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The growing importance of equity in planning cities: recognising the value of improved mobility for those at exclusion risk

5 September 2022
From our ‘Thinking outside the box’ series
Social equity is an essential factor in transport and infrastructure planning. Professor John Stanley explains how ITLS research on mobility can be used in planning to achieve more equitable outcomes for all.

Perusal of strategic land use transport plans for a number of major developed cities reveals striking commonality between the high-­level goals that cities set for themselves, reflecting the triple bottom line (economic, social and ­environmental) goal thinking often associated with the Brundtland Commission (WCED 1987).  Interestingly, however, recent updates of these plans in several major developed cities reveal a notable shift in emphasis in policy priorities as between the three main outcome goal areas. The economic goal has typically been dominant over the past couple of decades but this is now changing, with much greater policy focus being attached to ensuring that all residents are better able to share in the benefits of urban living and growth and that the city is able to play its part in reducing global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This reflects a similar trend in the corporate world, where there is a rapidly growing focus on societal ESG outcomes (environment, social, governance), beyond a corporation just seeking to maximise profits for its corporate shareholders.

We focus here on the equity goal area. While COVID was not the main factor in driving the relative change in priority accorded to more equitable cities, in many places it has served to emphasise existing socio-economic disparities, which commonly have a spatial outcome. COVID has thus tended to reinforce the importance of planning for greater social and spatial equity in cities.

This change in relative priorities towards a stronger and fairer equity focus is apparent, for example, in both London and Vancouver. The Mayor's Vision for The London Plan 2021 is that it is 'about creating a city for all Londoners, where no-one is left behind' (Mayor of London 2021, p. 11). In similar vein, drafts of Vancouver's updated Regional Growth Strategy (Metro Vancouver 2021) and Regional Transportation Strategy (Translink 2021) talk about equitably sharing the benefits of the city, the draft Transportation Strategy explicitly stating that each of its five goals applies to everybody.

The focus of debate about cities being for everyone can have a different focus in different places. Groups such as Partnership for Southern Equity in Atlanta draw attention to linkages between race and space. In Malmö, Sweden, as in London, the idea of 'leaving no-one behind' encompasses policy directions such as reducing spatial disparities in living standards and public health and extending (for example) to recognition of the need for a gender focus and age focus in such planning and to creating opportunities for citizen participation across all segments of the population (Malmö stad 2018).

A lack of affordable housing is one major driver of increasing dissatisfaction with urban equity outcomes in many cities. For example, Demographia’s 2021 rankings of cities by housing affordability rated Vancouver as Canada’s least affordable market and the 90th least affordable market from among the 92 analysed, having a median multiple of 13.3, having increased from 10.3 in 2013 (median house price divided by the gross median pre-tax household income) (Urban Reform Institute and Frontier Centre for Public Policy 2022).  Metro Vancouver, the regional planning authority, acknowledges that such affordability issues have been partly exacerbated by an urban development focus on transit-oriented development, which has accentuated gentrification (Metro Vancouver 2021).

The heightened policy focus on equity demands more integrated land use transport planning at city level, supported by appraisal tools that are sensitive to equity issues. ITLS research on mobility and social exclusion is ideally placed in this regard. That research has consistently demonstrated the importance of mobility for social inclusion, the high value of additional trip making by those at risk of mobility-related social exclusion and also the high value of bridging social capital (see, for example, Stanley et al. 2011a, b; 2021a, b; 2022). Bridging social capital is basically about social networks that allow people to ‘get ahead’, by accessing resources and opportunities through contacts with work colleagues and people associated with wider groups, such as local government, schools and sporting clubs. Trip making is, in turn, supportive of building bridging capital. 

Transport cost benefit analyses (CBAs), however, currently value small time savings for car drivers but fail to recognise potential social inclusion benefits, even when studies show that the economic benefits from the latter can dwarf the former (Stanley et al. 2021b). If CBA is to be supportive of more informed decision-making in relation to equity issues such as transport disadvantage, current CBA procedures need to be revised to better reflect such equity concerns. The ITLS research on the value of mobility for social inclusion,  provides one means of achieving much greater assessment relevance in this regard. It is encouraging to note, therefore, that the recent KPMG (2021) evaluation of Victoria’s Suburban Rail Loop project used social inclusion benefits values derived by Stanley et al. (2011a), the first such application of which we are aware, even though those values are now over a decade old. We have applied these values in our own research on Sydney (Stanley et al. 2021b), demonstrating the huge benefit potential of well-targeted transport measures.

Mainstreaming the ITLS values of additional trip making by those at exclusion risk will advance the consideration of  more equitable social outcomes in transport and infrastructure appraisals and should improve transport decision-making, helping to make our cities more equitable. Those who are at risk of mobility-related social exclusion could do with the support.


KPMG (2021), Appendix C2: Suburban Rail Loop Economic Appraisal Report 15 February 2021, Author: Melbourne. Available at

Malmö stad (2018), Comprehensive Plan for Malmö: Summary in English, Malmö: author, accessed 26 January 2022 at, OP_english_summary_lores.pdf (

Mayor of London (2021), The London Plan: The Spatial Development Strategy for Greater London, London: Greater London Authority.

Metro Vancouver 2021, Draft Metro 2050: Regional Growth Strategy, accessed 23 November 2021 at Draft Metro 2050 (

Stanley, J, Hensher, D.A., Stanley, J, Currie, G, Greene, W, Vella-Brodrick, D (2011a), ‘Social exclusion and the value of mobility.’ Journal of Transport Economics and Policy, 45, 2, 197-222.

Stanley, JK, Hensher D.A., Stanley, JR, Vella-Brodrick, D. (2011b), ‘Mobility, social exclusion and well-being: Exploring the links.’ Transportation Research, 45,8, 789-801.

Stanley, J., Hensher, D.A., Stanley, J. and Vella-Brodrick, D. (2021a), ‘Valuing changes in wellbeing and its relevance for transport policy’, Transport Policy, 110, 16-27.

Stanley, J., Hensher, D.A., Wei, E., and Liu, W. (2021b), ’Major urban transport expenditure initiatives: where are the returns likely to be strongest and how significant is social exclusion in making the case’. Research in Transport Business and Management. Accepted 19 October 2021

Stanley, J., Hensher, D. and Stanley, J. (2022), ‘Place-based disadvantage, social exclusion and the value of mobility’, Transportation Research Part A 160, 101-113.

Translink (2021), Transport 2050: Draft Regional Transportation Strategy, October 12, 2021. accessed 23 November 2921 at transport_2050_draft_strategy.pdf (

Urban Reform Institute and Frontier Centre for Public Policy (2021), Demographia International Housing Affordability 2021, accessed 11 April 2022 at Demographia International Housing Affordability, 2022 Edition

World Commission on Environment and Development (1987), Our Common Future, Melbourne: Oxford University Press.