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Young, old and poor pay disproportionate price for car journeys made by others

21 March 2011

Our car dependency in the UK is contributing to substantial and persistent inequalities. Whilst people have benefited from the availability and affordability of car travel for instance by accessing a wide range of education and employment opportunities and goods and services these freedoms have been obtained at a substantial price, and one that falls most heavily on the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Our society has become hard-wired to increasing levels of car dependency so much so that many services are now based on the assumption that users will access them by car so people who do not drive or cannot afford to drive find themselves increasingly trapped in a car-dependent world, unable to participate in the benefits, but forced to endure its costs..

Some of society’s most vulnerable groups – including children, the elderly and people in low-income groups – are most likely to be affected by the negative effects of increased road traffic in the UK, while having least access to transport themselves, according to a new report by the Sustainable Development Commission. The Commission is calling on the Government to re-prioritise its transport policy to put fairness at the heart of decision-making.

Fairness in a Car Dependent Society, published today 21st March 2011, finds that vulnerable groups not only travel less than other people, they carry a greater burden of the costs of other people’s travel, including air pollution, noise, traffic danger, injury and crime. Other findings include:

  • The richest 10 per cent of the population benefit from receive four times as much public spending on transport as the poorest 10 per cent
  • Children of the lowest socioeconomic groups are up to 28 times more likely to be killed on the roads than those of the top socioeconomic group
  • The most common cause of death for children aged 5-14 years is being hit by a vehicle
  • Those in the top income quintile travel two and half times as far as those in the bottom income quintile and three times as far by car.
  • In the lowest income quintile, less than half of adults hold a driving licence and less than half of households have a car whilst half of all households in the highest income quintile have two or more cars. For those claiming income support or jobseeker’s allowance, car access figures are even lower – almost two thirds do not have access to a car and a licence to drive it
  • Car owners in the lowest income quintile spend 25 per cent of total household expenditure on motoring (by comparison spending 10 per cent of income on household energy bills is defined as ‘fuel poverty) People living in rural areas now see car ownership as a necessity and around 90 per cent of households have at least one car. The cost of motoring was found to account for 60 to 100 per cent of the additional income calculated as being required for rural dwellers to meet a minimum socially acceptable standard of living commensurate with urban dwellers
  • SDC estimate that the total cost of our level of car dependency significantly exceeds the £48 billion per annum in taxes and charges on UK road users.

The report is recommending a new approach to transport policy in line with the Coalition Government’s commitment to fairness as one of its three guiding principles. The Commission’s recommendations centre on its Transport Hierarchy for policy makers, calling on policy-makers to prioritise reducing the demand for transport; encouraging more sustainable modes of transport and improving the efficiency of existing modes of transport over increasing the capacity of the transport system.

Commissioner Tess Gill said:

"Road travel has widened the choice of jobs and opportunities available to many people, liberating them from the constraints of the past. At the same time, it has greatly increased levels of air pollution, noise, and injuries, with some of the most vulnerable people in society suffering the worst impacts without getting many of the benefits of travelling. Sustainable transport policies which recognise the role of the car in a more balanced transport mix would benefit everyone, including motorists by offering people a wider range of real transport choices. However, this report sets out the costs associated with our car dependency, and how we can ensure that the decisions we make about future transport priorities help minimise the negative impacts on everyone. A new approach to national transport policy is needed which achieves a better balance between potentially conflicting rights and freedoms in a way that is equitable for both this and future generations and, which respects environmental limits. This approach must recognise that transport issues are not purely issues for travellers."

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