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Partnership identifies key reasons for transport poverty

Deniz Huseyin
25 January 2024


The absence of available, reliable, affordable, accessible and safe transport options can contribute to health inequalities for people on low incomes, those living in rural areas, women and disabled people, says a new report.

“Transport plays a vital role in our health and wellbeing,” says the Public Health and Sustainable Transport Partnership Group, hosted by Public Health Scotland. “It provides links to education and employment, to social connections, to affordable and quality nutrition, and to leisure activities.”

The current public transport system is primarily geared towards regular commuting patterns, says the new briefing on transport poverty. “Routes are often between urban centres and the suburbs, and timetables are built around daytime peak-hour commutes,” it notes. “These often do not adequately cover unsocial hours, shift work patterns, or cater for out-of-town work.”

Women, disabled people and those in low income groups are particularly affected by infrastructure that does not connect people with key destinations or is designed without accessibility adjustments or safety measures, the report states. This can include an absence of adequate lighting or segregation between modes.

Similarly, timetabling that results in infrequent services or lack of services at particular times of the day can limit the use of public transport, it adds.

Lack of staff with the skills and capacity to support travellers can also influence the accessibility and perceptions of safety, according to the study.

These issues can impact on the ability of people with disadvantages to attend appointments. “For example, missed appointments with the immigration or legal service and failure to attend mandatory meetings for employment support can impact social security payments, and missed contact meetings with children can have implications for family relationships.”

The group points to a report by the Poverty Alliance showing that appointments are often fixed and inflexible, resulting in unavoidable high travel costs.

From its review of the literature and talking with stakeholders in Scotland, the group identified five issues at the heart of transport poverty:

  • Available: Transport options connect people, at the required times and frequency, to the services and opportunities necessary to meet their daily needs and maintain a reasonable quality of life without excessive travel time.
  • Reliable: Transport options are sufficiently reliable to enable individuals to feel confident they can reach destinations at the required time.
  • Affordable: The necessary weekly amount spent on transport does not leave the household in financial hardship.
  • Accessible: Transport options meet everybody’s physical, sensory, mobility, cognitive and mental health needs.
  • Safe: The travel conditions are safe and healthy.

Ruth Glassborow, Director of Place and Wellbeing at Public Health Scotland, said: “Working with key stakeholders, the Public Health and Sustainable Transport Partnership Group has developed both a working definition of transport poverty, and a model describing the main causes and the ways in which it influences health and health inequalities.

“By encouraging stakeholders from all sectors to adopt the definition and use the model to monitor, evaluate and inform actions in their own area, we can reduce transport poverty in Scotland.”

Transport Poverty – A Public Health Issue


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