County seeing fewer cars, more drivers

GREENFIELD — A growing county population has led to more homes being built, more businesses setting up shop, but it hasn’t increased the number of vehicles on the road, data shows.

Since 2010, Hancock County’s population has grown about 5 percent, and the number of eligible drivers — residents 16 years and older — rose by 9 percent, Census data shows. But during that same time period, the number of vehicles registered to local residents dropped by 3 percent, a trend seen in counties across central Indiana, according to data from the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

Even in counties that haven’t seen a drop in the number of registered vehicles — Hamilton, Boone and Hendricks counties — the slight increases aren’t keeping up with population growth, data shows.

Older residents giving up driving, teenagers deciding to put off getting a car and the increasing costs of purchasing and maintaining a vehicle could all play a role in why the number of vehicles local residents own has dropped, said Jerry Conover, the director of the Indiana Business Research Center at Indiana University.

Also, the popularity of transportation services, such as Uber and Lyft, has boomed in recent years, giving people an alternative to get places without a vehicle of their own, he added.

The county’s population has continued to grow, from about 53,800 residents age 16 and over in 2010 to more than 58,600 in 2016, according to Census data. At the same time, the number of vehicles registered to Hancock County residents dropped from about 43,100 in 2010 to about 41,850 in 2016, data shows.

There are likely multiple reasons families have decided to own fewer cars, Conover said.

A key factor to consider when analyzing driving trends is whether the population is aging, Conover said.

As the Baby Boomer generation nears retirement, some might decide they don’t need as many cars for their household, he said. Others might give up driving altogether, relying on public transportation.

In Hancock County, the percentage of residents of retirement age — age 65 and older — has risen nearly 30 percent since 2010, Census data shows.

Hancock Area Rural Transit, operated by Hancock County Senior Services, has seen an increase in the number of people using the service since 2012, and the number of rides provided has been increasing since 2014, data shows.

Since 1978, senior services has provided rides to seniors 60 and older. Beginning in 2005, Hancock Area Rural Transit was formed, offering rides to any resident for $3, said director Linda Hart.

Last year, drivers transported 852 people around the county, up from 764 in 2012. Each year, the organization takes residents on some 20,000 trips. This year, that number is expected to grow to about 22,500, Hart said.

Other factors are likely contributing to fewer registered vehicles, too, officials say.

For example, national studies show teens are waiting longer to get their license, which might mean families need fewer vehicles.

Nationally, the percent of teenage drivers has been dropping, according to data from the Federal Highway Administration.

In 2015, about 50 percent of teens had driver’s licenses, compared to 52 percent in 2010 and 56 percent in 2007, the data shows. Indiana had 220,000 teenage drivers in 2008, compared to 187,000 in 2014, according to the Federal Highway Administration data.

And yet, the rising cost of owning and maintaining a vehicle might lead residents to forgo owning a car.

Paying car insurance, gas and taxes associated with cars, such as registration fees, can play a role in whether parents buy their teens a vehicle of their own, Conover said.

This year, lawmakers approved a $15 increase to vehicle registration fees that will go into effect next year. That’s in addition to the $25 excise tax Hancock County residents already pay when they renew their license plates annually.

In addition, the cost of gas has reached all-time highs in recent years. Currently, the average price of a gallon of gas in Indianapolis is about $2.50, according to gasbuddy.com. In the past decade, that price has ranged from as low as $1.50 to more than $4 a gallon, and this year, lawmakers increased the state’s gas tax by 10 cents a gallon.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.