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Fairness in transport policy: A new approach to applying distributive justice theories

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journal contribution
posted on 01.02.2021, 01:43 by E Randal, C Shaw, A Woodward, P Howden-Chapman, A Macmillan, J Hosking, Ralph Chapman, AM Waa, M Keall
© 2020 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. The transport system influences everyone’s wellbeing on a daily basis. These impacts are both positive and negative and are borne directly and indirectly at a range of spatial and temporal scales and across different groups in society. Furthermore, they are often distributed unfairly and the people who are least able to use transport networks frequently bear the greatest costs. People also have various transport needs and these needs change throughout their lives. Due to these complexities, there is no straightforward answer as to how we should provide transport fairly. Policies and actions to decarbonise the transport system are urgently needed, but their equity effects are also important. We give a brief overview of distributive justice and equity in transport literature. We then develop a conceptual framework of distributive justice and a set of four principles to guide the application of the framework to transport policy. We then apply these to recent transport policies in Aotearoa/New Zealand, a country that shares common features with most highly motorised countries. We apply the Capabilities Approach to transport policy in a novel way that conceptualises transport policy as a social conversion factor which influences people’s ability to convert resources and opportunities into the things (‘beings and doings’) that they have reason to value. The consideration of transport policy as a conversion factor, rather than focusing on a specific capability, emphasises the role of transport policy as a promoter of a wide range of capabilities and highlights the inequitable distribution of positive and negative effects on people’s health and wellbeing. It also illuminates issues of power structures and procedural fairness in transport policy that are otherwise not covered by distributive justice approaches. Taking a broader view of distributive justice theory in transport provides a clearer picture of the impacts of transport on wellbeing and provides theory-based guidance on the actions to improve transport justice that can be readily integrated into existing policy institutions.


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Randal, E., Shaw, C., Woodward, A., Howden-Chapman, P., Macmillan, A., Hosking, J., Chapman, R., Waa, A. M. & Keall, M. (2020). Fairness in transport policy: A new approach to applying distributive justice theories. Sustainability (Switzerland), 12(23), 1-21. https://doi.org/10.3390/su122310102

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Sustainability (Switzerland)





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