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New research from the University of Oxford's Professor David Banister reveals that we are travelling 5 times further today than we did in 1960. But it is the better-off who are travelling faster and further, leaving the poor in the slow lane and closer to home.

Inequality in Transport

Above: Professor David Banister's new book, Inequality in Transport

In his new book, Inequality in Transport, Professor Banister observes the difference between the travel patterns of the richest 5% and the poorest 5%:

  • The richest 5% make 550 car trips/year and drive 7230 miles/year; the poorest 5%, 200 car trips/year and drive just 1,500 miles/year
  • The richest make 200 walk trips/year and the poorest, 300 walk trips/year
  • The richest make 31 bus trips/year; the poorest, 113 bus trips/year
  • The richest make 50 rail trips/year and travel 1850 miles; the poorest, 14 rail trips/year and travel 356 miles

"The poor make more use of the bus and walk more, while the rich drive and go by train," Professor Banister explains.

"Transport policy and investment do little to alleviate this disparity; in fact, they exacerbate it!"

About 58% of the population have made a rail trip over the last year, and about half of those are regular users, travelling to work by train. The use of rail is heavily concentrated in London and the South East. Users are predominantly the rich.

Banister's research shows that public investment is heavily targeted (52%) towards rail, and only 9% is spent on buses. Rail subsidies account for 45% of expenditure, with bus receiving the other 55%. This means that each household on average receives a transport subsidy of £151, but that the richest 10% receive more than twice as much as the poorest 10%.

In Britain, High Speed Rail (HSR) is also mainly used by the rich, Banister observes:

"The top 20% income groups make 63% of all long-distance HSR journeys and the richest 10% make 10.3 times as much use of HSR as the poorest 10%."

The imbalance is even greater when it comes to air travel: 53% of the population has not flown in previous 12 months, and this figure has been stable over the last 15 years.

"Of the 47% who have flown, most only make one or two return flights. This means that 10% make 60% of all flights, and it is the rich who are flying more. The richest 10% are making 7 times as many flights as the poorest 10%."

There is a double injustice here, Professor Banister says. The poor contribute less to air pollution and climate change - but they are most likely to be impacted by the negative effects and they have no means to seek recompense. International aviation could account for 22% of global CO2 in 2050, and this is mainly contributed by the rich travelling overseas.

"There must be new thinking in transport policy and planning if transport inequalities are to be alleviated."


Professor Banister's research is published in Inequality in Transport.

Praise for Inequality in Transport:

"This book is a tour de force on transport inequality written by one of the transport field's most influential voices. Empirical evidence and cases experiences, from the UK and abroad, link transport inequality to quality of life, climate change, and responsibility to future generations."

Rob Cervero, Professor Emeritus of City and Regional Planning
College of Environmental Design, University of California at Berkeley

"Building upon the work of Piketty and others this book excellently discusses transport inequality, both theoretically and empirically, and links it to concepts such as accessibility, well-being, economic (in)stability and sustainability."

Bert van Wee, Professor of Transport Policy
Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management, Delft University of Technology

"His wide coverage of both the economic and transport inequalities literatures is impressive. In short, he concludes that for transport inequalities to be reduced to socially sustainable and just level requires richer countries and the rich within countries to substantially reduce their travel."

Karen Lucas, Professor of Transport and Social Analysis
Institute of Transport Studies, University of Leeds