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Shifting down

Three out of every 100 drivers in Budapest left their cars in the garage in 2009, a recent survey of the Central Statistical Office (KSH) shows. While the economic crisis that came in late 2008 seems an obvious reason for such cost-cutting decisions, the decreasing trend in the number of cars in the Hungarian capital started even earlier.

The number of registered cars in Budapest peaked in 2003, at 605,000 passenger vehicles, and has been decreasing each year since. By 2009, it dropped to 582,000, a noteworthy decline that was however, not significant enough to bring air pollution levels in Budapest closer to the health threshold. According to the data of the Clean Air Action Group, the amount of dust in the air exceeded the health threshold value for 69 days in 2009, double the 35 days allowed by law.

Despite the decline of recent years, the number of cars in Budapest has increased by 45% since 1990. While 234 out of 1,000 residents drove their own cars back then, this rose to 338 by 2009. The countryside posted an even larger increase, with Pest and Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg counties topping the list with rises of 95% and 90%, respectively.

But while, despite the large boom in new cars, Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg in northeast Hungary remains among the least motorized counties, Pest County has already surpassed Budapest with regard to car penetration. This is likely due to people deciding to leave the crowded capital for the suburban calm.

Pest also stands out as the county with the highest increase in the number of trucks, which has risen to 69,000 from 17,000 since 1990. However, as demand for trucks is strongly linked to economic circumstances, the rising trend reversed slightly in 2009.

The less motorized areas of the country are on the east. Only 240 people out of 1,000 own a car in Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County, and the number is 248 for Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok County.