Tackling Transport Poverty: Building Sustainable and Inclusive Networks 

Transportation is an essential aspect of our lives, yet many people face challenges in accessing reliable and affordable options. While fuel costs receive a lot of attention, a wider cause of hardship is a lack of available, affordable or safe options for households to make their everyday journeys by public transport, cycling and walking.  Networks which should enable local travel are frequently broken, or only useable at certain times.  This forces people to rely on cars and private vehicles, with their own associated expenses and vulnerabilities.   

For those without private vehicles, it means organizing their lives around costly, time-consuming, and often unsafe travel choices. These longstanding problems have been further exacerbated by increasing costs of travel and the recent increases in the cost of living.

Transport poverty can be understood as a form of energy poverty, and can interact with domestic fuel poverty. As with other forms of energy poverty, transport fuel costs can exacerbate financial hardship and exclusion. Without suitable alternatives to private vehicles, many households have to prioritise paying for transport fuel to get to work, education and to meet family responsibilities.  

Electrification of transport, while critical for decarbonisation, is likely to bring new challenges for transport and domestic energy poverty. Transport and domestic fuel will merge, raising questions about distribution of costs associated with the increased electricity demand.

Source: RAC Foundation, Transport Price Index

Large proportions of the population of England live in areas at high risk of transport related social exclusion transport. There are substantial geographical inequalities in this risk, with over 30% of the population of the North East, compared to 6.3% of London residents living in such areas.   

Source: Population at high risk of TRSE by region (p.75) in  Transport for the North (2022) – Transport-related social exclusion in the North of England report

The limitations caused by not being able to access transport options have a profound impact on well-being of individuals and families.  They limit access to employment and education, they make caring and family responsibilities difficult to manage, and they restrict people’s ability to meet, to connect and to take part in the activities valuable to them. These impacts can be immediate, affecting day to day life, but the restrictions they create also have far reaching consequences across people’s lives.  

What needs to happen

Walking, cycling, and public transport are vital for a sustainable and inclusive society. However, we must ensure that everyone can access these options through safe and well-connected networks.  

We need to prioritise the following actions: 

  1. Fixing the often very short but critical sections of pedestrian and cycling networks which are impassable or dangerous: 
  • Repair and create safe footways and cycling paths to allow easy movement for everyone. 
  • Implement pedestrian crossings with sufficient time for safe crossing, regardless of walking speed. 
  • Ensure continuous footways and cycleways to avoid forcing pedestrians and cyclists into dangerous road situations. 
  1. Strengthen local public transport services to make them more accessible and convenient:  
  • Offer services that are closer to people’s homes and destinations. 
  • Extend operating hours to cater to early mornings and late evenings. 

Making it Happen

Creating and fixing local transport networks require focus and priority. We need to reevaluate our approach in two ways: 

  1. Rethink how we measure efficiency and impact of fixing broken network links 

We must not ignore broken walking and cycling network links, even if they affect only a few people. Fixing these links can have a major impact reducing transport exclusion for those individuals and contribute to breaking the cycle of car dependence and exclusion. 

  1. Invest more in sustainable modes of transport 

While there’s been progress in promoting active travel and public transport, private motor vehicles still receive the most investment and road space. We should reconsider this imbalance and allocate resources more equitably. 


Addressing transport poverty is within reach if we give it the priority it deserves. By focusing on creating sustainable, safe and inclusive walking and cycling networks and strengthening local public transport, we can create a more accessible and connected society, improving the quality of life for everyone.