Rural areas hardest hit by transport poverty

A new report by the Social Market Foundation has revealed the extent of the financial burden transport costs is putting on rural communities.

The research carried out as part of Getting the measure of transport poverty aimed to find a way to measure the rural/urban divide.  The report says: “as the single largest cost for millions of households across the UK, understanding the financial burden of transport is critical to decreasing poverty. Yet, unlike for energy or housing, there is no metric in place to track the cost and accessibility of transport. This report seeks to fill that gap by developing a measure to demonstrate the causes, locations, and depths of transport poverty.”

In rural communities, transport is the single largest household expense (excluding mortgage repayments) whilst in urban families, it is the second largest expenditure. As such, the report says that transport costs contribute significantly to poverty in rural areas, pushing over 5 million people, or 8% of the population nationally, into poverty.  Findings show that this is worst in the North East with 12.5% of people likely to suffer from transport poverty, compared to only 3.5% of people in London.

The report goes onto say that the average car journey in the UK costs £6.20, compared to just £2.41 for the average single bus fare.  Furthermore, unlike bus fares which are generally a flat rate, driving for longer or further means people pay more in fuel costs.  This is especially true in rural areas; the figures show that while the per mile costs of driving a long journey are cheaper than a short journey due to fuel efficiency, those in areas which must consistently drive longer distances tend to spend more annually.  The report says:

“For rural villages whose inhabitants have to travel longer distances and where public transport is less available, the share of car trips increases to 72%, and average transport costs rise to £9,200. Here, motoring costs constitute 96% of overall transport expenditure, with the remainder split between bus (1.9%) and rail (1.7%).”

Public transport options, or a lack of, are also cited as a reason for transport poverty. The report says

“A lack of public transport options forces households into paying high costs for motoring. For every 10% decrease in public transport speed relative to motoring in any area, the average household pays over £400 more for transport each year. This also tends to affect the most vulnerable populations who are particularly impacted by transport inaccessibility, including women, the elderly, and the disabled. As public transport lines are cut or rendered unreliable, more households will be forced to pay high motoring fees to reach their destinations.”

It goes on to make a series of recommendations to the government to address the inequalities:

  • Adopt, refine, and report on our metric to track the geographic and demographic distribution of transport poverty and use its findings to target policy interventions.
  • Recognise that freezes to fuel duty have failed to decrease transport poverty and allow the rate of fuel duty to rise or replace it with road pricing mechanisms.
  • Develop a credible public transport plan to be implemented in such a way as to mitigate existing transport poverty by enabling a shift in transport modes for travellers.
  • Introduce policies to increase access for electric vehicles.

You can read the report in full here.


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