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Study Finds Suburbs Drive Up Cost of Living

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The costs of driving a car rise dramatically the further you get from Southern California’s urban core cities and may partially offset the lower housing costs of the far-flung suburbs, according to a study released Thursday.

A first-ever study comparing automobile costs incurred in different cities found that residents of cities close to shopping, jobs and good public transportation spent from $2,000 to $4,000 less than the average for the region.

The study was done by researchers for the Surface Transportation Policy Project and the Center for Neighborhood Technology. The researchers are advocates for growth and environmental policies aimed at reducing sprawl. They draw their statistics from a variety of federal and regional data collection agencies.

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In Orange County, the study shows newer and wealthier communities ranking far ahead of older and more urban county cities when it comes to household transportation costs.

Residents of certain neighborhoods in Irvine, Tustin, Aliso Viejo and Coto de Caza can spend up to $4,325 more than the national average on fuel and other expenses just getting to work, running errands and taking their children to school. In sharp contrast, however, families in older, more urban cities such as Santa Ana, Costa Mesa and Westminster spend as much as $2,000 a year less than the national average for transportation.

The savings, the study concluded, were due to the availability of public transportation and city layouts more amenable to walking.

The study found that in the entire Los Angeles-Riverside-Orange County area annual auto costs per household were lowest in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Long Beach, Glendale and Pasadena, where households spent from $3,200 to $5,000 a year on cars. The national average was roughly $6,300.

According to the study, some households in the Antelope Valley spent the most, from $7,600 to $12,300 a year. Orange County’s high end was not far behind.

Some local officials challenged the notion that increased driving costs offset the significantly lower housing costs in distant suburbs.

“Obviously someone who owns a Lexus is going to spend more on average for vehicle costs,” said George Urch, a spokesman for the Orange County Transportation Authority. “I’m not sure what the relevance of this study is.”

In Santa Ana, City Manager David N. Ream said many residents must rely on public transportation.

. “In some of our older neighborhoods, people don’t have the discretionary income to spend on [cars],” Ream said. “We have the highest bus ridership in the county.”

In Irvine, a city that has prided itself on construction of pedestrian and bicycle paths, Mayor-elect Larry Agran said residents were still dependent on vehicles.

“If you’re a 15-year-old and you want to visit your friend five miles away, you could bike, but you’ll probably get a ride from your parents,” Agran said. “And when you’re 16, you’re probably going to drive yourself.”

The notion that increased driving costs offset the lower cost of homes in suburban areas was difficult for some officials to accept.

“We are probably the most affordable area in Southern California and people are willing to make the commute to live here,” said San Bernardino city spokeswoman June Durr. She cited a survey showing the average cost of a three-bedroom home in the city was $90,000.

Durr said a major goal of the city was to spur business expansion so that more city residents can find high-paying jobs at home, and avoid higher commuting costs.

The annual household expenditures on transportation were calculated by combining research data on the cost of vehicle purchases; car-related expenses, such as insurance and repairs; and money spent on public transportation.

In Southern California, the study found that spending on transportation ranked second on a typical family’s budget, ranking behind only housing and ahead of food.

The national survey found that drivers in the Houston-Galveston-Brazoria region in Texas spent the most during the two-year period, $8,840, followed by Atlanta, $8,513, and Dallas-Fort Worth, $8,717.

Correspondent Jenifer Ragland in Ventura County contributed to this report.


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