Over the last few decades, the social dimension of transport had been receiving little attention in both academic and policy-making circles. More recently, however, there has been a considerable shift of attention towards the relation between social disadvantage and mobility-related disadvantage. In this context, the term “transport poverty” emerged. Despite greater awareness, transport poverty has not been comprehensively described as a concept yet: academia, policy makers and practitioners must still define and understand the full implications of the phenomenon.
Inadequate transport facilities have negative effects on personal mobility. The availability of transport options is vital for access to employment opportunities and basic services related to everyday life. But transport options are also crucial for maintaining social ties and fulfilling social obligations. In the contemporary world increasingly characterised by the expansion of social networks, mobility is key for full participation in society and for a meaningful life.
Transport-related deficiencies affect individuals and groups differently according to various economic, social and cognitive parameters. The socio-economic and socio-demographic positions of individuals, their skills, personal attitudes, perceptions and aspirations are important factors to consider when designing suitable solutions. Equally important, gender is a key, underestimated element affecting transport poverty. Transport access and social inclusion are mutually interdependent, and transport poverty can lie at the root of social exclusion, spurring a vicious cycle that further disadvantages those who already experience difficulties or who are underprivileged in this sense.
Transport poverty is not only experienced differently by social groups that are vulnerable to exclusion. The surrounding environment where they live – i.e. the urban, rural or peri-urban setting – affects both an individual’s transport-related difficulties and social position. Furthermore, spatial and social conditions vary significantly across different – and even within – European member states. Hence, it is important to view transport poverty from this complex local perspective, identifying common elements that produce transport poverty across Europe and outlining joint solutions to eliminate it.