Transport poverty is much wider than the defunct bus stop in the countryside

One in four young people in Amsterdam cannot cycle. And that is also an example of transport poverty, said Amsterdam alderman Melanie van der Horst (Traffic and Transport, D66) during a conference on transport inequality in Amersfoort on Monday. Those who cannot cycle cannot easily go to the school of their choice.

Moreover, not everyone can afford a new bicycle, says Van der Horst. Or have his bicycle repaired if it is broken. And there are a lot of Amsterdammers who don’t dare to cycle in the city because of the unsafe traffic.

The Amsterdam examples show that transport poverty is much broader than the closed bus stop in the countryside. “I spoke to the parents of a thirteen-year-old girl,” Van der Horst said in Amersfoort, “who did not let their daughter go to her favorite school. Because she had to cycle there. They chose another school. Within a safe walking distance.” The municipality is now considering introducing a maximum speed on the cycle path because of fast-driving e-bikes.

Better working conditions

The conference in Amersfoort was an initiative of State Secretary Vivianne Heijnen (Infrastructure and Water Management, CDA). She has been drawing attention to transport poverty for some time, a theme she prefers to approach more positively and calls transport inequality. “The right to accessibility should be a basic right,” said the State Secretary on Monday. “Just like everyone in the Netherlands is entitled to education, for example.”

Good or bad mobility affects everyone every day, says Heijnen. “It determines whether or not you get that job.” She told how she herself grew up in Spaubeek in South Limburg. “A small village, but with a train station. That made the world much bigger for me. It gave me the opportunity to participate in society.”

If accessibility is a basic right, then the government also has a duty of care, Heijnen acknowledged after the meeting. And to be able to achieve that, some things still have to change, for example at the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. “Building roads and other infrastructure has always been a priority. After all, they benefit mobility. But we no longer have to look only at whether a road is spatially compatible, but also socially desirable.”

Good or bad accessibility determines whether or not you get that job

Vivianne Heijnen State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management

The transport inequality got a face earlier on Monday when striking employees of the regional transport at the door of the Amersfoort theater drew attention to their wishes. Regional transport is on strike again for higher wages and better working conditions. “I hope that the parties will reach an agreement soon,” said Heijnen. “But it is primarily a conflict between employers and employees. We need some restraint.” During the major strike at NS, the cabinet did play a mediating role.

Transport inequality is also being able to park in front of the theater if you have a physical disability. Mandy Mienes, experience expert and advisor to the Patient Federation, told during the conference how much effort she had to make to reach the meeting. Mienes is in a wheelchair and has chronic pain. “In the Netherlands, parking for people in a wheelchair is very difficult. The parking spaces are usually too small. That is better organized abroad.”

School-going young people

By bus is also difficult, because not all bus stops in the Netherlands are accessible for people in a wheelchair. “While it is so easy,” says Mienes. “In Spain they simply placed concrete slabs at the bus stops for people in wheelchairs.” The administrative agreement that State Secretary Heijnen concluded with local authorities last year would initially include that all bus stops in the Netherlands must be wheelchair-friendly, but that was later deemed too expensive.

The differences in accessibility of necessary facilities such as education, health care and work are large in the Netherlands. Jeroen Bastiaanssen, researcher from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), showed the maps of the Netherlands from his report in Amersfoort Access for everyone? This was published last autumn and mapped out the transport poverty per district.

Read also: Public transport in the Netherlands is at a standstill

Anyone who drives a car in the Netherlands is quite mobile. But more than half of the Dutch do not own a car. Moreover, 1 million Dutch people depend on someone else for their mobility.

According to Bastiaanssen, almost a third of the elderly in the Netherlands cannot reach a hospital or outpatient clinic within half an hour by public transport. 16 percent of the elderly do not even manage to do this within 45 minutes. This harms public health in the Netherlands, according to the PBL.

And about the accessibility of schools, the PBL says: 17 percent of school-going young people cannot reach a HAVO or VWO education within 30 minutes by bike. One in ten also does not cycle to a VBO or VMBO within 30 minutes. This limits the freedom of choice of education.

Although employment in the Netherlands has risen, Bastiaanssen stated, the accessibility of employees often leaves much to be desired. Apart from the distribution centers that should be located on the outskirts of the city, he prefers to build offices in the center or close to public transport hubs.


Transport inequality is also a matter of ignorance, as the congress showed. Municipalities and provinces do have all kinds of solutions for the transport of disabled people, the elderly, students or people in places further away. But they are not always known. Moreover, digital skills are often required to book a local bus, via an app or a website. “Why can’t I just call someone at the transport company?” an elderly woman wondered aloud.

In Amersfoort, solutions to such problems were discussed. For example, an employer bought a second-hand electric bicycle for a suitable applicant who did not have a driver’s license and otherwise could not reach her new job. Companies on an industrial estate jointly arranged a van to take staff to the station, because the bus was no longer running. But for the time being, those solutions remain limited in scale.

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