After decades of rapid growth, car use in Norway has stagnated in recent years. Fewer young people are getting their drivers licenses, more people are living in cities, and the popularity of car ownership has fallen.
Norwegians’ driving peaked in 2008, when the average person drove 8,699 kilometres per year, reported newspaper Aftenposten. “There are several signs that show in recent years we’ve experienced a stagnation in Norwegians’ car use,” said Kjell Johansen, a senior adviser at the national public roads administration (Statens vegvesen). “In the 1970s, it was such that a wage increase of 1 percent led to a growth in car use of 1 percent. Since then the relationship between income growth and car use has become weaker and weaker.”
Owning and driving a car is also extremely expensive in Norway because of high taxation aimed at encouraging use of public transportation over private vehicles. Punitive taxes on car purchases, extra equipment and the power of the car’s motor, for example, along with high registration fees, road tolls and high fuel taxes make driving expenses in Norway among the highest in the world. Parking is also an expensive challenge, especially in Norwegian cities.
One of the key factors in driving stagnation also has been that fewer young people are getting driver’s licenses. In 1992, 80 percent of Norwegians between the age of 18 and 24 had their driver’s license. By 2012, just under 67 percent had learned to drive. Among Norwegians between 18 and 64, the number of people with licenses fell from 86 percent in 1992 to 82 percent in 2012.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) radio hosts Silje Nordnes, aged 29, and 27-year-old Ronny Brede Aase commute by bus every day. “I have started at driving school several times over the years, but have never finished the course,” Nordnes told Aftenposten. “A license has simply not been so important to me. I manage fine without a car.”
“The other day I was meant to collect a bookcase,” she continued. “Then I found out that no one I know in Oslo has a car. In the end I had to get help from the janitor where I live.”
“I think the public transport offered in Oslo is very good, and with separate lanes for buses you go quickly,” said Aase, who can’t drive because of vision problems. “People with cars also have problems I never have to think about, like not being able to find a parking space at Grünerløkka in the evening.”
Increased urbanization has also led to decreased car use. Four out of five Norwegians now live in cities and urban areas, said Vibeke Nenseth from the Institute of Transport Economics (Transportøkonomisk institutt). “More and more people live in cities where it can be a hassle to have a car and where alternatives to car use are often quite good,” she said.
“In most industrialized countries people’s car use has stopped growing,” said Professor David Metz from University College in London. “Norway is another example of this. The USA was among the countries where this happened earliest. Car growth there stopped in the early 2000s. But exactly when this occurred is not the most important. The point is that it marks the end of an era in transport history. Driving has risen and risen throughout the whole 1900s up until now.”
“That the growth in car driving stopped in so many countries over so many years is a totally new phenomenon,” Metz said. “The economic crisis can explain some of it, but not all, because the flattening started in many places long before the crisis. Neither has car driving picked up after the economy began to grow again.”
Metz told Aftenposten there’s also been a trend away from cars as a hobby, especially among young men. “Before, motoring was an interest in itself, and people bought cars and tinkered with them,” he said. “Now we see signs that the love affair with the car is about to end. Car manufacturers are worried that the youth in greater degrees use mobile telephones, tablets and other digital devices as an expression of personal style. To learn programming and play computer games instead of tinkering with cars is becoming more and more normal.”
Car use hasn’t fallen, yet
Nenseth said the “peak car” theory meant car use won’t just stagnate, but will also begin to fall. “It has happened in other countries, and we have also seen tendencies towards this in Norway,” she said. “Therefore it will be exciting to follow the development in the coming years.”
That day has not come yet, said Elisabeth Sagedal at the Norwegian Automotive Association (Norges Automobil-Forbund, NAF). “In a varied country like Norway, the car is absolutely unsurpassed for many,” she said. “It will still be very relevant in the future. You must still develop roads for safety and accessibility.”
While individuals’ car use has stagnated, the total amount of driving in Norway nevertheless has increased due to population growth. New car sales have dropped in many other countries but still continue to rise in Norway. Electric cars are especially popular. In 2013, there were 57.2 cars per 100 citizens, according to Statistics Norway (Statistisk sentralbyrå).