Car dependency beyond land use: Can a standardized built environment indicator predict car use?


  • Eva Van Eenoo Vrije Universiteit Brussel
  • Koos Fransen Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Universiteit Gent
  • Kobe Boussauw Vrije Universiteit Brussel



car dependency, built environment, travel behavior, Vehicle Kilometers Travelled, Flanders


In June 2019, the government of the Flemish Region (Belgium) launched the “mobility score,” a standardized built environment indicator that informs citizens in Flanders about the walking or cycling accessibility from their dwelling to a range of basic amenities and public transport stops. The development of the mobility score was developed to be a tool to raise awareness of the environmental impact of travel. Against this backdrop, this paper assesses the extent to which the mobility score can predict car use and aims to contribute to the line of research that studies travel patterns in relation to accessibility, spatial context, and travel mode choice. Based on the data from the Flemish Travel Behavior Survey, we analyze the effect of the interaction between the built environment, frequency of car use and vehicle kilometers traveled. Our findings illustrate that frequent and intensive car use is not an exclusive feature of suburban and rural residents in Flanders, or of those who travel long distances. The outcomes show that the mobility score can predict the frequency of car travel but only in the inner city. As for other areas, travel behavior shows little variance among respondents. The presence of a company car in a household is a much stronger predictor of vehicle kilometers traveled than any other variable, including the built environment. Travel behavior turns toward car use once a household acquires a car, almost regardless of the type of neighborhoods where respondents live. In Flanders, policy has so far been directed more toward curbing car use than discouraging car ownership. Our findings suggest that it could be more effective to aim for the latter, as this prevents the development of a cycle of car-oriented behavior in the first place.


Agresti, A., & Franklin, C. (2014). Statistics: The art of learning from data (3rd ed.). Harlow, England: Pearson.

Anable, J. (2005). Complacent car addicts or aspiring environmentalists? Identifying travel behavior segments using attitude theory. Transport Policy, 12(1), 65–78.

Banister, D. (2008). The sustainable mobility paradigm. Transport Policy, 15(2), 73–80.

Bertolini, L. (1999), Spatial development patterns and public transport: The application of an analytical model in the Netherlands. Planning Practice & Research, 14(2), 199–210.

Boussauw K., & Witlox F. (2011). Linking expected mobility production to sustainable residential location planning: Some evidence from Flanders. Journal of Transport Geography, 19(4), 936–942.

Cairns, S., Harmer, C., Hopkin, J., & Skippon, S. (2014). Sociological perspectives on travel and mobilities: A review. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 63, 107–117.

Clifton, K. J. (2017). Getting from here to there: Comment on “does compact development make people drive less?” Journal of the American Planning Association, 83(2), 148–151.

Cullinane, S., & Cullinane, K. (2003). Car dependence in a public transport dominated city: Evidence from Hong Kong. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, 8, 129–138.

Dargay, J.M., (2007). The effect of prices and income on car travel in the UK. Transportation ResearchPart A, 41, 949–960.

De Decker, P. (2011). Understanding housing sprawl: The case of Flanders, Belgium. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 43(7), 1634–1654.

De Vos, J. (2015). The influence of land use and mobility policy on travel behavior: A comparative case study of Flanders and the Netherlands. Journal of Transport and Land Use, 8(1), 171.

Dennis, K., & Urry, J. (2009). After the car. Cambridge, England: Polity Press.

Dieleman, F. M., Dijst, M., & Burghouwt, G. (2002). Urban form and travel behaviour: Micro level household attributes and residential context. Urban Studies, 39(3), 507–527.

European Environment Agency. (2016). Urban sprawl in Europe (Joint EEA-FOEN report, EEA Report No 11/2016). Copenhagan: European Environment Agency.

Ewing, R., & Cervero, R. (2010). Travel and the built environment: A meta-analysis. Journal of the American Planning Association, 76(3), 265–294.

Ewing, R., & Cervero, R. (2017). Does compact development make people drive less? The answer is yes. Journal of the American Planning Association, 83(1), 19–25.

Fransen, K., Deruyter, G., & De Maeyer, P. (2018). The impact of driver’s license ownership on unemployed job seekers’ access to job openings: Assessing the driver’s license at School project in Flanders. Case Studies on Transport Policy, 6(4), 695–705.

Fransen, K., & Farber, S. (2019). Using person-based accessibility measures to assess the equity of transport systems. In Measuring transport equity (pp. 57–72). Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Handy, S. (2017). Thoughts on the meaning of Mark Stevens’s meta-analysis. Journal of the American Planning Association, 83(1), 26–28.

Handy, S., Weston, L., & Mokhtarian, P. L. (2005). Driving by choice or necessity? Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 39(2–3), 183–203.

Humphreys, J., & Ahern, A. (2019). Is travel based residential self-selection a significant influence in modal choice and household location decisions? Transport Policy, 75, 150–160.

Janssens, D., Declercq, K., & Wets, G. (2018). Onderzoek Verplaatsingsgedrag Vlaanderen, 5.2 (2017-2018). Hasselt, Belgium: Instituut voor Mobiliteit.

Jeekel, H. (2013). The car-dependent society. A European perspective. Surrey, England: Ashgate.

Jones, P. (2011), Conceptualising car ‘Dependence.’ In K. Lucas, E. Blumenberg & R. Weinberger (Eds.), Auto motives. Understanding car use behaviours (pp. 39-62). Bingley, UK: Emerald.

Kim, S. (2011). Assessing mobility in an aging society: Personal and built environment factors associated with older people’s subjective transportation deficiency in the US. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behavior, 14(5), 422–429.

Kitamura, R. (2009). A dynamic model system of household car ownership, trip generation, and modal split: Model development and simulation experiment. Transportation, 36, 711–732.

Mattioli, G., Roberts, C., Steinberger, J. K., & Brown, A. (2020). The political economy of car dependence: A systems of provision approach. Energy Research & Social Science, 66, 101486.

May, X., Ermans, T., & Hooftman, N. (2019). Company cars: Identifying the problems and challenges of a tax system. Brussels Studies [En ligne], Notes de synthèse, n° 133, mis en ligne le 25 mars 2019, consulted on May 30, 2020.

Mustafa A., & Teller J. (2020), Self-reinforcing processes governing urban sprawl in Belgium: Evidence over six decades. Sustainability 2020, 12(10), 4097.

Naess, P. (2012). Urban form and travel behavior: Experience from a Nordic context. Journal of Transport and Land Use, 5(2), 21–45.

Naess, P. (2014). Tempest in a teapot: The exaggerated problem of transport-related residential self-selection as a source of error in empirical studies. Journal of Transport and Land Use, 7(3), 57–79.

Næss, P. (2019). Meta-analyses of built environment effects on travel: No new platinum standard. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 0739456X1985642.

Nieuwenhuijsen, M. J. (2020). Urban and transport planning pathways to carbon neutral, livable and healthy cities: A review of the current evidence. Environment International, 140, 105661.

Nolan, A. (2010). A dynamic analysis of household car ownership. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 44(6), 446–455.

Oakil, A. T. M., Manting, D., & Nijland, H. (2016). Determinants of car ownership among young households in the Netherlands: The role of urbanization and demographic and economic characteristics. Journal of Transport Geography, 51, 229–235.

Potoglou, D., & Kanaroglou, P. S. (2008). Modelling car ownership in urban areas: A case study of Hamilton, Canada. Journal of Transport Geography, 16(1), 42–54.

Reumers, S., Polders, E., Janssens, D., Declercq, K., & Wets, G. (2016). Onderzoek Verplaatsingsgedrag Vlaanderen 5.2 (2015-2016). Hasselt, Belgium: Instituut voor Mobiliteit.

Reumers, S., Declercq, K., Janssens, D., & Wets, G. (2017). Onderzoek Verplaatsingsgedrag Vlaanderen 5.2 (2016-2017). Hasselt, Belgium: Instituut voor Mobiliteit.

Silva, C., & Pinho, P. (2010). The structural accessibility layer (SAL): Revealing how urban structure constrains travel choice. Environment and Planning A, 42, 2735–2752.

Siren, A., & Hakamies-Blomqvist, L. (2006). Does gendered driving create gendered mobility? Community-related mobility in Finnish women and men aged 65+. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behavior, 9(5), 374–382.

Shirgaokar, M., Dobbs, B., Anderson, L., & Hussey, E. (2020). Do rural older adults take fewer trips than their urban counterparts for lack of a ride? Journal of Transport Geography, 87, 102819.

Shove, E., Pantzar, M., & Watson, M. (2012). The dynamics of social practice: Everyday life and how it changes. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Statbel. (2020). Voertuigenpark. Retrieved from

Statistiek Vlaanderen. (2018). Aantal personenwagens in Vlaanderen gestegen tot ruim 3,5 miljoen. Retrieved from

Steg, L. (2005). Car use: Lust and must. Instrumental, symbolic and affective motives for car use. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 39(2–3), 147–162.

Stevens, M. (2017). Does compact development make people drive less? Journal of the American Planning Association, 83(1), 7–18.

Storme, T., De Vos, J., De Paepe, L., & Witlox, F. (2020). Limitations to the car-substitution effect of MaaS. Findings from a Belgian pilot study. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 131, 196–205.

Stradling, S. (2007). Determinants of car dependence. In T. Gärling & L. Steg (Eds.), Threats to the quality of urban life from car traffic: Problems, causes and solutions. Oxford: Elsevier.

Urry, J. (2004). The ‘system’ of automobility. Theory, Culture & Society, 21(4–5), 25–39.

Van Acker, V., & Witlox, F. (2010). Car ownership as a mediating variable in car travel behavior research using a structural equation modelling approach to identify its dual relationship. Journal of Transport Geography, 18(1), 65–74.

Van Den Bergh, G., Aeltermans, S., Mouton, V. & Engels, D. (2018). Verkenning en ontwikkeling Mobiscore. Brussels: Eindrapport Departement Omgeving Vlaanderen.

van Wee, B., & Witlox, F. (2021). COVID-19 and its long-term effects on activity participation and travel behavior: A multiperspective view. Journal of Transport Geography, 95, 103144.

Verbeek, T., Boussauw, K., & Pisman, A. (2014). Presence and trends of linear sprawl: Explaining ribbon development in the north of Belgium. Landscape and Urban Planning, 128, 48–59.

Verachtert, E., Mayeres, I., Poelmans, L., Van der Meulen, M., Vanhulsel, M., Engelen, G. (2016). Ontwikkelingskansen op basis van knooppuntwaarde en nabijheid voorzieningen, eindrapport. Brussels, Belgium: Department Omgeving Vlaanderen.

Watson, M. (2012). How theories of practice can inform transition to a decarbonized transport system. Journal of Transport Geography, 24, 488–496.

Wegener, M., & Fürst, F. (2004). Land-use transport interaction: State of the art (SSRN scholarly paper ID 1434678). Amsterdam: Social Science Research Network.

Wiersma, J., Bertolini, L., & Straatemeier, T. (2016). How does the spatial context shape conditions for car dependency? An analysis of the differences between and within regions in the Netherlands. The Journal of Transport and Land Use, 9(3), 33–55.

Wiersma, J. K. (2020). Commuting patterns and car dependency in urban regions. Journal of Transport Geography, 84, 102700.

Zhang, J., Yu, B., & Chikaraishi, M. (2014). Interdependences between household residential and car ownership behavior: A life history analysis. Journal of Transport Geography, 34, 165–174.




How to Cite

Van Eenoo, E., Fransen, K., & Boussauw, K. (2022). Car dependency beyond land use: Can a standardized built environment indicator predict car use?. Journal of Transport and Land Use, 15(1), 117–136.