Thursday, April 19, 2012

Social Equity and Mobility Management

The Victoria Transport Policy Institute (VTPI) issues two reports that surprised me in terms of making the case for a wholistic view of mobility options in terms of environmental benefits, how people choose travel options, and how different populations - particularly transportation-challenged individuals - bear the impacts of funding decisions and how they advocate for their positions.

In New Social Equity Agenda For Sustainable Transportation VTPI takes aim at conventional transportation/social equity/environmental justice analysis. Comparing discrimination in the South prior to the civil rights movement, the report notes progress, but argues "[t]ransport system discrimination has changed: it results less from race or ethnicity and more from disability and poverty." The report criticizes the proxy use of race for poverty and age for disability status as well as a lack of funding for those who walk, bike or take transit.

Among VTPI's points are:
A major portion of total transport funding is dedicated to roads and parking facilities, and cannot be used for other modes even where demand exists and they are cost effective investments.
Non-drivers as a group receive less than their fair share of transport funding which is unfair (horizontally inequitable).
Wider roads and higher motor vehicle traffic volumes and speeds impose delay, risk, discomfort and pollution on other road users, particularly pedestrians and cyclists.

Since physically, economically and socially disadvantaged people tend to rely heavily on walking, cycling and public transit (or described differently, people who drive less than average tend to be disadvantaged compared with high-annual-mileage motorists), these impacts tend to be regressive (vertically inequitable).
These policies tend to cause automobile-dependency: transport systems and land use patterns which favor automobile access. This provides inferior access for non-drivers, and transport costs on lower-income households (Agrawal 2011).
The report urges those who represent communities of low-income and people with disabilities to shift their perspective.
Environmental justice advocates tend to treat public transit funding as a zero-sum game, which pits interests groups against each other. For example, they sometimes criticize rail transit because it diverts resources from basic bus service. Yet, rail transit funds are often shifted from highway accounts or generated by special new taxes. Cities with high quality rail transit systems tend to have more total public transit, including more bus transit service per capita, than cities that lack rail transit (Litman 2004), and rail transit tends to increase the social status and build political support for alternative modes and supportive land use policies. It is therefore wrong to assume that rail transit investments necessarily harm disadvantaged people. Although it may seem so in the short run, over the long run, rail transit development can be an effective way to create more multi-modal transport systems and accessible land use development.

Mobility Management's Wholistic Perspective for Environmental Decisionmaking

Skipping completely the mobility benefits to transportation-challenged populations and focusing instead on a wide range of factors that affect travel-mode choices of the general population (basically, for those who have choices), the VTPI report Comprehensive Evaluation of Transport Energy Conservation and Emission Reduction Policies finds that mobility management is a more effective method of reducing emissions and saving money than just making vehicles cleaner and more efficient. Included in VTPI's analysis is parking, congestion costs and other factors that contribute to mode selection.

At the heart of the argument is a reluctance to accept that everyone prefers to travel by car all of the time; in essence, VTPI posits that mobility management examines the primacy of auto travel as a reflection of lack of choice rather than preference.

FTA Celebrates Earth Day

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) observes the environmental holiday with a new Earth Day web page devoted to its environmental accomplishments, efforts and even bragging about the fact that almost 90 percent of its own employees travel by transit to get to work each day (I am guessing that among the other 13 percent there are quite a few bikers and some walkers).

Pages linked to the site tout the environmental, health and safety benefits of transit. From fewer transportation accidents in places with higher transit mode share to transit riders' far greater walking in comparison to the general population, the new website demonstrates the outsize contribution of public transportation.

On a personal note, I will be doing a nice amount of traveling in the next few months. Will be sampling transit and streets wherever I go. Hope to be taking many pictures along the way of buses, trains, streets and people.

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