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Modern society relies heavily on transport. A lack of suitable transport options acts as a barrier to individuals meeting basic needs such as accessing essential amenities, healthcare, or education and employment opportunities.
The concept of energy poverty is widely known, perhaps even more so today in light of the current crises, but far less commonly discussed is the concept of transport poverty. Transport poverty is experienced by a substantial number of households and has been discussed within the context of energy poverty for more than 20 years but is still struggling to establish itself as a major social issue.
In a modern society relying heavily on transport, the lack of suitable transport options constitutes a barrier to individuals meeting their basic needs such as accessing essential amenities, healthcare services, education, or employment opportunities. This is becoming even more prevalent today in light of the recent fuel and energy cost increases.
A few studies from France and Belgium have estimated that around 20% of their populations are considered at risk of being 'transport poor', based on criteria such as the percentage of income spent on transport (10% to 15% of the annual income of an individual in those countries). However, setting a common definition for transport poverty has still not been achieved.
In the absence of a commonly agreed definition, Sia Partners proposes a common characterization of transport poverty, based on recurring criteria found in the literature. As a result, an individual can be considered as “transport poor” if they meet at least two of the following three criteria:
The current landscape of the issue in France, the United Kingdom, and Belgium suggests five main profiles are most likely to be exposed to transport poverty, as well as the criteria most likely to be associated with them:
Across the countries studied, it is clear that historically high levels of car ownership and dependence, particularly in suburban and rural areas, are critical factors in the prevalence of transport poverty. Cars have become the preferred mode of transport for most in those areas, leading to lower demand for public transportation compared to urban areas. Additionally, it was found that there is often a lack of safe walking or cycling routes, particularly in rural and suburban areas. Combined with the removal of local services that are not profitable, there is little incentive for people to reduce their dependence on private transportation. This dependency increases the risk individuals face of becoming “transport poor” when the economic situation changes, as was observed with the “gilets jaunes” in France. With the current economic crisis, many costs are rising, including motoring costs, and many people in rural and suburban areas will be finding that they no longer can afford to commute to their place of work or education or travel to amenities by car and have no viable alternatives which they can depend on.
In urban areas, whilst there may be better developed transport networks, the issue of transport poverty is still present and takes other forms. Less affluent parts of urban areas are often less well connected and therefore the time taken to travel to a place of work, or the number of connections involved may restrict opportunities for employment. People living in these areas may also be from low-income households, or of lower educational attainment, for example, unskilled immigrants with another first language. These individuals may face issues in relation to understanding and navigating complex transport systems or find that they cannot travel easily to employment that is outside of normal working or peak hours due to a lack of available services. Finally, negative perceptions of safety, particularly for women traveling outside of peak hours, can heavily dissuade people from using public transport.
Common across the countries studied, free or discounted public transport is available for certain groups such as the elderly, job seekers, and young people. Additionally, some local authorities or NGOs provide community transportation for the elderly and people with disabilities to help them meet their needs, such as attending healthcare appointments or visiting shops.
A major observation about existing solutions is that most of them are very local and can vary from one municipality to another, increasing transport inequalities. Moreover, it was found that there were no specific measures in place to help parents working part-time around caring responsibilities.
Different actors are involved and have roles to play
There are a number of key groups that will have a key role to play in addressing this issue:
All stakeholders will have their own unique challenges when faced with developing solutions, however, all actors involved in addressing transport poverty have a role to play in engaging with the public and collaborating with each other to develop solutions, as well as raising awareness of available support to relevant groups.
Some potential solutions which should be explored include:
Some government/local authority-specific interventions could include improved active transport infrastructure, particularly to and from transport nodes or highly frequented areas, and subsidies for equipment e.g. e-scooters or bicycles.
Often discussed within the context of energy or fuel poverty, we propose that transport poverty is a complex and significant issue that should be addressed in its own right. Additionally, there is relatively little information widely available on the topic which makes it difficult to determine the full extent of the issue. Therefore, our study has highlighted the following conclusions:
An overview of Sia Partner’s capabilities for the travel and transportation sector can be found here: Travel & Transport.
A detailed insight into Sia Partner’s capabilities related to passenger transportation can be found here: Passenger Transportation.
Additional information on transport poverty can also be found in NatCen's study: Transport and inequality: An evidence review for the Department for Transport.
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