Putting Transport Poverty on the Map

transport poverty map

9% of UK households suffer from the transport equivalent of fuel poverty. New research from the Institute for Transport Studies – working with the DEMAND Centre – highlights the problem of transport affordability and transport poverty in the UK. The (t)ERES project examines how many households struggle with the cost of motoring, and who these households are, writes Giulio Mattioli.

What is transport poverty?

As with fuel poverty (where high energy costs and low income mean many people are unable to heat their homes adequately) transport poverty means that those unable to run a car or access/afford public transport struggle to access work and social opportunities. However unlike fuel poverty, transport poverty is not an officially defined problem and has a more complex range of factors acting upon how it arises. The (t)ERES team argue for a more joined-up approach where domestic and transport issues are considered as a whole rather than in isolated segments.

Transport affordability currently does not attract as much policy and research attention as fuel poverty, But many households spend large amounts on motoring, and they clearly make spending decisions about transport and domestic energy based on what they can afford, and what they need to do without. Sometimes this means trading-off between the two.

Analysing the data

Car-related economic stress is rooted in a number of social factors. To properly understand this, we have analysed data from household expenditure and material deprivation surveys. But affordability is also heavily linked to geographical location, so we have been working with MOT and accessibility statistics to map areas of the UK where transport poverty is particularly rife (see figure below).  

transport poverty

Our findings show that certain specific types of households (for example, the working poor and households ‘on the edges of social exclusion’) and certain geographical regions in the UK are at higher risk. Vulnerable areas experience low income, high fuel expenditure (relative to local average income), and low availability of public transport or the possibility of walking. Rural and semi-rural areas, often in the north of England are particularly affected. But poorer city regions, like Birmingham, are also vulnerable.

Addressing the problem

As to how the problem can be practically addressed, any long-term solution would require reducing our reliance on expensive car-based mobility for accessing work and services. In the meantime, we should try not to make things worse. We have seen a lot of cuts to subsidies of local public transport since 2010. This could be deepening existing problems around car dependence and the attendant economic problems. A lot of public investment is made in providing public transport free to senior citizens, regardless of their income. These resources could possibly be better redirected toward the ‘transport poor’ groups, including those with car-related economic problems.

The findings of the project, along with some policy suggestions, are outlined in a new ‘Research Insight’ briefing available from the DEMAND Centre website. In addition, a Special Issue of the journal ‘Transport Policy’ has been produced around the projects themes which will be accessible here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/aip/0967070X


The (t)ERES project (full title: ‘Energy-related economic stress in the UK, at the interface between transport, housing and fuel poverty’) is one of nine ‘working with centres’ projects that were funded in 2014 to allow researchers not already working in the existing EUED Centres infrastructure to carry out new research aligned to the Centres. (t)ERES runs for 18 months between 2014 and 2016.

 For more information contact Giulio Mattioli G.Mattioli@leeds.ac.uk