Car Possession as Problematic for Urban Travel Markets

12 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2009

See all articles by Paul A. Barter

Paul A. Barter

National University of Singapore (NUS) - Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy

Date Written: July 2008


The way cars are possessed has not had the close attention it deserves. The primary way of gaining access to cars has been assumed to be via owning one. Possession has thus been taken for granted, preventing us from seeing it as possibly problematic. However, the link between car use and car possession is eroding, in both practice and in theory. High mobility had been widely assumed to require a car but it has recently become possible to envisage excellent mobility through an integrated package of services and modes, including convenient access to cars, without needing to possess one. This reveals possession (and its sharp contrast with being car-free) as a source of 'rigidities' that inhibit active choice making in travel. Previous work is drawn upon in order to explain the main sources of these possession-related rigidities, which are grouped into two categories: reversible effects ('stickiness') and difficult-to-reverse effects ('invasiveness'). The paper thus builds a case for seeing car possession, the way it works, and its contrast with non-possession, as problematic for travel markets and for TDM policy. Possession-related effects are shown to be more wide-ranging and interesting than is generally appreciated. Cars themselves are not seen as the problem so much as the ways in which we possess them. This focus on possession-related rigidities opens a possible policy agenda, focused on reducing such rigidities (or, equivalently, making our relationships with cars more 'provisional'). There has been a widespread taboo against devoting policy attention to car ownership but the policy possibilities here address both sides of the car possession divide and go well beyond merely constraining possession.

Keywords: urban transport, TDM, vehicle ownership

Suggested Citation

Barter, Paul A., Car Possession as Problematic for Urban Travel Markets (July 2008). Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy Research Paper No. LKYSPP08-005. Available at SSRN: or

Paul A. Barter (Contact Author)

National University of Singapore (NUS) - Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy ( email )

Singapore 117591

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