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Affordability and Subsidies in Public Urban Transport: What Do We Mean, What Can Be Done?


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  • Tom�s Serebrisky
  • Andrés Gómez‐Lobo
  • Nicol�s Estupi��n
  • Ramón Muñoz‐Raskin


Subsidy policies on public urban transport have been adopted ubiquitously. Both in developed and developing countries, subsidies are implemented under two major premises: (1) to increase public transport use and to reduce externalities, such as greenhouse gas emissions and congestion, and (2) to make transport more affordable, particularly for the poorest. This paper focuses on the latter. Despite the widespread implementation of subsidies, there are virtually no quantitative assessments of their distributional incidence, making it impossible to determine if these policy instruments are pro‐poor. Using different tools to quantitatively evaluate the incidence and distributive impacts of subsidy policy options, this paper analyses the findings of a series of research papers that have studied urban public transport subsidy policies in developed and developing countries. Available evidence indicates that current public urban transport subsidy policies do not make the poorest better off. Supply side subsidies—provided to the operator—are, for the most part, neutral or regressive; while demand side subsidies—provided to the user—perform better, although many of them do not improve income distribution. Considering that the vast majority of developing countries justify public urban transport subsidies on social grounds, as a means to improve the mobility, and thus welfare, of the poorest, it is imperative to move away from supply side subsidies towards demand side subsidies and integrate transport social concerns into wider poverty alleviation efforts, which include the possibility of channelling subsidies through monetary transfer systems or through other welfare instruments (food subsidies, health services and education for the poor).

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Taylor & Francis Journals in its journal Transport Reviews.

Volume (Year): 29 (2009)
Issue (Month): 6 (January)
Pages: 715-739

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Handle: RePEc:taf:transr:v:29:y:2009:i:6:p:715-739

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Cited by:
  1. Georgina Santos & Thomas von Brunn, 2011. "Factors influencing modal split of commuting journeys in 34 medium-sized European cities," ERSA conference papers ersa11p1019, European Regional Science Association.
  2. Russo, Antonio, 2012. "Pricing of Transport Networks, Redistribution and Optimal Taxation," TSE Working Papers 12-353, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE).
  3. Gerlinde Verbist & Michael Föster & Vaalavou, M., 2013. "GINI DP 74: The Impact of Publicly Provided Services on the Distribution of Resources: Review of New Results and Methods," GINI Discussion Papers 74, AIAS, Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies.
  4. Asensio, Javier & Gómez-Lobo, Andrés & Matas, Anna, 2014. "How effective are policies to reduce gasoline consumption? Evaluating a set of measures in Spain," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(C), pages 34-42.
  5. Zegras, Christopher & Nelson, Joshua & Macário, Rosário & Grillo, Christopher, 2013. "Fiscal federalism and prospects for metropolitan transportation authorities in Portugal," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 29(C), pages 1-12.
  6. Munoz-Raskin, Ramon, 2010. "Walking accessibility to bus rapid transit: Does it affect property values? The case of Bogotá, Colombia," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 72-84, March.
  7. Drevs, Florian & Tscheulin, Dieter K. & Lindenmeier, Jörg & Renner, Simone, 2014. "Crowding-in or crowding out: An empirical analysis on the effect of subsidies on individual willingness-to-pay for public transportation," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 59(C), pages 250-261.


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