Equity VS Sustainability: An ongoing trade-Off

7 April 2021

In episode 2 of our podcast, we looked at the topic of Equity in the world of mobility. That brought up the current reality of our unequal world and sparked a conversation about balancing the equity vs sustainability equation.

The UN Sustainable Development Goal Target 11.2 is ‘provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons’

While hopeful, that goal contains some opposing principles. How can we move towards freer access to transport without devouring our environment?  

Our guest speaker Sandra Caballero introduced the term ‘mobility desert’, which simply put is a region where communities don’t have easy access to transportation. That can be due to a multitude of reasons, such as poverty, lack of public transport, poor infrastructure. In turn, the lack of transport makes it harder for people to access healthcare, find employment, access education. Hence – further escalating poverty. 

The 2018/19 Future of Mobility: Evidence Review produced by the UK the Government Office for Science states ‘many people in the UK may not be able to access important local services and activities, such as jobs, learning, healthcare, food shopping or leisure as a result of a lack of adequate transport provision’

The obvious solution is to introduce more public transport to these areas. While helping equality, that will create more pollution. And with a worldwide shortage of materials and inefficient recycling, should we be using up more resources? 

Dr.Paula Palade highlights how as Germany moves towards a greener automotive industry, it’s exporting its pollution to Eastern Europe. In a region of less income choosing a combustion engine car is a no-brainer. As Dr.Palade puts it ‘if you could have a cheap car, why wouldn’t you?’.

The Future of Mobility: Evidence Review also adds ‘Much of the future scenario and visioning work that was reviewed for this report does not explicitly consider the consequences of future transport innovations on current inequalities’ 

To the joy of environmentalists, the government has set a zero-emissions goal for 2030, part of which is the ban of all petrol and diesel fuel vehicles. It’s expected that these will be replaced by EVs. But if a person finds a combustion engine car expensive, how are they supposed to get an electric? Moreover, how realistic is that target if the rollout of charging points is slowing down and there are cuts to electric car grants

EVs are certainly growing in popularity. For example, Amazon say they have ‘been operating thousands of electric vehicles worldwide’ since 2019. But that is mostly happening in cities and not fast enough. As Bryn Balcombe, one of the guests on the podcast, elaborates there aren’t enough economic incentives in less-developed areas to deploy these new technologies. 

Sandra Caballero mentions an alternative solution – scooters. They are more compact, cheaper and easier to operate, which makes them ideal for local journeys. Scooters also provide more freedom as they don’t require big parking spots and are usually borrowed instead of owned. And, of course, using them doesn’t emit pollution. They are ideal especially for rural areas where roads are less congested. Yet still, they require an infrastructure to be used safely and don’t suit longer journeys. 

As you can see, there isn’t a clear solve-all solution. Legislators, technologists, engineers are continuously working on ways to balance the equation. We’ve barely scratched the surface here and there’s certainly more to be mentioned. Our podcast goes into much deeper detail, hear the discussion here: 


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Do you think sustainability and equity will always be in opposition? Is there a way to improve one without harming the other? Chat to us on socials, we love to discuss the big issues. 

Progress is made everyday on improving equality and creating a greener world. There are many interlinking factors which need to work together to achieve perfect equilibrium. Continuous discourse is how we accelerate progress.


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