What if no one in Miami owned a car?

If you’ve been on Miami’s roads during rush hour, it can be tough to imagine a universe where no one owns their own car. But that’s exactly the universe many experts, entrepreneurs, and policymakers think we’re about to have.

Today, driving is embedded in our culture. Cars are rolling backpacks, places to get away, and status symbols—as Miami’s ludicrous number of Maseratis can attest. Americans drive more than 3 billion miles every year, and in places like South Florida, it’s an inescapable part of our daily lives. According to some predictions, everything about car ownership in Miami about to change.

A driverless future

One popular statistic says that the average personal car spends 95 percent of its time parked, going nowhere. That’s not much efficiency for a vehicle that costs tens of thousands of dollars, is expensive to operate and insure, and carries a variety of secondary costs, from traffic fatalities to road construction to carbon emissions.

The self-driving future could fix a lot of this. By now you’ve probably heard the vision: an autonomous vehicle comes to you, on-demand, within seconds, and takes you exactly where you want to go, for a fraction of the current price of a Lyft or Uber ride.

The potential is huge. If every car trip was in a shared autonomous vehicle, we’d need just 10 percent of the cars we have on the road today, according to one estimate. Parking can add up to 25 percent to the cost of building new housing, so prices could fall. Autonomous vehicles are likely to be safer, so traffic deaths and injuries could decline.

How fast could all this happen? While a number of companies are promising completely self-driving cars on the market by 2020, a Deloitte report predicts 85 percent of the market will still be personally-owned, driver-driven cars in 2025—but by 2050, “shared mobility” (vehicles that aren’t owned by a single driver) will make up more than 80 percent of the market. There’s a long list of questions to resolve as that shift happens, from legal liability to regulation to safety. But nearly everyone agrees the shift is coming.

The end of car ownership in Miami?

While a completely autonomous future isn’t coming overnight, there are big behavioral trends happening today that are changing the market.

Young people aren’t getting their driver’s licenses at the same rates as their predecessors. In 1983, 91 percent of 20-24-year-olds had driver’s licenses. In 2013, only 77 percent had them.  

Today, just half of millennials get their driver’s licenses before 18.

Young people are also driving less. Between 2001 and 2010, the average number of miles driven by 16-to-34-year-olds dropped by 23 percent. That same age group is less likely to move from cities to the suburbs than a decade ago.

“We’re seeing more and more people ditch their keys for a multimodal lifestyle where they use a range of mobility options to get around,” says Katelyn Chesley, public relations manager at Zipcar, a service that lets people rent cars by the hour. “In areas where there aren’t as many options available, we’ve seen a lot of households go car-lite, meaning they scale back from a two-car household to a one-car household, and use Zipcar to supplement.”

Zipcar’s annual Urbanite Study provides a look at how attitudes are changing. Ninety-two percent of young people living in American cities think it’s possible to raise a family in the city—a huge jump from prior generations. More than half either don’t own a car at all, or own one they only use occasionally.

“I save probably 250 dollars a month at least just on payments and insurance,” says Peter Bransden, who moved to Miami from London, lives in Brickell, and doesn’t own a car. “This is coming from someone who doesn’t need a car to commute or for work at all. It’s nice to not pay parking, and be able to have a few drinks.”

We asked readers of The New Tropic for their stories of living in Miami without a car. The reasons were many, but the trend was clear: more and more of us are considering or doing it. “I decided not to have a car in Miami because it was becoming such a pain with parking, parking tickets, plus aggressive and terrible drivers,” says Oly Vargas. “I get around now using Lyft, Uber, Metrorail, and the free trolleys … my usual commuting for a day is three to six dollars each way.”

Roadblocks and the future

It’s not all smooth sailing (we’re mixing metaphors now) for living car-free in Miami.

“Sometimes I’d like to be able to pop to the shop and back without spending $10 on a Lyft,” says Bransden.

“Long commutes to Kendall to see family are challenging,” says Vargas. “I need to walk to the Metrorail and get picked up at Dadeland station, but not having to deal with rush hour traffic is priceless.”

At the city level there are challenges, too. There haven’t been big shifts yet in car buying, which makes it hard for cities to plan for the future. Just as many millennials plan to purchase a car next year as other generations, according to consumer surveys.

Self-driving technology might actually increase congestion, as it increases the total number of miles driven per trip. Cities will need smart planning to accommodate massive shifts in how vehicles move around, and a new approach to making money: one study found that governments generate more than $200 billion a year from taxes associated with car ownership, from manufacturing to parking tickets.

“One major problem municipalities are trying to tackle is how to provide efficient and effective first/last mile connectivity,” says Matt Friedmann, a partner at Freebee, which provides free, battery-powered transit in cities. “This has led to a trend where we are now seeing government agencies look to platforms like Freebee to provide solutions in micro-transit.”

“If the infrastructure is not there, an app won’t solve the problem, though it can help,” says Devin Patel, vice president of transit products at Passport, Inc., which makes payment apps for transit departments. Patel predicts that as autonomous vehicles and new alternatives change the market, more people will also ride transit, which gives governments more funds to spend on improving the system. “You need a foundation and a building block.”

Are you going car-free? If you’re thinking about it or already doing it, we’d love to hear about it.  


This is one of several topics on the agenda for Live.Ride.Share. on August 25, a national conference on mobility and transportation that Miami-Dade County’s Department of Transportation and Public Works is hosting in Miami-Dade this year. Join local leaders and experts from cutting-edge cities for conversations and workshops on the future of mobility in our city.