Updated November 30, 2013

Study: Best Cities to Live Practically Car Free

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Tired of spending money on gas and car maintenance, only to get stuck in traffic every day on your commute to work? What if you could get to work without driving? That’s the reality for many people living in or near the cities on this list. Imagine not needing to own a car at all. Read on to see which cities could make a car-free commute a reality for you.

Study Methodology

Here are the factors we considered to determine our final rankings:

  1. Percentage of people who commute to work using public transit
  2. Gas prices
  3. Commute time

The first factor – the percentage of people who use public transportation to commute to work – gets the most weight because you can’t cut back your car time if you have no real way to get around without one. When a large percentage of people use public transportation to go back and forth to work, that means the city has a good system that could realistically replace – or at least supplement – your car use.

Gas prices are also an important measurement because when they go up, the more expensive using your own vehicle becomes.

Finally, we looked for cities whose residents have fairly short average commutes. People with longer commutes are more likely to require their own transportation because as the time and distance of a commute increases, the likelihood of public transportation being a viable option decreases.

10 Best Cities to Live Practically Car Free

To put the numbers below in perspective, here are the U.S. averages in each category:

  1. Percentage of people who commute using public transit: National Average = 5%

    There is a sharp drop-off in percentage from the top of this list to the bottom. Only 11 cities in the country have percentages higher than 5%, with most cities falling in the 2-4% range.

  2. Gas Prices: National Average = $3.60

    Gas prices tend to be highest in the western part of the country and the Midwest. The lowest prices are found in the south and southeast regions of the country.

  3. Commute time: National Average = 25.4 minutes

    Our study looks at the percentage of people whose commutes are longer than the national average. We looked at those who travel 30 or more minutes to work.

1. New York, NY

New York, New York
New York, New York

  • Percentage of Commuters Using Public Transit: 30.4%
  • Average Gas Price: $3.777
  • Commute Time over 30 Minutes: 55.35%

New York is famous for its taxis, but it has a world-class subway system as well. Both the subways and bus routes reach the outer edges of all five boroughs, making it so residents can get by without owning a car at all. The 30.4% of workers who use public transportation to commute to work is by far the highest of any city in the country and more than twice as much as San Francisco.

2. San Francisco, CA

San Francisco, California
San Francisco, California

  • Percentage of Commuters Using Public Transit: 14.4%
  • Average Gas Price: $4.128
  • Commute Time over 30 Minutes: 46.58%

Cable cars are both a San Francisco landmark and a part of an extensive public transportation network that also includes buses, trolleys, and a light rail system. The percentage of employees who use public transportation to get to work in San Francisco is second only to New York, and with gas prices well north of $4 per gallon, it’s easy to understand why so many people opt to use the city’s transit system.

3. Washington, DC

Washington, DC
Washington, DC

  • Percentage of Commuters Using Public Transit: 13.4%
  • Average Gas Price: $3.775
  • Commute Time over 30 Minutes: 56.76%

Despite the fact that almost 57% of people in Washington travel 30 or more minutes to work, an impressive 13.4% of workers use public transportation to commute – the third highest percentage of any major metropolitan area. The rapid transit system is the second busiest, behind only the New York City subway system, and the city also provides transportation via commuter rail and bus.

4. Chicago, IL

Chicago, Illinois
Chicago, Illinois

  • Percentage of Commuters Using Public Transit: 11.3%
  • Average Gas Price: $4.267
  • Commute Time over 30 Minutes: 49.9%

The transit system in Chicago, which consists of both a network of buses and a rapid transit system called the “L,” is second in size only to New York City’s public transportation system. At almost $4.30 per gallon, gas prices in the Chicago area are among the most expensive in the country, so public transit is an appealing option for commuters.

5. Boston, MA

Boston, Massachusetts
Boston, Massachusetts

  • Percentage of Commuters Using Public Transit: 11.6%
  • Average Gas Price: $3.521
  • Commute Time over 30 Minutes: 46.6%

Public transit options in Boston include subways, commuter rail, street cars, light rail, and a bus system. With gas prices below the national average, Boston’s number-four ranking in commuters using public transportation to get to work is especially impressive. The city is one of only five in the country with more than 10% of its workers opting to use public transit instead of cars.

6. Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

  • Percentage of Commuters Using Public Transit: 9.3%
  • Average Gas Price: $3.516
  • Commute Time over 30 Minutes: 43.47%

Buses, trolleys, and the SEPTA subway system are available to help residents get around the city of Philadelphia. In addition, rail lines connect Philadelphia to major towns in the neighboring state of New Jersey. The city just misses posting a double-digit percentage of commuters using public transit (it sits at 9.3%), but that is still good enough to give the city the sixth highest percentage in the country.

7. Seattle, WA

Seattle, Washington
Seattle, Washington

  • Percentage of Commuters Using Public Transit: 8.0%
  • Average Gas Price: $3.992
  • Commute Time over 30 Minutes: 42.79%

Buses, light rail, commuter rail, ferries, and a small 1-mile-long monorail are all options for public transportation in Seattle. Gas prices average about $4 per gallon, but with 43% of people commuting a half hour or more to work, public transportation is not a viable option for as many people compared to the cities higher on the list.

8. Los Angeles, CA

Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles, California

  • Percentage of Commuters Using Public Transit: 6.4%
  • Average Gas Price: $4.085
  • Commute Time over 30 Minutes: 44.89%

The combination of heavy traffic and high gas prices is more than enough to encourage Los Angeles residents to use public transportation, and it ranks 9th highest in percentage of people who use the transit system to commute to work. The city is served by a bus system, a light rail system, and a subway.

9. Baltimore, MD

Baltimore, Maryland
Baltimore, Maryland

  • Percentage of Commuters Using Public Transit: 6.5%
  • Average Gas Price: $3.416
  • Commute Time over 30 Minutes: 47.20%

Baltimore has subway, light rail, and commuter rail systems for transportation within the city and to the suburbs. An extensive bus system that includes both local and express routes helps Baltimore’s residents get around as well. There are also a number of train routes running between Baltimore and Washington, DC – just short 50-minute trip by rail.

10. Portland, OR

Portland, Oregon
Portland, Oregon

  • Percentage of Commuters Using Public Transit: 6.3%
  • Average Gas Price: $3.942
  • Commute Time over 30 Minutes: 35.63%

Buses, light rail, and commuter rail systems help Portland residents get around the city. Since only about 36% of people in the Portland area travel more than 30 minutes to work, public transit is a viable commuting option for many.


In today’s world, completely living without a car isn’t a realistic option except for just a few cities in the country. Even then, people who spend their weekdays on public transportation may like to have their own car on the weekends to get out of town or do certain activities. Grocery shopping by subway, for instance, is not fun for anyone. However, this list does present options for living without a car or at least significantly cutting back on mileage and gas fill-ups during the week.

Having your own car might mean more convenience, but with a good public transportation system and a short commute, it may not be as difficult as you’d think to live without one.

Data Sources:

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Comments about Study: Best Cities to Live Practically Car Free

  • M.E. from Washington
    on December 25, 2013 6:30 AM said:

    I love Washington DC's public transit system. It's easier for an old person like me to get around in than NYC's thanks to all the elevators and escalators.

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