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Transport and inequality

An evidence review for the Department for Transport

mind the gap
Published: October 2019

The Department for Transport commissioned NatCen to conduct a rapid evidence assessment on the links between transport and inequality.

Transport options and inequality affect one another. Transport is a route to opportunities including the chance of work or better paid work, while income and wealth have an important effect on the ability to access different types of public and private transport.

 Aims of the study

  • To summarise evidence on the links between transport and socio-economic inequality; the different channels of impact (including whether they are direct or indirect); and indication of the scale of those links.
  • To contribute to the evidence base that can inform the Department’s policies and approach to the spending review and future decisions on social policy.

Key findings

  • Three key underlying factors influence the relationship between transport and inequality:
    • The way people are distributed geographically, and across social classes.
    • The way opportunities are distributed, including jobs and education.
    • How accessible the transport system is, in terms of cost, geographic accessibility and the time and reliability of different transport options.
  • Transport barriers can be intimately related to job opportunities, but in areas of socio-economic disadvantage, even where local transport is available there may be limited educational and job opportunities. Help with transport costs has a key role to play in schemes to promote employment. Transport cost interventions can have high benefit–cost ratios.
  • Cost is a primary obstacle to the use of transport. Income is one of the defining aspects of socio-economic inequality. Transport costs and affordability are central to the impact of transport on inequality. If transport is too expensive, then people are not able to make the journeys they need to get into work or move into education and training that could improve their prospects.
  • The relationship between transport and land use is key, and housing is an area where there are opportunities for multi-stakeholder work to address inequality. A joint approach could involve housing policy that focuses on the best-connected areas offering homes that are genuinely affordable to people on low incomes

Methodology

We conducted a rapid evidence assessment, drawing evidence from academic publications and the websites of organisations working on transport policy. We had structured criteria for inclusion and prioritisation by which we selected 30 studies for data extraction and synthesis.

Download the report