A Critical Review of Social Justice Theories in Public Transit Planning

One of the most common areas in public transit planning that has been under investigation is the inclusion of “social justice”. In its simplest form, social justice demands more equitable access for all residents to resources that are provided by a city. However, public transit plans are typically guided by maximising tangible measures such as economic growth and efficiency. Concerns about discriminatory geographies which have led to low-income neighbourhoods with higher unemployment rates, social exclusion, lower political engagement, and participation in urban activities have brought attention to the re-assessment of transit planning. Limitations of the current methods and frameworks make it difficult to measure the outcomes of transit planning strategies and policies with respect to social justice, and to determine if the policies will produce a just transit system. This review provides a critical examination of transit policies in relation to social justice. It gives a summary of key transportation just theories, and their limitations in evaluating a transit system. A social justice framework, which incorporates just theories, is provided to assess a transit system’s accessibility for disadvantaged (low-income) population groups. The framework enhances the sustainable relationship between the accessibility a commuter requires and services provided by the transit system. The review concludes with knowledge gaps and directions for future research.

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