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PII: SO966-6923(97)00018-5

of TNnspn
Geography Vol. 5, No. 3, pp. 215-218, 1997
0 1997 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved
Printed in Great Britain
0966.6923197 $17.00+ 0.00

Social change and sustainable

Kenneth Button
The Institute of Public Policy, 305, George Mason University,Fairfax, VA 22030-4444, USA

Peter Nijkamp
Faculty of Economics, Free University DeBoelelaan 1105, NL-1081 HVAmsterdam,

The Netherlands

There are important social changes that are influencing the way transport is now viewed. In
particular, there are concerns that current trends in transport are not sustainable over the
long term. This paper describes some of the main forces for social change and the way that
they interact with transportation.
It highlights a number of key areas were conceptual
research work could prove advantageous and considers institutional mechanisms that would
foster, in particular, transatlantic initiatives in these fields. 0 1997 Elsevier Science Ltd. All
rights reserved
Keywords: sustainable transport, social change, strategic research, transport policy

tion of many societies but at the same time the growth

in nomadism not only in terms of location and job
selection but also regarding shopping, recreational and
other everyday activities. Transport considerations play
an important role in shaping the nature and direction
of centrifugal forces.
The forces bringing social change and the changes
that emerge have linkages with all aspects of the social
fabric. In a more specific context, transport is both an
influence on the nature of social change and a reactor
to it. We are, however, poorly informed about the role
of social change in determining transport behaviour.
Many of the important areas of interest, such as the
interaction between changing household structure,
travel behaviour and land-use, have been examined
before but significant areas of ignorance remain. There
are also newer issues, such as the interaction of transport and various communications systems on travel
behaviour, land-use and social structure, which are
adding to this area of ignorance.
Modern transport affords mobility, facilitates postFordist production
and allows political cohesion.
Degrees of access to transport networks affect social
patterns at all levels of spatial aggregation. Transport
supply, however, is regulated by political interests and
market pressures both of which reflect changes in
social attitudes, structures and priorities. Concerns
about environmental
and economic
efficiency are reflections of recent changes in social

Social change does not occur at a constant pace.

Rather there is a complex blend or package of modifications to existing trends, new trends and trend breaks
that interact to bring about changes to the way society
develops. The process is also not unidirectional but
embodies a range of important and still imperfectly
understood feedback loops. A variety of factors make
the late twentieth century a particularly important
period in this respect. Rising incomes, more leisure
time, changing demographic patterns, better education,
technological advances, emerging life styles and new
political priorities are among the factors influencing
and being influenced by social change. These forces
have, in very broad terms, led to outcomes of enhanced
flexibility, fragmentation, polarization and differentiation in time and space.
Our understanding of the key driving forces for the
new social structures is still limited. What is clear is
that one important element in the process is linked to
conflicting pressures of centrifugalism. Combinations
of new networks, externalities and the breaking down
of barriers have led to pressures on the one hand for
geographical and social concentration and uniformity
but on the other for diversity and spread. At one level
this may be viewed in terms of the continued urbanisaAlthough this paper was not presented at Strasbourg, the authors
were present and this paper represents their summary of the
program being developed by NSF and ESF at the conclusion of that



Social change and sustainabletransport:K Button and P Nukamp

Figure 1 A simple representative of key linkages between

social change and transport development

attitudes towards transport. Figure I provides an indication of some of the key interactions involved.
One tractable way of considering modern transport
and mobility is to look at issues from three partly
complementary, partly competing policy angles: the
need for competitive
the need for
geographical accessibility and social equity for all
members of society, and the need for an environmentally sustainable development.
In the first place,
competitive efficiency lies at the heart of current
European transport policy, where massive investments
in trans-European Networks and in missing links serve
to support the goal of economic integration. However,
also at local, metropolitan and regional scales, formidable investment efforts are foreseen in order for main
players to survive in a competitive world market based
on global networks. This applies of course to transconnections,
but also has world-wide
There is, in the second place, a major concern for
the geographical accessibility of less central regions in
Europe and elsewhere. The low density of transport
needs in many rural and peripheral areas has always
been a permanent source of concern of public authorities, from the viewpoint of both the service quality
offered by public transport operators and the objectives
set for regional development.
A look at the historical development of European
networks (road, rail, air, waterways)
makes immediately clear that the most important links
were first constructed
between major centres of
economic activity. The connections with rural and
peripheral areas were, in all cases, delayed. Without
granting a transport operator a natural monopoly, such
connections would perhaps never have been realized.
This is a clear case where efficiency motives and equity
motives are in conflict with one another. In the
emerging European welfare states, however, the rights
of the rural and peripheral areas have been recognized

as legitimate claims, even though the economic feasibility of such extra-central connections was often
clearly negative. However, the equity argument, often
reinforced by the generative argument (i.e. an infrastructure, once constructed, will attract new activities),
has played a major role in the political debate on
subsidies for transport for the mobility deprived in
remote areas. In recent years however, we observe a
drastic change in the policy views on the obligatory
provisions of financial support that would ensure public
service delivery to remote areas. Firstly, in the phase of
economic recession, public budgets are often far too
insufficient to cover the related costs. Secondly, in the
period of deregulation, decentralization and privatisation, commercial arguments have strongly come to the
fore. This means that economic feasibility has become
a major motive for sustaining transport connections to
rural and peripheral areas.
The above development has had far-reaching implications for the morphology, the service level and the
competitiveness of different networks. This applies to
rail and bus services, to ferry systems, to road networks
and to the aviation sector. This means that the connectivity of remote areas may become a problematic issue
in the future. Despite European initiatives to plan for
Networks (TENS), there is a real
threat that remote areas may again suffer from missing
links It goes without saying that similar policy and
research issues are also emerging in other parts of the
In the third place, there is a major, more recent
policy concern on the question of whether transport
will be devastating for environmentally
development. Our mobile society fulfils many socioeconomic needs, but calls at the same time for social
and political change in order to attain sustainable
mobility. Both passenger and goods transport have
rapidly increased in the past years, and for the time
being, there is no reason to expect a change in this
trend. Some European scenarios even forecast a
doubling of transport in one generation. This development provokes intriguing questions on the external
(social) costs of transport, such as congestion, pollution
and safety issues. Apart from local problems such as
congestion or noise, the global environmental implications of transport are increasingly becoming a source of
major concern. Although transport is responsible for a
variety of greenhouse gas emissions, in recent years the
attention has particularly focused on CO, emissions.
Despite the best intentions of many public policies, it
seems to be very hard to curb the current emission
trends. If one takes into consideration the expected
economic growth in various Second and Third World
countries, the future does not offer a very optimistic
picture. The background of the externality problem of
transport is caused by the fact that transport has low
private costs accompanied by unpriced or underpriced
external social costs. This has created a transport-

Social change and sustainable transport: K Button and P Nijkmnp

intensive lifestyle and land-use in all countries, regions

and cities.
That transport affects local and global environments
in many ways can be illustrated by the following
figures. For a number of pollutants, the transport
sector is the most important contributor to environmental externalities. Within member countries of the
Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, about 60% of the NO, emissions, 80% of the CO
emissions, 50% of the hydrocarbon emissions, 25% of
the CO, emissions, and 50% of the lead emissions
(virtually 100% in urban areas) originate from transport activities. Safety and noise are also often
mentioned as important environmental external costs
of transport.
Notwithstanding the central role that transport plays
in modern societies, it is increasingly recognized that
current and predicted trends in personal mobility and
freight transport, on local, regional and global levels,
pose severe threats to the environment, and more
stringent regulations of transport seem inevitable if
policy goals related to global environmental sustainability are to be pursued. The European Unions recent
Green Paper Commission of the European Communities (1995) on transport leaves little ambiguity in this
respect when stating that . . .given the severity of the
problems, action cannot be put off [. . . and.. .] adjusting
the structure of existing tax systems by bringing charges
closer to the point of use is likely to generate significant
advocated by transport economists as an efficient
means of regulating transport externalities for over 75
years, now appear to have gained a momentum outside
of the academic world.
In recent years, many proposals have been made to
less environmentally
systems and behaviour, ranging though road pricing,
technological advances, technical standards, compact
city design and land-use policy. The results, thus far,
have not been impressive. Although standard economic
concepts are clear in that the user and the polluter
should pay the full costs of travel, including all
externalities, there are many problems with the implementation of such concepts, public acceptability is low
and international agreements are difficult to reach.
The need for sustainable mobility and alternative
land-use policies has recently been recognized in the
European Union. The massive investment foreseen in
the transport and communications networks, particularly on a regional and international basis, is likely to
increase journey lengths and the level of mobility.
These outcomes are inconsistent with the objectives
put forward by the European Union and its member
states; and hence, there is potential conflict between
socio-economic needs and sustainable mobility needs.
Furthermore, there are also changes in lifestyles (e.g.
individualisation and more leisure time) which have an
impact on transportation
behaviour. Some of the


changes are rather far reaching, as
reflected, for example, in car-less cities, new time
pioneers going for slow motion, and so forth.
The intellectual and, ultimately, policy challenge is
to develop transport structures that are both socially
sustainable and environmentally sustainable. This is
unlikely to be achieved by adopting a narrow, monodisciplinary approach to the issues. Nor, given the
increased internationalization of lifestyles, is it likely to
be found without international
coordination in the research initiative.
The research agenda required to address all relevant
issues is lengthy. Some initial economies may be
achieved by drawing together the experience of the
various European initiatives and those from the USA
where similar social changes are taking place. This
would need a clear focus on inter alia social and
cultural values, changes in industrial organisation,
demographic change, shifts in household patterns and
behaviour, and gender roles.
A number of key areas would form the core of work
on social change and sustainable transport.
Firstly, there are important issues concerning the
changes that are occurring in urban societies as major
agents in a networked economy, not only as core
economic agents but also as drivers of new life styles
and adopters of new mobility patterns. Essentially, if
cities are to be both socially and environmentally
sustainable into the next century, transport systems will
need to be redefined and developed. Urban society will
inevitably want different things from their transport
systems, and equally, there will be innovations in
technology and institutions that will increase the
options available. How these new social requirements
interact with the different opportunities available and
the way that potential mechanisms may develop to
foster appropriate inventions are inevitably going to
pose important intellectual challenges. Efforts in the
past that have largely relied on engineering approaches
to confront conflicts between social and environmental
sustainability conflicts have failed, but nothing has yet
emerged to fill the gap. Thus, there is a clear need for
research into behavioural
responses in terms of
mobility. Clearly, the implications of urban developments for more peripheral areas would need some
attention as well.
Secondly, there are issues of the extent to which
society itself will be influenced by the adoption of a
sustainable transport strategy. While a body of research
has emerged looking at the way factors such as
mobility and location choice may be influenced by
various forms of traffic management
longer-term feedback effects on other aspects of
lifestyles stemming from the pursuit of sustainability
have been largely ignored. The evidence from all areas
of transport policy is that both users of transport
services and the suppliers of services are very adaptable
and innovative. This is one reason why transport


Social change and sustainabletransport:K Button and P Nijkamp

forecasts are generally so dismally bad. One would

explore this area in a number of innovative ways,
pulling in a variety of research techniques that combine
quantitative assessments with qualitative judgments.
One can draw upon the experiences of previous social
changes in social structures, such as that to postFordism, to define and examine social adaptation and
and explore theme relevance in the
context of a move to a sustainable transport system.
Thirdly, internationalization
and the move toward
greater globalization would not be possible without
recent technical and structural changes in transport.
Global resource constraints, however, are likely to pose
new challenges to this emerging structure and to the
social patterns that are accompanying it. This will not
only affect trade, but by potentially limiting travel, will
have implications for migration. These developments
raise a range of important research issues looking at
the role of transport in this institutional setting and
seeking sustainable options that, at the same time, do
not thwart the material ambitions of less prosperous
areas currently seeking to benefit from internationalization. It poses institutional
regarding local and global responsibilities for handling
the social changes associated with new transport strategies. The complexity of the social changes that are now
taking place, combined with those that may be anticipated in the near future, means that any research
agenda must meet certain criteria. The diversity of
social influences involved points towards a multidisciplinary approach
across a wide number of
countries. Within this, it is important to both pinpoint
synergies and to highlight differences in experiences.
Above all, the research programme needs to be
researchable with the prospect of generating both
major new conceptual insights and enveloping tractable
frameworks upon which policies may be developed. To
carry through this work at the international level the
integration with the US initiative by the National
Science Foundation (NSF) will require careful coordination. To gain significantly more insight into these
issues is both intellectually challenging and, in the
longer term, of considerable policy relevance. Transatlantic co-operation offers a number of important
advantages when dealing with a topic such as social
change and sustainable transport.
Firstly, there are important
common scientific
which transcend
boundaries and a pooling of research expertise, data
and resources offers the potential for an enrichment of
the research effort. At one level, co-operation
research enables existing scientific findings to be

brought together, but in the longer term, co-operation

will reduce overlap in research initiatives and generate
benefits which can accompany research teams drawn
from a larger pool of resources. Secondly, there are
important demonstration effects which can be learned
across the Atlantic. Individual, ad hoc case studies in
the transport field seldom produce transferable experiences. Wider collaboration
drawing upon a large
number of cases or on very specific examples can,
however, offer important insights. Thirdly, there is the
need for direct research on matters pertaining to transatlantic transport itself. International aviation is the
fastest growing sector of the passenger transport
market being driven increasingly by changes in household characteristics and preferences rather than by
business sector demands. The NSF provides a single
focus for US funding but there is no comparable body
in Europe. The European Science Foundation acts
through national research councils. At the outset it is
important that full information concerning relevant
activities at the national level be collected and systematically reviewed; the use of meta-analysis or subjective
quantitative assessment methods may assist in this.
There are also important experiences to be shared and
potentially interesting sets of case studies to be
developed across the Atlantic. To fully implement such
opportunities, there is a need to explore common
methodological approaches and comparable databases,
the latter with the potential for serving the needs of
future research initiatives that extend beyond the
current initiative.
The above-sketched research lines are of a long-term
strategic nature. In the immediate future some
activities may already be initiated, in
particular, the development of an up-to-date information system on strategic transport knowledge in both
Europe and North America (i.e. names of researchers,
fields of interest, and so forth). Soon also some applied
work on long-range future scenarios on social change
and sustainable transport may be started as a really
challenge. In this context, not only the transatlantic
side of international
transport and communication
would have to be envisaged, but also the linkages to
Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean
basin and the

of the European communities (1995) Green Paper

Towards Fair and Eficient Pricing in Transporr Policy Options for
Intemalising the External Costs of Transport in the European Union,
Director General for Transport: Brussels.