018. Retrieved from: statistical-data-sets/all-vehicles-veh01
  • 20 Controlled space includes kerbs controlled by single or double yellow lines, but only designated paid resident and short-stay spaces are included in the 5,000 km calculation.