Equity in transportation is meeting the goal of providing everyone with the same access to reliable, affordable transport. It is a principle that goes beyond accessibility and equality as it focuses on the bigger picture issues that affect the ability of people to move around freely in their day-to-day lives.

Why is transport equity important?

Achieving true equity in transport is not as easy as merely building a few new bus stops or adding wheelchair ramps to train stations. While these measures are important, transport equity is about looking at the social, economic and regulatory factors that can render people immobile and isolated and, importantly, what all institutions can do to solve these often-embedded systemic and structural issues.

Evaluation of policies, strategies and plans is an important aspect of transport equity. Instead of just number-crunching transport-related stats, equity-focused evaluation poses probing questions, such as who benefits and who suffers as a result of transport decisions and infrastructure.

Put simply, equity in transportation is about justice and participation. It requires deep listening to all citizens, and a commitment to establishing platforms and mechanisms where often marginalised and isolated communities can participate in meaningful co-design of transport decisions and infrastructure.

Bridging the Gap: Automated ramps for inclusive commuting

The gap between a railway station platform and any train represents a major hazard and risk for all passengers boarding and exiting trains. This risk is amplified for mobility device users, people with a disability, the elderly and young children. The risk of slips, trips, falls, entrapment, and injury is ever present. iMOVE’s Railway station platform gap solutions effectiveness project is testing a modular, automatic ramp that can be placed permanently on the platform (or train carriage) and only rise and/or extend when needed.

What is the difference between access and equity?

Equity is the recognition that some people are at a greater disadvantage than others when it comes to accessing transport and mobility. Fairness is the overriding principle.

Access is a more basic concept – it is the capacity people have to physically use transportation services. Principles of improved transport access, such as disability-friendly public transport, improved timetables, modified taxis, and practical routes, are an important part of achieving equity.

However, achieving equity in transportation means addressing issues that go beyond physical infrastructure.

Principles of equity in transportation

The Victoria Transport Policy Institute’s May 2023 Evaluating Transportation Equity report outlined five different types of equity, with the first one being “a fair share of resources”, ensuring fair public resource allocation.

The second type is related to costs. When travel imposes costs on people, such as delays, dangers and pollution, a fair system would minimise or compensate people for these negative effects.

Inclusivity, the third type of equity, needs to be more than a buzzword to be effective. According to the report, inclusivity considers how transport systems serve a range of people with different needs, such as people with disabilities, young people, and the elderly. Meeting this goal “justifies multimodal planning and universal design requirements.”

The subject of gender should also be part of this conversation. Again, commitment to meaningful co-design is critical to inclusivity. There is considerable evidence (see Transport for NSW Safer Cities Survey Report: Perceptions of safety in public spaces and transport hubs across NSW) supporting the fact that making public transport and surrounding precincts safe for women and girls will significantly increase equity and patronage.

The institute found that affordability, the fourth type of equity, is important for considering the impact of transportation costs on lower-income people, advocating progressive policies to favour this group. Meeting this goal “justifies policies that improve affordable modes and subsidize low-income travellers.”

Social justice was the fifth type of transportation equity cited in the report. This is where the ways transport systems serve underserved and disadvantaged groups across society and aims to address the big structural issues that affect access, such as sexism and racism.

How to identify inequity in transportation

A number of metrics and methods can be used to identify inequity in transportation. Identifying these inequities is a good starting point for prioritising actions that need to be taken.

Surveys and interviews with people from a range of communities and groups – particularly those who are underserved for transport, are on low incomes or have accessibility needs that are not always met – is a good starting point. Surveys of experts are also valuable.

Surveys of experts are also valuable. The 2022 study, Active transport research priorities for Australia, for example, collected information from representatives from government, academic, the private sector and not-for-profit organisations. It focused on evidence-based policy suggestions to achieve a range of equity-related goals, such as overcoming community resistance to active transport infrastructure, road space reallocation, and meeting the transport needs of children.

Data, such as how long it takes people to get to work, school or important services, such as medical facilities, as well as transportation costs, frequency of services, range of available transport options, the extent of car and taxi usage, and the number of disabled parking spaces, are all useful for identifying where improvements need to be made.

Effectively analysing data is important for breaking down access and equity barriers too. This is where patterns can be identified, such as public transport dead zones linked to areas where there is greater deprivation. Then, a process of improvement can begin, which looks at bigger issues, such as alleviating poverty and creating local jobs, as well as transport infrastructure development.

As addressing infrastructure issues is an important part of achieving transportation equity, evaluating the physical layout of an area’s transport systems, footpaths, cycleways, and even lighting, will help identify areas for improvement. An infrastructure examination can help with planning extended bus routes and rail services, improving timetables, ensuring sufficient disabled parking spaces, and addressing safety issues, such as a lack of well-lit footpaths and walkways or high-quality bike lanes.

Transport policy analysis is another way to identify and address inequity. Government police can have an impact on who can access transportation, how much it costs, and what disadvantages are created by policies that neglect vulnerable groups, such as disabled and elderly people. Policies that favour car ownership over encouraging public transport use, for example, will have a negative impact on people who do not own cars or cannot drive.

The future of equity in transportation

Creating true equity in transportation by adhering to these principles and meeting these far-reaching goals is the responsibility of all stakeholders.

For example, engineers have a vital role to play – Engineer Australia’s January 2023 Future of Transport discussion paper makes the point that “while applying a lens of sustainable development, resilience and focusing on equity and inclusivity is particularly important given the changing nature of transport modes and society’s transport and mobility preferences.” The paper calls for more investment in meeting access and equity goals, and making equity a bigger priority.

“A greater focus is needed on equity and inclusion, moving to a whole of journey perspective (both movement and place) and helping to increase society’s health and wellbeing,” the paper concludes.

Transport equity helps to achieve other important outcomes, such as zero emissions. This is because greater public transport patronage supports mode shift from cars, and helps to reduce car dependency.

How to provide equity in transportation

Equity in transportation is best demonstrated through real-world examples of success stories.

In the Illinois city of Peoria and its Moving Toward Transportation Equity: A Case Study, transportation officials worked with the University of Illinois to investigate more equitable models for transport investment. The 2020 project helped understand local transportation equity issues, look at other transportation successes in the US, and develop three equity-based prioritisation tools to better direct investment so it addressed concerns, such as long-neglected geographic areas.

Instead of just adding infrastructure without any real consideration for addressing equity issues, Peoria has adopted an investment plan where environmental concerns, multi-modal transport options, economic development goals, historic disinvestment patterns, and public health and safety are all taken into consideration.

As a result, Peoria’s transport investment has included measures to improve air quality, ensuring footpaths and public walkways are safe and accessible, practical and extensive bike routes, improved timetables, redirecting public transport funds to historically deprived neighbourhoods and areas where jobs are being created, and improving transport infrastructure in the same areas where utilities are being upgraded, for overall improvement of neighbourhoods. Even improving transport options for areas where fresh food is more readily available has become an investment priority, because of far-reaching transport access and public health benefits.

In Singapore, RMIT led a study (Equitable Public Bus Network Optimization for Social Good: A Case Study of Singapore) into equity-driven improvements to the city state’s bus services. To fully leverage the benefits of bus transportation, such as reduced pollution and congestion, and increased mobility for people in disadvantaged areas, the study examined ways to combine efficiency with meeting equity aims. The gold standard for bus transport was for it to be as close as possible to the distance travelled if the journey was taken by car, with reduced passenger waiting times and transfers.

The study compared bus services in areas with different demographics and different income levels and developed 90 new routes to improve access to transport for disadvantaged people. By taking equity into account and making bus journey times and distances as close as possible to car journeys, the benefits go beyond access and have a positive impact on economic and environmental outcomes.

What is the impact of transport equity?

Achieving transport equity can result in a range of benefits and costs. Ultimately, the most successful equity projects provide a positive return on investment and improve the lives of a large number of disadvantaged people.

The 2021 International Encyclopedia of Transportation says: “Transportation equity is a way to frame distributive justice concerns in relation to how social, economic and government institutions shape the distribution of transportation benefits and burdens in society. It focuses on the evaluative standards used to judge the outcomes of policies and plans, asking who benefits from and is burdened by them and to what extent.”

The so-called burdens can include increased costs, such as taxes or road tolls, aesthetic impact of new transport infrastructure, or additional enforcement costs if new regulations are required. However, if the positive impacts are achieved, such as improving access to employment opportunities, cleaner air, reduced road traffic accidents, and better access to services for people with disabilities, equity-focused investment in transportation is worthwhile.

Careers in transport equity

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in this area of transport, our interview series Meet Smart Mobility Experts could help guide you.

In this series we interview a number of researchers, practitioners, department of transport executives and more. Amongst other things we cover their academic background, research activity, career progression, and more.

Transport equity resources

Here’s a selection of Australian strategy and project documents on the topic of transport planning.

Transport equity: Facts and figures

Community transport

  • There is an increased prevalence or risk of experiencing transport disadvantage among certain subgroups of the population. Older people, people living with disability, and people living outside major cities are more likely to experience poor transport provision and economic exclusion. Many people will also fall into combinations of these categories and have particularly complex needs or be more likely to experience compounding disadvantages.
  • The challenges associated with transport disadvantage are set to grow significantly in the coming decade, particularly because of an ageing population and consequent increases in people with complex needs that require assistance to travel.
  • Community transport delivers an estimated $8 to $40 in social value per $1 invested.
  • An ABS General Social Survey found that most Australians aged 18 years or over (84%) felt that they could easily get to places where they needed to go. This likely reflects, at least in part, high levels of private vehicle ownership in Australia, with 87% and 84% of households reported owning at least one vehicle in 2010 and 2016 respectively. However, there are many Australians who have difficulty accessing transport for a variety of reasons. That same survey found that 12% of respondents felt that they sometimes had difficulty getting to places where they needed to go, and 4% felt that they either could not get to the places they needed to go or often had difficulties in doing so.
  • A year 2000 study identified seven categories of exclusion connected to transport: Physical exclusion, geographical exclusion, exclusion from facilities, economic exclusion, time-based exclusion, fear-based exclusion, and security and space management exclusion.
  • In 2020, the Commissioner for Senior Victorians published a report which found that 92% of older people rated personal mobility as critical to health, social wellbeing and independence. Being able to get around was seen as a major determinant of quality of life.
  • Around 5,600 people aged under 65 living with disability are in permanent residential aged care and 93% face limitations relating to transport, including having limited access to mass transport.
  • 2014 research on transport in remote Australia also highlights the combined challenges of geographic exclusion, lack of transport access and costs. This indicated that “for people who do not have access to public or private motorised vehicles, combined annual costs are $4,000–$7,000 higher” per person for transport for people living in remote communities in Australia compared to those in non-remote areas.

Source: Community transport: Defining the problems, fixing the future

Women in the transport workforce

  • Australia’s transport workforce has been primarily male for many years. Despite the industry experiencing strong employment growth in the last decade, just 27.4 % 21 of employees in the wider transport industry in 2021 are female and the gender composition of the workforce, while there has been some shift in the last three years (up from 20.9% in 2018), it has been largely unchanged for decades.
  • According to the 2020 Teletrac Navman report, women are working in four main areas of air (38%), road (47.1%), rail (35.1%) and bus (8.3%) and most work in large businesses in the private sector (58.5%). Currently, 3% of commercial pilots and less than 1% of aircraft engineers worldwide are women.
  • While pay scales have improved over time, at 15.9% the gender pay gap in transport is higher than the national average (13.9%). Just 4.5% of CEOs in transport are women (compared to 20% across all sectors).
  • The World Economic Forum’s 2015 report noted that Asia and the Pacific loses $42-$47 billion annually as a region because of women’s limited access to employment opportunities.
  • A 2018 study by Boston Consulting Group found that companies with above-average diversity within their management teams meant a 19% boost to innovation revenue.
  • Projections by KPMG indicate that if Australia could halve its gender participation gap, our annual GDP would increase by $60 billion in just 20 years.
  • The McKinsey and Company 2017 Women Matter report also builds the argument for more women in key decision -making positions – to deliver better company performance, greater productivity, and improved profitability.

Source: Barriers to women entering and progressing in transport roles

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What is iMOVE doing in the area of transport equity?

iMOVE and its partners are undertaking numerous projects that address the area of transport equity. Here’s a few highlights.


Frictionless ticketing for public transport accessibility – an exploration of new and emerging technologies that can offer a true frictionless ticketing experience for public transport customers with disabilities across multiple modes.

Accessibility guidelines for LZEV charging infrastructure – charging a Low and Zero Emission vehicle should be easy for all users, including people with disabilities and older people. This project will develop guidelines for Low and Zero Emission Vehicle charging infrastructure by comparing best practices and collaborating with people with disability and industry.

New/emerging transport tech: Greater accessibility and inclusivity – this project will highlight common barriers to transport accessibility and inclusivity across economies while noting any issues unique to particular Asia-Pacific economies, identifing opportunities to overcome these barriers through the use of new and emerging transport technologies.

Railway station platform gap solutions effectiveness – this project will provide a fact base to recognise the problem of gap between a railways station platform and the train and the hazard it presents, as well as a pathway to a solution by testing proof of concept prototype/s.


Workforce implications of transport digitalisation and automation – this aims to develop a deeper understanding of the workforce implications resulting from the digitalisation, and automation of transport in the context of the Australian market.

Government initiatives to support women in the transport sector – identifying the barriers to women entering and progressing within the transport sector, undertaking an audit of and assess initiatives at all levels of government that foster and support women in the transport sector, and evaluating any gaps identified in existing initiatives.


Community transport: Defining the problems, fixing the future – an investigation of the systemic issues, opportunities, and barriers for overcoming transport disadvantage and enhancing community transport in Australia, with a view toward forming future policy, funding, and service delivery ecosystems.

What impact iMOVE is having in the area of transport equity?

iMOVE’s mission is to advance the development and adoption of technologies that will improve Australia’s transport systems, through high impact R&D collaborations.

Additionally, we’re readying Australia’s next generations of experts and practitioners to help plan Australia’s transport via our Undergraduate Student Industry and Industry PhD programs.

Contact iMOVE

If you’d like to talk to us about any R&D work in the area of transport equity please get in touch with us to start a discussion.

iMOVE transport equity projects

iMOVE, along with its partners, is active in carrying out R&D to plan Australia’s transport future.

Please find below the three latest transport equity projects. Or click to view all iMOVE’s transport equity projects.


iMOVE transport equity PhD projects

In addition to iMOVE and its partners’ transport equity projects listed above, as part of our Industry PhD Program businesses, universities and PhD students work on an agreed topic over a three-year period.

These are the three most recent PhD projects that have been undertaken on the topic of transport equity. Click to view all iMOVE’s transport equity PhD projects.


iMOVE transport equity articles

In addition to projects, iMOVE also publishes articles, thoughtpieces, case studies, etc. that cover the many issues and solutions around transport equity.

Below are the three most recent articles. Or click to view all iMOVE’s transport equity articles.