In this post, I’m going to present you one of the taboo sustainable mobility debate is not stressing out enough, which is the social exclusion of people from low-income groups – the most vulnerable ones.

Firstly, I want to give at this place credit to Quian Haifeng, in particular the article, which covers the Haifengs photographic odyssey in low-budget trains in China. The pictures are just stunning, and they all well captures not only the life’s struggles of blue-collar workers but also one of the taboo still present in the ongoing sustainable mobility debate.

Quian Haifeng, as he admits for the Sixth Tone, was also once the blue-collar worker who was heavily dependent on the miserable, but still effective train connection of so-called green trains. Fascinated by the diverse and isolated life inside the old wagons, he has started to document it.

Besides documenting the various and sometimes surreal situations, he has also noticed how the implementation of high-speed trains is putting the essential green trains into off-peak hours, if not reducing or cancelling the whole lines. This, unfortunately, illustrated one of the issues of ongoing sustainable mobility debate.

Authors like Beaten, Gössling & Cohen or Reigner & Brenac argue, that current transport and mobility planning is unequal and that only certain groups have the privilege to participate in the transport development. In contrast, others are deprived of such a chance which is only increasing the inequalities in the future.

“The green trains are a metaphor for the life of the underclass… They’re too slow to keep up with the pace of modernization,” comments Quian his work and demonstrates what exactly is not stressed out enough in current sustainable mobility debate.

Which in Beaten words goes as follow:

“Sustainable transport vision leads to the further empowerment of technocratic and elitist groups in society while simultaneously contributing to the further disempowerment of those marginalized social groups who were already bearing the burden of the environmental problems resulting from a troubled transport system.”

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Replacement of green trains with modern high-speed trains without enabling its use for everyone results in this case in marginalization of entire communities who can’t afford to pay the bill.

Is this the way of promoting sustainability through the innovations?

And how far are we now from what was already said by John Adams in his paper called Could technology save us?

“Even when they live in close physical proximity to each other, the mobile wealthy and the immobile poor live in different worlds. The poor are confined by their lack of mobility in prisons with invisible walls. They are continually tempted and taunted, in a way that prisoners confined to cells with opaque walls are not, by the freedom and conspicuous consumption of the affluent. The wealthy can be seen and heard flying overhead, or driving along motorways through the ghetto, or on television, enjoying privileges that remain tantalizingly out of reach. To the wealthy, the poor are invisible; because of the height and speed at which they travel, the wealthy tend to see the world at a lower level of resolution.”

Suppose we really want to enhance sustainable development. In that case, we have to be sure that the topic of transport inequality or transport poverty has its place within the prevailing transport policy debates and practises, which can no longer be happening behind the closed doors. Otherwise, all the green technological innovation will be only toys for mobile wealthy.