Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Thinking on Equity/Transport: Todd Litman, Canada

We are inviting comments and background information on this our central concept behind this project, i.e., what is this thing we call transportation equity all about? We are looking for a variety of views and perspectives on our topic and not some kind of warm and glass-eyed unanimity.   If we cannot handle contradictions and fuzziness, then we are not about to make headway with this one. This first note comes in from Todd Litman executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute in Victoria Canada.

Evaluating  transportation equity

- Todd Litman , VTPI, Canada

It is true that transportation equity can be evaluated in various ways and
that special interest groups often use equity concerns to advance their own
agenda, but it tends to be an important concern in transport policy and
planning decision-making, and there is a good body of literature on
transport equity analysis.

There are three major categories of transport equity:

1. Horizontal Equity (also called fairness) is concerned with whether
each individual or group is treated equally, assuming that their needs and
abilities are comparable. It suggests that people with comparable incomes
and needs should receive an equal share of public resources and benefits,
and bear an equal burden of public costs. It implies that costs should be
borne by users unless a subsidy is specifically justified (i.e., the “user
pays principle”).

2. Vertical Equity.  With Regard to Income considers the allocation of
costs between different income classes, assuming that public policies should
favor people who are economically disadvantaged. Policies that provide a
proportionally greater benefit to lower-income groups are called
progressive, while those that make lower-income people relatively worse off
are called regressive.

3. Vertical Equity With Regard to Mobility Need and Ability considers
whether a transportation system provides adequate service to people who have
special transportation needs (i.e., they are transportation disadvantaged).
It justifies facility design features and special mobility services that
provide access to people with disabilities. It suggests that public
subsidies should be used to provide Basic Access to transportation
disadvantaged people.

Equity analysis is complicated by the fact that there are many types of
impacts to consider and people can be grouped in various ways. A particular
policy may seem equitable and justified when evaluated one way but not in
another. It is therefore important that decision-makers understand these
different perspectives and measurement units. I agree with Gabe that road
pricing is often portrayed as regressive and therefore inequitable, although
it is generally more equitable than other road funding options, particularly
if there are good alternatives to driving. This is why most experts argue
that a portion of road pricing revenues should be used to improve transport

For more information see:

Anvita Arora and Geetam Tiwari (2007), A Handbook for Socio-economic Impact Assessment (SEIA) of Future Urban Transport (FUT) Projects, Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Program (TRIPP), Indian Institute of Technology (; at

Judith Bell and Larry Cohen (2009), The Transportation Prescription: Bold
New Ideas for Healthy, Equitable Transportation Reform in America,
PolicyLink and the Prevention Institute Convergence Partnership

David J. Forkenbrock and Glen E. Weisbrod (2001), Guidebook for Assessing
the Social and Economic Effects of Transportation Projects, NCHRP Report
456, Transportation Research Board, National Academy Press (

David Forkenbrock and Jason Sheeley (2004), Effective Methods for
Environmental Justice Assessment, National Cooperative Highway Research
Program (NCHRP) Report 532, Transportation Research Board (;
available at

Todd Litman (2002), “Evaluating Transportation Equity,” World Transport
Policy & Practice (, Volume 8, No. 2,
Summer, pp. 50-65; revised version at

Todd Litman (2006), You CAN Get There From Here: Evaluating Transportation Diversity, Victoria Transport Policy Institute (; at; originally published as, “You Can Get There From
Here: Evaluating Transportation Choice,” Transportation Research Record
1756, TRB (, 2001, pp. 32-41

Todd Litman and Marc Brenman (2011), A New Social Equity Agenda For
Sustainable Transportation, Paper 12-3916, Transportation Research Board
Annual Meeting (; at

Karen Lucas (2004), Running on Empty: Transport, Social Exclusion and
Environmental Justice, Policy Press (

Caroline Rodier, John E. Abraham, Brenda N. Dix and John D. Hunt (2010),
Equity Analysis of Land Use and Transport Plans Using an Integrated Spatial
Model, Report 09-08, Mineta Transportation Institute
(; at

Thomas W. Sanchez, Richard Stolz and Jacinta S. Ma (2003), Moving to Equity:
Addressing Inequitable Effects of Transportation Policies on Minorities, The
Harvard University Civil Rights Project (
and the Center for Community Change (

K.H. Schaeffer and Elliot Sclar (1980), Access for All, Columbia University
Press (New York).

Lisa Schweitzer and Brian Taylor (2008), “Just Pricing: The Distributional
Effects Of Congestion Pricing And Sales Taxes,” Transportation, Vol. 35, No.
6, pp. 797–812 (; summarized in “Just Road Pricing,” Access 36 (; Spring 2010, pp. 2-7; at

SDC (2011), Fairness in a Car Dependent Society, Sustainable Development
Commission (; at

Jamie E.L. Spinney, Darren M. Scott, and K. Bruce Newbold (2009), “Transport
Mobility Benefits And Quality Of Life: A Time-Use Perspective Of Elderly
Canadians,” Transport Policy, Vol. 16, Is. 1, January, Pages 1-11.

TRB (2011), Equity of Evolving Transportation Finance Mechanisms, Special
Report 303, Transportation Research Board (; at

Asha Weinstein Agrawal (2011), Getting Around When You’re Just Getting By:
The Travel Behavior and Transportation Expenditures of Low-Income Adults,
Mineta Transportation Institute (; at

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About the author:

Todd Litman is  executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, an independent research organization dedicated to developing innovative solutions to transport problems. His work helps to expand the range of impacts and options considered in transportation decision-making, improve evaluation techniques, and make specialized technical concepts accessible to a larger audience. He can be reached at: 1250 Rudlin Street, Victoria, BC, V8V 3R7, Canada. Email:

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