Transport poverty is a problem for every layer of the population

Transport poverty is a problem for every layer of the population

Mobility and spatial planning should be better geared to one another

Mobiel 21 and Netwerk Duurzame Mobiliteit (Network Sustainable Mobility), with researchers from the University of Ghent and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, have investigated the underlying factors of transport poverty. Transport poverty occurs when people cannot fully participate in society because of limited mobility. Based on the results, the researchers drew up five profiles of less mobile people in Belgium, each with their own characteristics, behaviour and degree of transport poverty, and identified possible measures to combat the issue. Koos Fransen, researcher at VUB and UGent: “The fact that transport poverty is a problem with many faces also means there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Being aware that there is such a thing as transport poverty and ensuring, through effective policy choices, that everyone gets to where they need to be is therefore a very important step towards breaking through this form of exclusion.

Results of the study

More than 900 people who do not travel an average of two days a week completed an extensive questionnaire. On the basis of socio-demographic characteristics, spatial characteristics and mobility behaviour, the researchers described five profiles of less mobile population groups:

  • 1. Mobile elderly (31.28%): highly educated older people with a car and a bicycle
  • 2. Young starters (22.84%): young urbanites with a lower income and a bicycle but no car
  • 3. City dwellers dependent on public transport (13.74%): low-educated city dwellers with poor physical health and no bicycle or car
  • 4. Suburban car-dependent residents (13.42%): older people with an average education and a car but no bicycle
  • 5. Rural elderly (18.51%): low-educated elderly who live in the countryside with a car and a bicycle

Not all respondents can be considered to be in transport poverty. For example, the mainly highly educated respondents in the ‘mobile elderly’ group have access to a car and a bicycle, and as such might choose to travel infrequently. Nevertheless, there are some characteristics that often recur across the profiles: for instance, there is a strong correlation between level of education, physical health, place of residence, car and bicycle ownership and employment, and the extent to which a person can be considered transport-limited. Fransen: “Here, a functioning social network is particularly important. Without such a network, social exclusion increases and creates a reinforcing and vicious effect. Almost 20% of the respondents indicate that they have difficulty in asking family, friends, acquaintances or neighbours for help.

Recommendation: coordinate mobility and public transport

As a general policy measure, the researchers note that well-functioning public transport is very important. Fransen: “Three out of 10 respondents indicated that they depend on public transport to get around. In the questions about the Covid-19 situation, this effect appears to be even stronger. For example, one in five cannot buy high-quality food without public transport. Moreover, one in three is more dependent on others if he or she cannot use public transport.

Cycling also has great potential to combat transport poverty, especially in cities where the distance to activities and services is shorter. Here we see that 16% cannot cycle and that 30% do not have a bicycle. This clearly limits smoother and more qualitative mobility.

The study therefore formulates two recommendations to tackle transport poverty in a more targeted way:

  • 1. Policy measures are best tailored to each profile. Not all mobility measures are equally effective for each of the five profiles. For example, free or cheap public transport is not a solution when the offer does not meet the mobility demand, while better and safer bicycle paths are not an immediate solution for people with poor physical health.
  • 2. Mobility and spatial planning cannot be viewed separately. They should therefore be coordinated with each other.

Fransen: “The solution does not necessarily lie in offering more mobility, but also in thinking about smart spatial planning and facilitating basic functions in the vicinity of places of residence.”

Anke Bracke, researcher at Mobiel 21, adds: “Transport poverty is a problem with many sides that is still too little understood. A lot of people, in the countryside as well as in cities, are faced with it. However, there is insufficient knowledge about the factors that fuel the problem. The great merit of this new research is that it distinguishes five clear profiles of people who are transport-poor in one way or another. Policymakers therefore have a solid base to develop practical solutions for various target groups for an inclusive and fairer mobility policy.”

The complete report can be downloaded here.


Koos Fransen

[email protected]



Anke Bracke

[email protected]

0495 45 06 15

About Press - Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Vrije Universiteit Brussel is an internationally oriented university in Brussels, the heart of Europe. By providing excellent research and education on a human scale, VUB wants to make an active and committed contribution to a better society.

The World Needs You

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel assumes its scientific and social responsibility with love and decisiveness. That’s why VUB launched the platform De Wereld Heeft Je Nodig – The World Needs You, which brings together ideas, actions and projects based on six Ps. The first P stands for People, because that’s what it’s all about: giving people equal opportunities, prosperity, welfare, respect. Peace is about fighting injustice, big and small, in the world. Prosperity combats poverty and inequality. Planet stands for actions on biodiversity, climate, air quality, animal rights... With Partnership, VUB is looking for joint actions to make the world a better place. The sixth and last P is for Poincaré, the French philosopher Henri Poincaré, from whom VUB derives its motto that thinking should submit to nothing except the facts themselves. VUB is an ‘urban engaged university’, strongly anchored in Brussels and Europe and working according to the principles of free research.


Press - Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Pleinlaan 2
1050 Brussel