How do people who live alone get where they need to go? Are their means of transportation any different from those of people who live in different kinds of households? The question is interesting on its own. But the implications are important, too, especially as climate scientists become increasingly concerned with our carbon footprints.
We now have some answers to those questions, from recently-reported analyses of the 2010 Canadian General Social Survey. As part of the survey, more than 15,000 Canadians, 15 and older, kept a diary for a day of how they spent their time. They answered lots of other questions, too.
The participants were from five different kinds of households. They either (1) lived alone; (2) lived with one or more roommates, not including children or romantic partners; (3) were single parents, living with their children; (4) were couples with no children; or (5) were couples with children.
The most environmentally responsible patterns of transportation would include short commutes, and traveling by public transportation or bicycling or walking rather than driving. In most ways, it was the single people living alone, and those living with roommates, whose transportation profiles were the greenest.
Transportation by Car
Most people commute to work by car, either as the driver or as a passenger, and that’s true of people in all five kinds of households (see below). Yet a full 35% of people who live alone say that they never commute to work by car. Nearly as many people who live with roommates, 33%, say the same thing. Couples with children were the least likely to say that they never commute to work by car (19%).
% who NEVER commute to work in a car
35 people who live alone
28 single parents
24 couples with no children
19 couples with children
People in couples-with-children households were most likely to have a driver’s license (94%) and most likely to have access to a vehicle at all times (91%).
% who have a driver’s license
94 couples with no children
89 couples with children
82 people living alone
74 single parents
% who always have access to a vehicle
91 couples with no children
79 couples with children
76 people living alone
68 single parents
Public transportation was not very popular with anyone, but it was least popular with the couples with no children: 97% of them never used public transportation. For the other categories, the percent who never used public transportation ranged from 89% to 92%.
The people who live close to public transportation are probably most likely to use it. Only a little more than half of the couples without children (54%) lived near public transportation. Of the couples with children, 62% of them lived near public transportation. Those most likely to live near public transportation were roommates (72.5%), single parents (70%), and people living alone (66.5%).
Walking and bicycling
People who live with roommates or alone are most likely to walk or bicycle to get where they need to go.
% who NEVER walk or bicycle to get where they need to go
86 couples with no children
81 couples with children
78 single parents
77 people living alone
Roommates and people who live alone commute the shortest distances to work. Couples with no children, couples with children, and single parents all have longer commutes that, on the average, are all about the same.
Number of trips per day and purpose of the trips
In the number of trips the participants made each day (for any purpose), the groups were all fairly similar, except that the couples with no children made fewer trips than the couples with children. There were differences, though, in the purpose of the trips. People living alone were most likely to travel to engage in social activities, and couples with children were least likely to make trips to get food (going to restaurants or grocery shopping).
Differences in how people get around depend on factors other than living arrangements. For example, one of the reasons why single parents have less access to a vehicle is that, on the average, they have lower incomes than people in the other kinds of households. But the researchers were able to control for various demographic and economic factors in most of their analyses, and the results remained the same.
In almost every way, the people living alone or with roommates had the most environmentally friendly use of transportation. They used cars less and walked and bicycled more. Their commutes to work were shorter. Only in the number of trips they made each day did the people living alone or with roommates look about the same as everyone else.
Young, M., & Lachapelle, U. (2017). Transportation behaviours of the growing Canadian single-person households. Transport Policy, 57, 41-50.