Perpetuating Inequality

There is we might say too much focus on transport in the study of travel and not enough society and certainly not enough thinking through their complex intersecting processes.” Urry, 2007

As Urry points out, much study of transport revolves around the study of transport infrastructure; the physical manifestations of mobility. In the course of my research in Bali over the past month, this has become particularly prominent as the question about what we try to achieve with transport planning starts to surface. The Indonesian province of Bali, known for its beaches, surf, and cultural life has been experiencing rapid economic growth over the past years, and with it a surge in private vehicle ownership. Balinese ownership of motorcycles has risen by about 249 percent between 2001 and 2012, with car ownership in the same period increasing 132 percent (based on numbers from the BPS, Central Statistics Office, Bali Province).

Mobility is one of the key components of our daily lives. Many argue that it is a key component to creating a modern and wealthy society, a perception that is reaffirmed when interventions such as congestion taxes, or other mobility impediments are proposed, with a resulting raucous from the financial community. There is no doubt about it, being mobile holds key benefits, and allows for the expansion of economies and wealth. So what purpose are we trying to achieve with transport planning? Two recent transport policy initiatives have been implement in Bali to alleviate congestion. The first is the Sarbagita bus system, that emulates the well known Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, albeit without the designated lanes and efficient ticketing systems. The second is a new toll road from the Ngurah Rai airport to a key tourism hub of Nusa Dua.

While both are meant to reduce congestion, the targeted users differ. Arguably, the placement of the toll road from the airport to the key tourism destination indicates that the target users are tourists and those who work in the tourism industry, and at least the former have the money to make use of it. On the contrary the Sarbagita system with its two corridors, and stuck in traffic like the rest targeted commuters from the capital to destinations along the southern hub, or vice versa. Once all 17 corridors are implemented it will service a major portion of the islands population providing a great level of access.

ImageBatubulan Bus Terminal

 

Aside from economic and cultural wealth, lets explore for a minute, the concept of spatial capital. The notion that your geographic placement, and connectivity to your surroundings provides you with either more, or less spatial capital. The level of access you have is determined by your proximity. You may be the happy owner of an expensive property, situated less than 30 minutes away from the Central Business District (CBD) by public transport. But if the bus line is discontinued, and you do not own a car, your proximity to the CBD has suddenly changed dramatically, though the physical distance remains the same. Distance then is not a question of fixed points, but one of connectivity (Mandersheid, 2009: 14). Thus, the importance of sustainable mobility planning has to include a focus on the extent to which urban spatial infrastructure is “[…] connecting or disconnecting people from relevant resources […]” (Manderscheid, 2009: 17)

The reality is that we do not all have the same ability to be mobile. Kaufmann defines this ability as motility; our access to modes, extents of mobility and our ability to make use of this access (Kaufmann, 2002). These factors of course are affected by the issues discussed above, and it may be very difficult for an individual to affect change. For example, when asking focus groups in Bali about their ability to affect change in placement of bus routes or stops , the response often indicated a very limited experience of responsiveness from government administrators. Nevertheless, the level of polarisation between what is a connected or disconnected location must necessarily be managed through transport and land use planning and policy.

In cities with high car and motorcycle dependence, it citizens who do not have access to a private vehicle will find themselves significantly poorer in spatial capital, and thus spend more time in transit, and have more difficulty reaching public services such as schools or hospitals. By contrast, those who have a vehicle will be able to access these things, and accumulate other forms of capital too. Thus mobility plays a central role in reinforcing or revising social inequalities. Returning to Bali, there is a clear political decision to be made in the future. The economic growth that stems from tourism was ample motivation for the construction of the toll road. By contrast, a bus system that requires full economic subsidisation with little income generation is largely a service provided to the population. However, one might argue that the responsibility of government is to ensure that a wide portion of the population is not marginalised simply due to the existing transportation system.

 

References

Kaufmann, Vincent, 2002, Re-thinking Mobility, Contemporary Sociology, Hampshire: Ashgate

Mandersheid, Katharina, 2009, Integrating Space and Mobilities into the Analysis of Social Inequality, Distinktion: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory, 10:1, 7-27

Urry, John, 2007, Mobilities, Cambridge: Polity

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