This is a guest post from reader Anna
Should NZ develop a transport policy to reduce child poverty?
When I had kids at two separate schools, plus one at daycare, transport ruled my life. Despite living on the Auckland isthmus with good public transport, the task of getting the kids safety off for the day and both of us to work was only just possible.
If it is this hard for a two parent family living in the central suburbs, how hard must it be for a solo parent on the urban fringe? Quitting work and bringing your children up in poverty would seem like the only option.
So when I read through the Government’s Child Poverty Reduction and Elimination Bill, I was looking for the word “transport”. It’s not there.
The Bill does say is that this Government and any future NZ government must develop a strategy to improve child wellbeing and reduce child poverty. Then it specifies (in Section 7) the need for that strategy to include policies on income, deprivation, education, health, housing, social inclusion and cohesive communities.
Clearly some of the answers to child poverty lie in these areas, and more could be done. But people working in these areas have always known their work was relevant to child poverty. They have likely worked out the easy answers already.
The whole point of a Bill is to seek feedback, and this article makes the case for including transport (and its inseparable other half, urban planning) on the list of policies that will be required as part of NZ’s overall strategy to reduce child poverty.
A transport policy to reduce child poverty would require a real shift in thinking, and a lot of new work. The established tools and systems used in the transport profession have a big blind spot when it comes to children and another blind spot about people living in poverty. For example:
- Transport data collection is overwhelmingly about vehicles, and morning peak journeys to work. There is far less data on the modes that children, people with disabilities, and other disadvantaged groups use to travel
- Calculations of housing affordability are done in isolation rather than looking at what people are really buying in a city, which is the package of housing and transport costs
- The economic evaluation used in NZ to compare transport projects is premised on offering new choices to adults who already own and can drive a car, saving them time (which is then converted to money). Transport cost benefit analysis misses the contribution of transport to social inclusion
- Even public transport is prioritised where it will reduce congestion, which sounds a lot like elite projection given how vital public transport is for anyone too young, too old, too poor or otherwise unable or unwilling to drive
All these blind spots make it understandable that the Government, in thinking of ways to reduce child poverty, did not immediately put transport on its list. These blind spots also mean that, without a clear directive, NZ’s transport agencies are unlikely to take the initiative to look specifically at how their decisions could make a difference to child poverty.
Yet if we start to think about how families lift themselves out of poverty, and how children from impoverished homes can lift themselves out of their current circumstances, we start thinking about transport and about cities.
I think of the homeless Auckland child interviewed at the end of an Al Jazeera news item, saying “It was really hard [to not commit crime] because it was really boring, just staying in the tent”. He took his transport poverty for granted – but he was living in our city and that should have meant he had other options.
Cities have grown over generations as people move from the country in the hope of better opportunities, if not for themselves then for their children. And for successive generations the city has delivered on that promise. That wonderful effect, cursed with the awful name of agglomeration, means that bringing people together in cities, and linking them with transport networks, creates more opportunities for everyone.
For the solo parent on the urban fringe, a transport policy to reduce child poverty could put the bottom rung back onto the ladder to a better future.
We don’t yet know what such a policy would look like, but we do know some things that it would likely include.
- It would look at independent mobility for children. Slower urban speeds and better street design would mean children could get themselves safely to and from school and around their community. It would look at all the ways young people get around, and bring skateboards and scooters into the mix along with more traditional choices like walking and cycling.
- It would also look at how parents and families in deprived areas can have more options to get to work, to education, and to social events. Public transport would be better supported, especially where it made trips possible for people who would otherwise be trapped at home. Free offpeak travel for SuperGold card holders could be extended to children and families living in poverty.
- It would include a defined measure of basic transport costs, and a mechanism for including transport costs along with housing costs when assessing “low income after housing costs”.
Those are just a few ideas and I’m sure that if more people start thinking about transport and child poverty, many more and better ideas will come to light that contribute to the Government’s goals in ways not yet thought of.
The Bill has a timeline showing a select committee phase including the opportunity for public submissions. So there is scope for new ideas to be included.
What do you think? Do you see links between transport and child poverty? And do you agree that the Child Poverty Reduction Bill should include transport on the list of policies required as part of the overall strategy to reduce child poverty?