Car Dependence, Sustainability and the Transport Policy Stalemate: The Potential Trade-offs between Intra- and Inter-generational Equity

By Giulio Mattioli.

Published by The International Journal of Sustainability Policy and Practice

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The sustainability concept, as originally defined, comprises three meta-goals: growth, intra-generational (social) equity and environmental protection (that is, inter-generational equity). In this context, while the potential trade-offs growth vs. environment and growth vs. intra-generational equity have been frequently addressed, the possible tensions between intra-generational and inter-generational equity have received only limited attention. This is true also for studies on “sustainable transport”, often concerned with the seemingly unstoppable rise of car ownership and use. This latter process is, on the one hand, a major determinant of environmental unsustainability; on the other hand, however, it entails a crucial intra-generational equity dimension, related to the differential in accessibility to services and opportunities between car users and non-car users. Accordingly, in this paper, I argue that the very nature of car dependence–defined as a dynamic and self-reinforcing macro-social process with systemic properties–urges scholars to focus on the trade-offs between intra- and inter-generational equity. Indeed, every increase in the level of car dependence widens the disadvantage gap between those who are part of the car system and those who are left out of it, but at the same time reduces the number of the latter. For this reason, its implications for intra-generational equity are very equivocal. On the other hand, most of the policies envisaged to fight car dependence are feared to have negative impacts on intra-generational equity, and thus often meet strong resistance. This is likely to bring to a “transport policy stalemate”, where no serious attempt is made to reduce car use and all hopes are concentrated on a “technological fix” to eventually solve all problems. In this scenario, inter-generational equity is likely to be sacrificed in favour of other goals.

Keywords: Car Dependence, Intergenerational Equity, Social Sustainability, Sustainable Transport, Car Use

The International Journal of Sustainability Policy and Practice, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp.45-57. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 608.435KB).

Giulio Mattioli

Ph.D Candidate, Dipartimento di Sociologia e Ricerca Sociale, Università degli Studi di Milano Bicocca, Milano, Italy

Giulio Mattioli is a Ph.D. candidate in “European Urban and Local Studies” (URBEUR) at the University of Milano-Bicocca. He has completed a Master in Sociology at the University of Milano-Bicocca in 2009, specializing in urban sociology. His research interests include sustainable transport, mobility & public space, car use and accessibility & transport exclusion. Since 2008 he has been collaborating with the Department of Sociology and Social Research at the University of Milano-Bicocca in research projects focused on sustainable transport and accessibility. He has presented on these topics at seminars and conferences in Berlin, Paris and London. He is currently working on his doctoral thesis, provisionally titled “Life at the margins of the car system: a study of carless and poor households in the context of the process of car dependence”, which has a second supervisor at the chair of Integrated Transport Planning at the Berlin Institute of Technology.