Portland Maine Vehicle Registrations | 2004 - 2011

July 29, 2012

Portland at forefront of decline in car ownership

Many do it out of necessity, others by choice, but the trend is steady.

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Today's poll: Car ownership

Have you cut back on the number of vehicles you own, either by choice or necessity?



View Results

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Janet Burgess, a West End resident, boards a Metro bus at the Forest Avenue Hannaford supermarket. She says she misses the convenience of a car, but not the bills that came along with car ownership.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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But the decline of car ownership presents opportunities for the city's economy. Its high population density, mix of services and retail stores, access to public transportation, car sharing services and extensive bicycle network have made it not only possible to live without a car but made the city a magnet for those who want to.

In Bangor, a person without a car is a "bum or something," but the car-free lifestyle in Portland is embraced by the environmentally conscious middle class, said Jessie Lacey, 30, who grew up in Piscataquis County town of Brownville Junction and later lived in Bangor. She moved to Portland six years ago.

Her daily commute consists of a 10-minute walk from her Grant Street apartment to her job as creative director of a Web marketing firm on Exchange Street, and she usually brings her dog to work.

Three years ago, she sold her Chevrolet Cavalier because she was tired of keeping up with the paperwork that went along with owning car, such as registration and insurance. She shops for groceries at the farmer's market and Public Market House on Monument Square and sometimes takes a cab to Whole Foods or Trader Joe's for bigger shopping trips.

"I could never have imagined not owning car until I was in Portland," she said.

Eric Blumrich moved to Portland from New Jersey in 2010 after his research on the Internet led him to conclude that he could live in Portland without a car. An animator for a multimedia firm in New Jersey, he works at home and could live anywhere in the country.

He said it was difficult to live in New Jersey without a car because public transportation was so poor and services were so spread out. Staying there and buying a car would have amounted to a 20 percent cut in pay, he said. Moving to Portland, where the cost of living is lower and it's easier to get around on foot, amounted to a 10 percent pay increase.

Blumrich, 42, who lives in the Parkside neighborhood, said Portland has a variety of interesting neighborhoods, small businesses and a bus system that is better than any system in New Jersey. For relaxation, he rides the ferry to Peaks Island and walks to the undeveloped side of the island.

Tim Schneider, 31, a Portland attorney, keeps a log of his transportation expenses.

He bikes to work most days, and uses a car-share service occasionally. Last year, he spent $600 on his bicycle, bus fare and car rental payments. That's a big savings compared to what he would have spent on a car, he said.

The trends in car ownership have implications on city land use and transportation policy, said City Councilor David Marshall, who last week proposed that the city examine the feasibility of a streetcar or light rail system that would run through downtown.

Marshall, the only city councilor who does not own a car, noted that the council's decision in 2008 to reduce from two spaces to one the number of parking spaces required for each new housing unit on the peninsula appears to be paying off. It has lowered development costs, and developers are now doing planning work for projects that will bring more than 700 units of housing on the peninsula, he said.

Marshall noted that Portland apartments are in high demand. In February, the city's apartment vacancy rate of 2.5 percent was tied with Minneapolis as the nation's second lowest, behind only New York City, according to a survey by the National Association of Realtors.

While the millennium generation is now flocking to cities like Portland, the baby boomers will also gravitate to cities like Portland as they downsize from their suburban houses and seek neighborhoods where can live without driving a car, he said.

"Take these two gigantic generations, and you will see both are heading to urbanized areas," he said. "Portland is in a strong position to capitalize on this trend." 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:


Twitter: TomBellPortland


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Additional Photos

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Jessie Lacy gave up her car three years ago. Her daily commute now is a 10-minute walk, often with her dog, from her Grant Street apartment to her job on Exchange Street.

John Ewing / Staff Photographer


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Today's poll: Car ownership

Have you cut back on the number of vehicles you own, either by choice or necessity?



View Results