How can we offer dignity to those on low incomes?

Yarra’s streets can be better for people on low incomes if they have access to lower cost transport options, including walking, cycling and public transport, supported by irregular use of car sharing. 

Source: Mobility Lab

People on low incomes include:

  • working-age people and other life-long renters,
  • people who live with profound financial hardship as a result of domestic abuse, illness, family death or diminished career prospects,
  • young people still living with their parents,
  • couples just moving out of home, and
  • seniors who are cutting costs.

People on low incomes need access to modes of transport that offer low up-front and low ongoing costs. Walking, cycling and public transport all offer this, supported by occasional use of car sharing. In contrast, driving a private car imposes high upfront and ongoing costs, because people must pay to purchase, insure, fuel, park and maintain their car. 

What Yarra can do

Yarra can improve access to low cost transport options by allocating street space and budget to active transport. To be effective, walking, cycling, public transport and car sharing need space. This includes space for wider footpaths, protected bicycle lanes, protected tram stops and allocated parking bays for car sharing. 

If Yarra chooses not to allocate space and budget to active transport, and instead continues to allocate all almost of our highly valuable public land (the space between property boundaries) to driving and parking private cars, as well as continuing to charge less than market rates for on-street parking, then this effectively subsides driving. It also subsidises people on high incomes (who dominate the cohort of people who drive and park) at the expense of people on low incomes (who dominate the cohort of people who walk, cycle, use public transport or car sharing). In contrast, if Yarra allocated space to active transport and levied demand responsive parking charges, it would effectively be a transfer of mobility and wealth from people on high incomes to people on low incomes.

Example from Strong Towns

Strong Towns describes how there is a cohort of ‘invisible bike riders‘ in each city – people on low incomes who use cycle to work, not to save a little money or for the purposes of exercise, but because they have no other option.

Image credit: Strong Towns

Support from the Sustainable Development Commission

The Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) was (until 2011) the UK Government’s independent adviser on sustainable development. They held Government to account to ensure the needs of society, the economy and the environment were properly balanced. Their “Fairness in a Car-dependent Society” report describes how people on low incomes are impacted if streets are dominated by cars, and how they would benefit by greater investment in walking, cycling and public transport. Most of this analysis also applies to people on low incomes in Yarra.


Overall, it’s better for people on low incomes if the City of Yarra and the Victorian State Government allocate more street space and budget to walking, cycling and public transport, supported by revenue from demand responsive parking charges and demand responsive driving charges.