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Think Beyond the Car (and the Better Off)

These same debates need to become much more central within transport, as inequality has become institutionalized within current thinking and policy actions. This widened debate should include wealth, social wellbeing, fairness, justice and environmental limits (Holden et al., 2017), and the longer term concerns over sustainable development. The present policy-making discourse has become too focused on the car and car dependence, as this is seen as being the only means of transport that can satisfy transport needs. Other forms of transport seem to be playing a reduced role in providing alternatives, and more car travel continues to create a self-reinforcing dynamic (Mattioli, 2016). Even though there may be evidence that this dynamic is becoming less powerful (Stokes, 2013), perhaps because of congestion and other novel means to carry out travel-related activities (e.g. internet and social media), long-distance travel by rail and air seems to be following the same pathway. Apart from the implications of the greater use of these transport modes for the environment (global warming In and other externalities), it has important consequences for increasing inequality. In all cases (car, rail and air), the conditions are continuing to be set for further increases in travel distance, mainly by the rich.

We are now able to answer the question about why transport needs to be made more equal. Car dependence provides the best example to take here, as the empirical evidence (Chapters 4 and 5) demonstrates that as a result of increased car ownership over a 30 year period, it has become an equalizing agent, as more low-income people can now drive. But this can also be interpreted as forced car ownership, as people living in certain situations or locations have to own a car in order to carry out their everyday activities, as the only alternative would be to relocate. Such a situation may be prevalent in peripheral locations where there are limited (or no) alternatives. This means that the car is not the solution, yet it has become institutionalized as such. The current policy priorities that are heavily promoting Electric Vehicles (EVs) and Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) are reinforcing this car dependency, as are the new forms of car sharing and leasing, together with the growth in transport apps.

This is not to say that technology, innovation and car dependence should be excluded, yet there seems to have been no discussion over the implications for those that cannot afford a car or have been ‘forced’ into car ownership, or of the implications for public transport, or for those that do not have the necessary apps, the knowledge, or the resources to use the technology. The International Transport Forum (2017) concludes in their review of transport inequality that there is clear evidence that lower income people have fewer options, lower quality services and travel under worse conditions. As a consequence of this, they have fewer opportunities (education, health, social networks), and that this in turn generates a poverty trap.

The premise here is that society needs to move away from the primary focus of transport policy on choice and the mobility concerns of the ‘rich’ to one that takes a broader perspective on opening up opportunities and giving greater independence to all people. This means that a ‘softer’ approach to transport policy is needed that addresses issues of inequality, not just in terms of what people do (travel behaviour), but also in terms of their preferences, experiences and capabilities, so that the physical aspects of travel are matched by the more social aspects (social wellbeing). Such thinking begins to address issues of preferences (ownership and endowments), memory and experiences, trust and a broader more altruistic sense of responsibility to others, and it moves away from the almost exclusive focus on the materialistic and functional aspects of travel. These considerations are still important, but not to the exclusion of all other aspects. In addition to the economic (functional) and social (affective and eudaimonic) dimensions that influence the preferences of individuals and the decisions that they make with respect to travel, there are the broader concerns over the use of resources and the substantial contribution that all travel makes to sustainability and to climate change.