The Car as a Safety-Net: Narrative Accounts of the Role of Energy Intensive Transport in Conditions of Housing and Employment Uncertainty

  • Caroline Mullen
  • Greg Marsden


Less car travel increases prospects of limiting transport energy. Policy attempts to reduce car use by encouraging people to choose other modes face criticism that travel needs are not simply about choice but are structurally influenced, especially by urban form. Mullen and Marsden extend understanding of travel need by showing how uncertainty in housing and employment further constrains people’s control over travel, resulting in needs for complicated journeys often at short notice. Some respond to uncertainty by running a car even where this presents financial problems. Those without a vehicle face lost opportunities and hardship. In the face of increasing employment and housing precarity, policy needs to rethink focus on choice and instead find ways of meeting complex travel needs without extensive resort to cars.



This work was supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council [grant number EP/K011723/1] as part of the RCUK Energy Programme and by EDF as part of the R&D ECLEER Programme.


  1. Avineri, E. 2012. On the use and potential of behavioural economics from the perspective of transport and climate change. Journal of Transport Geography 24: 512–521.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barbour, E., and E.A. Deakin. 2012. Smart growth planning for climate protection: Evaluating California’s senate bill 375. Journal of the American Planning Association 78: 70–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beyazit, E. 2011. Evaluating social justice in transport: Lessons to be learned from the capability approach. Transport Reviews 31: 117–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Birch, J. 2015. Housing and poverty. Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Available at:
  5. Bostock, L. 2001. Pathways of disadvantage? Walking as a mode of transport among low-income mothers. Health & Social Care in the Community 9: 11–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Department for Communities and Local Government. 2016. English housing survey 2014 to 2015: Private rented sector report. HM Government. Available at:
  7. Department for Transport. 2016. National travel survey 2015. HM Government. Available at:
  8. Dubernet, I., and K.W. Axhausen. 2016. The choice of workplace and residential location in Germany. In 16th Swiss transport research conference, Monte Verità/Ascona, 18–20 May 2016, 16. Available at:
  9. Gowdy, J.M. 2008. Behavioral economics and climate change policy. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 68: 632–644.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gregg, P., and L. Gardiner. 2015. A steady job? The UK’s record on labour market security and stability since the millennium. Resolution Foundation. Available at:
  11. HM Government. 1998. Housing act 1998.Google Scholar
  12. HM Treasury. 2015 Impact on households: Distributional analysis to accompany budget 2015. HM Government. Available at:
  13. Kim, J.H., F. Pagliara, and J. Preston. 2005. The intention to move and residential location choice behaviour. Urban Studies 42: 1621–1636.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Lucas, K. 2012. Transport and social exclusion: Where are we now? Transport Policy 20: 105–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lucas, K., G. Mattioli, E. Verlinghieri, et al. 2016. Transport poverty and its adverse social consequences. In Proceedings of the institution of civil engineers-transport. Thomas Telford (ICE Publishing), 353–365.Google Scholar
  16. MacInnes, T., A. Tinson, C. Hughes, et al. 2015. Monitoring poverty and social exclusion 2015. Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Available at:
  17. Marsden, G., C. Mullen, I. Bache, et al. 2014. Carbon reduction and travel behaviour: Discourses, disputes and contradictions in governance. Transport Policy 35: 71–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Martens, K. 2016. Transport justice: Designing fair transportation systems. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  19. Mattioli, G. 2013a. Different worlds of non-motoring: Households without cars in Germany. In Mobilitäten und immobilitäten, ed. J. Scheiner, H. Blotevogel, S. Frank, et al., 207–216. Essen: Klartext.Google Scholar
  20. ———. 2013b. Where sustainable transport and social exclusion meet. Households without cars and car dependence in Germany and Great Britain (unpublished thesis). PhD, University of Milan-Bicocca.Google Scholar
  21. ———. 2016. Transport needs in a climate-constrained world. A novel framework to reconcile social and environmental sustainability in transport. Energy Research & Social Science 18: 118–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Mattioli, G., and M. Colleoni. 2016. Transport disadvantage, car dependence and urban form. Understanding mobilities for designing contemporary cities. Cham/Heidelberg/New York/Dordrecht/London: Springer, pp. 171–190.Google Scholar
  23. Metcalfe, R., and P. Dolan. 2012. Behavioural economics and its implications for transport. Journal of Transport Geography 24: 503–511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Mullen, C., and G. Marsden. 2016. Mobility justice in low carbon energy transitions. Energy Research & Social Science 18: 109–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Oliver, A. 2012. Markets and targets in the English national health service: Is there a role for behavioral economics? Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law 37: 647–664.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Shove, E. 2010. Beyond the ABC: Climate change policy and theories of social change. Environment and Planning A 42: 1273–1285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Vij, A., A. Carrel, and J.L. Walker. 2013. Incorporating the influence of latent modal preferences on travel mode choice behavior. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice 54: 164–178.Google Scholar
  28. Walker, G., N. Simcock, and R. Day. 2016. Necessary energy uses and a minimum standard of living in the United Kingdom: Energy justice or escalating expectations? Energy Research & Social Science 18: 129–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Caroline Mullen
    • 1
  • Greg Marsden
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for Transport StudiesUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK

Personalised recommendations