Thinking on Transport/Equity: Selected references

ws-jacobs-mosesWe are inviting comments and background information on this our central concept behind this project, i.e., what is this thing we call transportation equity all about? We are looking for a variety of views and perspectives on our topic and not some kind of warm and glass-eyed unanimity.   For if we cannot handle complexity, contradictions and fuzziness, then we are not about to make headway with this challenge. This first note with references came in from Todd Litman, executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute in Victoria Canada.

Evaluating  transportation equity

- Todd Litman , VTPI, Canada

** A more recent and comprehensive update of this paper has just been published by VTPI and is available here.

It is true that transportation equity can be evaluated in various ways and that special interest groups often use equity concerns to advance their own agenda, but it tends to be an important concern in transport policy and planning decision-making, and there is a good body of literature on transport equity analysis.

There are three major categories of transport equity:

1. Horizontal Equity (also called fairness) is concerned with whether each individual or group is treated equally, assuming that their needs and abilities are comparable. It suggests that people with comparable incomes and needs should receive an equal share of public resources and benefits, and bear an equal burden of public costs. It implies that costs should be borne by users unless a subsidy is specifically justified (i.e., the “user pays principle”).

2. Vertical Equity.  With Regard to Income considers the allocation of costs between different income classes, assuming that public policies should favor people who are economically disadvantaged. Policies that provide a proportionally greater benefit to lower-income groups are called progressive, while those that make lower-income people relatively worse off are called regressive.

3. Vertical Equity With Regard to Mobility Need and Ability considers whether a transportation system provides adequate service to people who have special transportation needs (i.e., they are transportation disadvantaged). It justifies facility design features and special mobility services that provide access to people with disabilities. It suggests that public subsidies should be used to provide Basic Access to transportation disadvantaged people.

Equity analysis is complicated by the fact that there are many types of impacts to consider and people can be grouped in various ways. A particular policy may seem equitable and justified when evaluated one way but not in another. It is therefore important that decision-makers understand these different perspectives and measurement units. I agree with Gabe that road pricing is often portrayed as regressive and therefore inequitable, although it is generally more equitable than other road funding options, particularly if there are good alternatives to driving. This is why most experts argue that a portion of road pricing revenues should be used to improve transport

For more information see:

Anvita Arora and Geetam Tiwari (2007), A Handbook for Socio-economic Impact Assessment (SEIA) of Future Urban Transport (FUT) Projects, Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Program (TRIPP), Indian Institute of Technology (; at

Judith Bell and Larry Cohen (2009), The Transportation Prescription: Bold New Ideas for Healthy, Equitable Transportation Reform in America, PolicyLink and the Prevention Institute Convergence Partnership (

David J. Forkenbrock and Glen E. Weisbrod (2001), Guidebook for Assessing the Social and Economic Effects of Transportation Projects, NCHRP Report 456, Transportation Research Board, National Academy Press (

David Forkenbrock and Jason Sheeley (2004), Effective Methods for Environmental Justice Assessment, National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Report 532, Transportation Research Board (; available at

Todd Litman (2002), “Evaluating Transportation Equity,” World Transport Policy & Practice (, Volume 8, No. 2, Summer, pp. 50-65; revised version at

Todd Litman (2006), You CAN Get There From Here: Evaluating Transportation Diversity, Victoria Transport Policy Institute (; at; originally published as, “You Can Get There From Here: Evaluating Transportation Choice,” Transportation Research Record 1756, TRB (, 2001, pp. 32-41

Todd Litman and Marc Brenman (2011), A New Social Equity Agenda For Sustainable Transportation, Paper 12-3916, Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting (; at

Karen Lucas (2004), Running on Empty: Transport, Social Exclusion and Environmental Justice, Policy Press (

Caroline Rodier, John E. Abraham, Brenda N. Dix and John D. Hunt (2010), Equity Analysis of Land Use and Transport Plans Using an Integrated Spatial Model, Report 09-08, Mineta Transportation Institute (); at

Thomas W. Sanchez, Richard Stolz and Jacinta S. Ma (2003), Moving to Equity: Addressing Inequitable Effects of Transportation Policies on Minorities, The Harvard University Civil Rights Project ( and the Center for Community Change (

K.H. Schaeffer and Elliot Sclar (1980), Access for All, Columbia University Press (New York).

Lisa Schweitzer and Brian Taylor (2008), “Just Pricing: The Distributional Effects Of Congestion Pricing And Sales Taxes,” Transportation, Vol. 35, No. 6, pp. 797–812 (; summarized in “Just Road Pricing,” Access 36 (; Spring 2010, pp. 2-7; at

SDC (2011), Fairness in a Car Dependent Society, Sustainable Development Commission (; at

Jamie E.L. Spinney, Darren M. Scott, and K. Bruce Newbold (2009), “Transport/Mobility Benefits And Quality Of Life: A Time-Use Perspective Of Elderly Canadians,” Transport Policy, Vol. 16, Is. 1, January, Pages 1-11.

TRB (2011), Equity of Evolving Transportation Finance Mechanisms, Special Report 303, Transportation Research Board (; at

Asha Weinstein Agrawal (2011), Getting Around When You’re Just Getting By: The Travel Behavior and Transportation Expenditures of Low-Income Adults, Mineta Transportation Institute (

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About the author:

Todd Litman is  executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, an independent research organization dedicated to developing innovative solutions to transport problems. His work helps to expand the range of impacts and options considered in transportation decision-making, improve evaluation techniques, and make specialized technical concepts accessible to a larger audience. He can be reached at: 1250 Rudlin Street, Victoria, BC, V8V 3R7, Canada. Email:

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3 responses to “Thinking on Transport/Equity: Selected references

  1. Topic needs serious thought First reaction is that most cases of road hierachy and road classification are not equitable, they indirectly promote motorised (and long-distant) transport. We need a new definition of road hierarchy.

  2. Gary Nelson

    Two points:

    1. I was surprised to see no reference to Ivan Illich and his ideas as contained in energy and equity. Mobility is a consumption (of space) that creates inequity. Since spatial consumption is joint, the problem is like that of other common pool resources, and a key issue in equity is conservation of the resource.

    2. The typology of equities is demographic and focused on the attributes of people. When we consider space and its consumption via mobility, geography itself is a basis of equity. specific case is how resources are transferred among places of various geogrpahical attributes. We know that in general resources are transferred out of dense/transit-oriented places to sparse auto-oriented places. The cross-subsidies to low-volume roads is something that would not be tolerated for rail. I conducted one of the few detailed studies (for New York State in 1979) showing the specific cross-transfers by transport program for all the metro areas and the non-metro area. The result is simply that the largest metro areas are sources that drain to all smaller areas. We disinvest in our densest areas. Most of the demogrpahic equity problems follow. This is not to ignore the rural-immobile issue, one that I was quite involved with in past decades when transit demonstration programs attended to the issue.

    • Thanks Gary for mentioning the wonderful and oh so important Ivan Illich and his Energy and Equity. I am glad to say that from the very beginning Illich, his work and in general his overall vision have been keystones in our work in this area –
      As to your second para, I wonder if I might encourage you to elaborate to your taste and if you agree post it as an Op-ed piece on the site in support of our equity work. We need all the help we can find.
      I hope this will work for you and again kindest thanks for pitching in here.

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