Best Cities for Single-Vehicle Families (2021)
The best cities for single-vehicle families are areas where reduced traffic and the compact footprint make it easier to get around. College towns are often great cities for families with one car, since they offer excellent public transportation options. Single-vehicle households can save on all of their auto-related costs by living in cities where it's easy to get from place to place with just one vehicle.
UPDATED: May 2, 2021
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- Auto insurance may be cheaper if you only own one car, even without multi-car discounts
- Some cities make it easier to get around when another family member is using the car
- Short commute times make it easier to drop multiple family members at work or school in a single car
Whether you have only one car for financial, environmental, or any other reason, it can sometimes seem like the deck is stacked against you and life is easier for those with more wheels. Not every city is friendly to families sharing a vehicle. So which are the best cities for single-vehicle families?
We looked at several factors, including commute times, insurance rates, and the efficiency of public transit to determine which cities make it the easiest and most affordable to get around when you have more than one driver to a single car.
Single-vehicle households save money on everything from maintenance bills to parking fees, but it can still be challenging to make it work. The cities on our list have solid options for public transportation and shorter commute times.
These cities also offer cheap auto insurance for single-vehicle families to keep their budget in check. Read on to find out where life with one car is easiest.
The Best Cities for Families With One Car
Regardless of the reason for sticking with a single vehicle, finding ways to save money and make life easier is always a good thing. There are some perks out there for those that choose to own just one car.
First of all, sharing a car on your commute means you can drive in the carpool lane (also known as the High Occupancy Vehicle or HOV lane) in many cities. And while you probably see multiple-car discounts advertised all the time, lesser-known discounts can be applied to single-car households. Farmers Insurance, for example, offers a Shared Family Car discount that’s applicable when you have more cars than drivers.
Where you live impacts your insurance rates, too, but it has even more bearing on how convenient it is to get around with just one car. Access to public transportation isn’t equal in every city, and it doesn’t always make for an easier commute.
Cities with great public transportation systems make it easier to get around when the family car is in use by someone else.
We looked at the average insurance rates in cities with more than 50,000 people (combined with the metro area) to see where it’s most affordable. We also looked at the average commute time and how many people use public transportation in those cities as an indicator of how usable the system is.
Ready to find out which cities make it easier and more affordable to get by with one car? Read on for the details.
The Top 12 Cities For Single-Vehicle Households
Each of these cities has affordable insurance and offers popular public transportation options to help you get around. With shorter commute times, these cities also make it easier to get everyone where they need to go each day, even if you have to make multiple stops.
#12 – Santa Barbara, CA
Auto Insurance Cost (Monthly Avg.): $272
Commute Time (Avg. One Way): 17.2 minutes
Public Transit Rides (Yearly, Per 1k Residents): 13,352
North of busy Los Angeles, Santa Barbara is a city of beautiful beaches and a slower pace of life. Thanks to its smaller size, having just one car isn’t too difficult here. Santa Barbara has a solid public transportation system that includes the Downtown and Waterfront shuttles for quick back and forth access.
While California auto insurance can be pricey, rates in Santa Barbara are lower than in many bigger cities.
The average commute time in Santa Barbara is also well below the averages seen to the south. That means it’s easier to do multiple drop-offs. And with average temps that rarely get too hot or too cold, it’s also a great city to get around on a bike. All of that makes it a great place to live with only one car.
#11 – Lafayette, IN
Auto Insurance Cost (Monthly Avg.): $246
Commute Time (Avg. One Way): 17.1 minutes
Public Transit Rides (Yearly, Per 1K Residents): 32,047
Because it’s home to Purdue University, Lafayette, IN needs a great public transportation system. Whether you’re a student or need the option when the family car is in use, the CityBus system is reliable, and Lafayette residents put it to good use. If you’ve got a student in your one-car household, the bus is a great option.
Purdue students, staff, and faculty ride the CityBus fare-free with campus ID.
Lafayette, Indiana auto insurance rates are on the lower side, which makes it easier to keep car-related expenses in check. And with an average commute time of just over 17 minutes, it’s easy to get multiple people where they need to go in one car.
#10 – Sioux Falls, SD
Auto Insurance Cost (Monthly Avg.): $307
Commute Time (Avg. One Way): 16.9 minutes
Public Transit Rides (Yearly, Per 1K Residents): 511
The city of Sioux Falls, SD has a short average commute time of fewer than 17 minutes, which means if you have to make multiple drop-offs in one car, you shouldn’t be late for work. The smaller size of this city and its metro area makes it easier to get around with a single vehicle.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota auto insurance is generally affordable, as well, which means you can save even more money by owning just one car. And the easy-to-access public transportation system allows family members to reach their destination when the car’s not available.
#9 – Normal, IL
Auto Insurance Cost (Monthly Avg.): $244
Commute Time (Avg. One Way): 16.9 minutes
Public Transit Rides (Yearly, Per 1K Residents): 1372
Like Lafayette, Normal, IL is home to a large university (Illinois State) that causes a major increase in the use of public transportation. The city has responded by creating an efficient and extensive public transportation system available not just to students without cars but also to the rest of the city’s population.
With a lot of the population using the Connect Transit system, traffic is lessened and commute times are lower.
That makes it easier for single-vehicle families to get everyone where they need to go. It also means that there’s a reliable alternative to using your car.
#8 – Bryan, TX
Auto Insurance Cost (Monthly Avg.): $291
Commute Time (Avg. One Way): 16.7 minutes
Public Transit Rides (Yearly, Per 1K Residents): 72
Not quite halfway into this list, it becomes clear that college towns are some of the best for single-vehicle families thanks to the healthy public transportation systems that are created around them. Home to Texas A&M, Bryan, Texas, is no different. This big college even offers students its own personal bus system, the Aggie Spirit Bus.
Whether you have a student in the family or not, access to great public transit means fewer cars on the road. And as we’ve already noted, that’s good news for those trying to get family members to multiple locations with one car. Bryan, Texas auto insurance rates are affordable, which makes owning your car easier.
#7 – Missoula, MT
Auto Insurance Cost (Monthly Avg.): $247
Commute Time (Avg. One Way): 16.7 minutes
Public Transit Rides (Yearly, Per 1K Residents): 52,320
Missoula is a great place to live for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the easy access to the Rockies. Another is that it’s a smaller city with less traffic, and that makes it a good place to live if you’re a family with only one car.
Not surprisingly, Missoula’s active public transit system, the Mountain Line, is widely used by students at the University of Montana. Once again, a college town offers perks to families getting around with only one car.
#6 – Lubbock, TX
Auto Insurance Cost (Monthly Avg.): $328
Commute Time (Avg. One Way): 16.6 minutes
Public Transit Rides (Yearly, Per 1K Residents): 1337
At the midway point on our list is Lubbock, another Texas city that’s home to a major university. While Texas Tech students form a large portion of the ridership on public transportation here, their needs translate to easier access for everyone in town.
Lubbock has shorter commute times than larger Texas cities, and of course, the smaller size makes getting from place to place quicker. If you need to use one car to drop off at multiple locations, you’ll get that done faster there than in a city like Dallas.
#5 – Redding, CA
Auto Insurance Cost (Monthly Avg.): $257
Commute Time (Avg. One Way): 16.5 minutes
Public Transit Rides (Yearly, Per 1K Residents): 28,679
Although many people think of the Bay Area as Northern California, Redding is the true geographical north of the state, bordering Oregon. It’s free of the traffic woes that plague California’s major metro areas, which makes it easier to get around town on a single set of wheels.
California is known for high car insurance rates, but Redding auto insurance is more affordable than many other areas.
Commute length is well below the national average, although visitors to nearby Mt. Shasta and Shasta Lake can increase the traffic in high season. That makes the excellent bus service in town even more useful.
#4 – Grand Junction, CO
Auto Insurance Cost (Monthly Avg.): $277
Commute Time (Avg. One Way): 16.4 minutes
Public Transit Rides (Yearly, Per 1K Residents): 288
Situated on the other side of the mountains from busy Denver, Grand Junction, CO has far less traffic, which means a shorter commute time. The city’s public transportation system runs out of a central downtown hub, which gives you an option on days when the family car is in use.
Of course, the smaller size of Grand Junction compared to major metro areas in the state makes it easier to get around the city quickly, which means it’s easier to manage with only one vehicle. And Colorado auto insurance is reasonable priced in this part of the state, as well.
#3 – Ames, IA
Auto Insurance Cost (Monthly Avg.): $222
Commute Time (Avg. One Way): 16.2 minutes
Public Transit Rides (Yearly, Per 1K Residents): 15,273
We head into the top three with another college town pushing up transit ridership and keeping commute times low. Ames, IA is home to Iowa State, and the CyRide bus system operates as a partnership between the school and the city to provide easy transit access to everyone.
Ames, Iowa auto insurance is on the low side; in fact, it’s the cheapest on our list at an average of $222/month. That makes it easy to keep your car insured and your transportation budget under control.
#2 – Lawton, OK
Auto Insurance Cost (Monthly Avg.): $326
Commute Time (Avg. One Way): 15.4 minutes
Public Transit Rides (Yearly, Per 1K Residents): 1,167
Lawton, OK ties with our number-one city for short commute times. At just over 15 minutes, commute time in Lawton is well under the national average. If you’re getting around in one car, you’ll find it easy to make multiple stops and get everyone to their destinations on time.
For a small city, it has a solid transit system that you can use as a backup plan when you don’t have access to the family car.
#1 – Flagstaff, AZ
Auto Insurance Cost (Monthly Avg.): $287
Commute Time (Avg. One Way): 15.4 minutes
Public Transit Rides (Yearly, Per 1K Residents): 1,371
North of the large, busy Phoenix metro area, Flagstaff, AZ sees plenty of tourists on their way to the Grand Canyon but still has a short average commute time. In spite of tying with Lawton for the average commute, Flagstaff easily takes the top spot with lower average auto insurance rates.
Flagstaff’s Mountain Line provides convenient public transit options for families that need help getting around. The downtown hub makes getting to work and back simple when the family car is in use. If you’re a single-vehicle household, Flagstaff is a great place to live.
Full Results: Cities Ranked for Single-Vehicle Homes
Below you’ll find a full ranking of the cities that were included in the study. While there may be other cities that are excellent candidates for living with one car, these results were based on the availability of data.
A total of 174 cities were ranked on the map below.
Not surprisingly, small cities rank highly thanks to their short commute times. Small cities are easier to get around overall, which makes it a lot easier to deal with making multiple stops on the morning or evening commute, and makes running errands faster so the next driver on the schedule can have the keys.
Frequently Asked Questions: Car and Home Free Living
If you have questions about reducing car usage and the best cities to get by on one car, or even without a car, read on.
#1 – What are the best cities to live in without a car?
Living without a car means getting by on public transportation, and the best cities to do that are those with solid, reliable public transit systems. While big cities like New York and Chicago have such systems, they might not be the most affordable places to live without a car (or with one).
The best small cities to live in without a car are college towns. As we have noted above, they have great public transportation. They are some of the best places to retire without a car as well.
The best places in the world to live without a car include cities where everything is within walking distance and the weather is pleasant. There are many cities where you don’t need a car in the world, particularly in places that were built before cars existed.
#2 – What are the best cities in which to live in your car?
While living in your car might not be ideal, it does happen, and it’s likely best done in places with warm weather. Make sure to check on city, county, and state laws that may affect the ability to use a car as a residence.
#3 – What are some car-free cities in the USA?
They are few and far between, but there are a few car-free cities. They include Mackinac Island in Michigan, Monhegan, Maine, and Fire Island in New York.
Methodology: Cities Ranked for Families With One Car
To find the best cities for families with one car, we looked at several different factors. First, we started with cities that have a population of at least 50,000 to select places where the footprint of the city makes it easy to get around but to leave out very small towns that would have low commute times due to their size alone.
Next, we gathered the public transit ridership numbers from the American Public Transporation Association (APTA). The numbers represent a count of each person to board any mode of public transit, per 1,000 population.
We also gathered information on average commute times from the U.S. Census Bureau for each city and compared it to the national average of 26.6 minutes to determine which cities on our list ensure the least time spent in traffic.
Finally, we also looked at the average cost of auto insurance, using data from Quadrant Data Solutions, in each of these cities to make sure we chose places with affordable rates.