Basic Access and Basic Mobility

Meeting Society’s Most Important Transportation Needs


TDM Encyclopedia

Victoria Transport Policy Institute


Updated 25 August 2016

This chapter describes the concepts of “Basic Access” and “Basic Mobility,” which refer to transport activities that are considered socially beneficial, and how TDM strategies can help achieve Basic Accessibility.




Basic Access refers to people’s ability to access goods, services and activities that society considers particularly important (also called essential or lifeline). Basic Mobility refers to physical travel that provides Basic Access. Basic Access typically includes:

·         Emergency services (police, fire, ambulances, etc.).

·         Public services and utilities.

·         Health care.

·         Basic food and clothing.

·         Education and employment (commuting).

·         Mail and package distribution.

·         Freight delivery.

·         A certain amount of social and recreational activities.



Basic Access recognizes that some transport activities are particularly important to society (they are considered merit goods), and so justifies policies that insure access to them, even if this requires giving certain transport activities priority over others (those considered less important). For example, most drivers are happy to pull over to let an ambulance or fire truck pass them in an emergency, but most probably would object if a pizza delivery vehicles also used a siren to get through congestion more quickly. Similarly, many communities subsidize demand response transit (which serve people with physical disabilities) at a relatively high rate per trip, while commuter-oriented transit trips are subsidized less, and leisure-oriented transportation services (such as shuttles from parking lots to arenas) are often expected to be self-financing.


Basic mobility typically requires the number of trips as indicated below. In some locations a significant portion of these Accessibility needs can be met by walking, but as a community becomes more Automobile-Dependent an increasing portion require motorized travel (public transit, driving or taxi). These are typical values and may not apply to everybody. For example, people who are engaged in community activities, very sociable or require special medical services may need more mobility.



Minimal Weekly Out-of-Home Trips



Unemployed caring for children


Employed or attending school or college




Basic Access has many implications for transport planning. For example, it suggests:


·         Transportation policies and management practices may Prioritize Transportation activities and investments to favor higher value trips and lower cost modes priority over lower value, higher cost trips.


·         Transportation subsidies may be justified for certain transportation activities but not others.


·         Transportation systems may be evaluated in terms of its ability to provide Basic Access, even under unusual or difficult conditions. That is, the system is measured based on the quality of transportation under the worst conditions (e.g., a low-income person with physical disabilities who needs to get to work) rather than under the best conditions (e.g., the convenience of air travel).


·         Society may subsidize a certain amount of mobility for an individual, but not an unlimited amount.



Freedom of movement and access to certain activities and destinations are recognized in many cultural and legal traditions, and under some circumstances may be considered to be a basic human right (Hay and Trinder, 1991; Hamburg, Blair and Albright, 1995). For example, property owners may demand right-of-way through adjacent properties, and freedom to roam over rural landscapes is a well established tradition in some regions. There is no universal standard for determining exactly what transportation activities or level of Accessibility is Basic, and this will tend to vary depending on geographic, demographic and social factors. In Automobile Dependent areas, where economic and social activities require a high level of mobility, the amount of travel required for Basic Access tends to increase. For example, a non-driver living in an automobile dependent city may require more passenger-miles of transit or taxi travel to meet their basic access needs than if the same person lived in a more multi-modal city.


Basic Access is an important concept in Transportation Demand Management planning because TDM often involves Prioritizing Transportation Activities and rationing resources such as road and parking capacity based on specific economic or social criteria. As a result, TDM often requires explicit consideration of which transportation activities can be considered Basic Access.


There is virtually no limit to the demand for mobility: if travel were cheap enough (inexpensive, fast, safe and comfortable) people would the continent for dinner, cross the ocean for a party, and fly to the moon for a holiday. As per capita mobility increases, an increasing portion is discretionary travel that provides ever smaller net benefits to consumers. Although there are often reasons for society to subsidize (or bear external costs from) travel that provides Basic Access, there is less justification for society to subsidize lower value travel, which represents an increasing portion of total transportation activity. Transportation Market Reforms and other TDM strategies can help avoid ever-increasing economic inefficiencies from such travel.



Comparing Modes

Table 1 compares the uses of common travel modes. Each is suitable for certain applications. Walking and bicycling inexpensive, but are slow and limited by physical ability. Taxies are relatively expensive. Ridesharing requires cooperation from drivers. Transit provides mobility for non-drivers who are not very wealthy or fit.


Table 1            Suitability of Travel Modes







Most Appropriate Uses













Requires physical ability. Limited distance and carrying capacity. Difficult or unsafe in some areas. 


Short trips by physically able people.









Requires sidewalk or path. Limited distance and carrying capacity.

Short urban trips by people with physical disabilities.













Requires bicycle and physical ability. Limited distance and carrying capacity.

Short to medium length trips by physically able people on suitable routes.










Relatively high cost per mile.

Infrequent trips, short and medium distance trips.

Fixed Route Transit








Destinations and times limited.

Short to medium distance trips along busy corridors.





High cost and limited service.

Travel for disabled people.


Auto driver







Requires driving ability and automobile. High fixed costs.

Travel by people who can drive and afford an automobile.



(auto passenger)










Requires cooperative automobile driver. Consumes driver’s time if a special trip (chauffeuring).

Trips that the driver would take anyway (ridesharing). Occasional special trips (chauffeuring).


(Vehicle Rentals)







Requires convenient and affordable vehicle rentals services.

Occasional use by drivers who don’t own an automobile.









Requires riding ability and motorcycle. High fixed costs.

Travel by people who can ride and afford a motorcycle.





Requires equipment and skill.

Alternative to some types of trips.

Each mode is suitable for certain types of travel. None is a perfect substitute for driving.



Because non-drivers’ mobility is so constrained, increasing their travel provides greater benefit than comparable increases motorists’ travel. For example, a transportation improvement that increases motorized travel by one trip per week represents a 10% increase for a non-driver who otherwise only takes 10 trips per week, but only a 5% increase for drivers with comparable travel needs who currently take 20 trips per week.


Although non-drivers on average have relatively low mobility needs because many are retired or unemployed, there are large variations in these needs. A significant portion of non-drivers have education, employment and family care responsibilities that demand high levels of mobility. Because users have few alternatives, Nguyen-Hoanga and Yeung (2010) find that paratransit service benefits far exceed their costs.



Equity Impacts

Basic Access is an important concept for Transportation Equity. By definition, Basic Access helps people meet their basic needs, such as access to emergency services, medical service and other essential goods, and it helps provide economic opportunity through access to education and employment. Transportation equity can be evaluated based on a transportation system’s ability to provide Basic Access to everybody, including those who are economically, physically or socially disadvantaged.


People who can afford a car and are able to drive or can afford to hire somebody to drive them to common destinations seldom have difficulty achieving Basic Access. For example, a survey of Americans aged 65 or older found that non-drivers make 15% fewer trips to the doctor; 59% fewer shopping trips and restaurant visits; and 65% fewer trips for social, family and religious activities compared with their peers (Bailey 2004). Efforts to provide Basic Access focus primarily on people who are transportation disadvantaged, and so have significant unmet transportation needs.



Evaluating Basic Access

Basic accessibility can be defined as land use patterns and Transport Options which allow people to travel to medical appointments, shopping, commuting to work or school, and participate in other high-value activities without excessive financial or time costs. “Excessive” can be defined as significantly higher than average: more than 20% of household expenditures or more than 1.5 hours per day devoted to transport for basic activities. A basic level of public transit service can be defied as at least one round-trip per day. Special transportation programs, such as low priced Taxi service and Ridesharing can augment transit service, but does not necessarily substitute for it.


In order to evaluate Basic Access and apply it to transportation planning it is necessary to define and rank the types of activities and services that a community considers essential or “basic.” This might include the following:


1.       Emergency services (police, fire, ambulances, etc.).

2.       Public services and utilities.

3.       Health care.

4.       Mail and package distribution.

5.       Freight delivery.

6.       Basic food and clothing.

7.       Education and employment (commuting).

8.       A certain amount of social and recreational activities.



However, it does not require that everybody enjoys the same level of mobility or convenience: that every non-driver or lower-income person must have the same level of mobility (i.e., travels as many miles each year) or quality of service (i.e. convenience and comfort) as a wealthy motorist. For example, Basic Access does not mean that a society must necessarily pay for an automobile or a taxi ride to allow a low-income person to get to work if transit service can provide access to the same destination.


Basic Access can be evaluated based on Transportation Adequacy, which refers to whether Transportation Options and services meet minimum standards that society considers necessary. Transportation Adequacy is affected by:

·         Affordability – Whether transportation options have financial costs within the targeted users’ budget.

·         Availability – Whether transportation options exist at the location and time users require.

·         Accessibility – Whether transportation options accommodate users’ abilities, including people with disabilities and special needs (Universal Design), taking into account the total journey (i.e., door-to-door).

·         Acceptability – Whether transportation options are considered suitable to users.



What is considered adequate reflects geographic and demographic factors, as well as values and perspectives that may vary from one individual or community to another. For example, different people may have different ideas as to how far physically-able transit users should be expected walk to access a bus, or how many shopping and recreation trips people need for basic access. For this reason it is important to involve public officials, community members and users in evaluating Basic Access and developing Basic Access plans and programs.


Basic Access requires that essential public services be provided even during Disasters or other periods of stress, that people are able to reach basic activities and services even if they have economic or physically constraints, and that economic activities be supported by efficient transportation systems even during periods of uncertainty and change. This requires determining the worst combination of conditions that are likely to occur, and identifying suitable responses (Evaluating Resilience).


Table 2 summarizes various categories of benefits from Basic Mobility and Accessibility, and suggests ways of evaluating these impacts.


Table 2            Categories of Basic Mobility and Accessibility Benefits



How To Measured

User Benefits

Direct user benefits from the additional mobility provided by public transit.

Rider surveys to determine the degree that users depend on transit, the types of trips they make, and the value they place on this mobility.

Public Service Support

Supports public services and reduces government agency costs.

Consultation with public agency officials, and surveys of clients, to determine the role transit provides in supporting public service goals.

Increased productivity

Increased education and employment participation by non-drivers.

Survey transit users to determine the portion that rely on transit for education and employment.

Reduced high risk drivers

Inadequate travel options force high risk motorists to continue driving and prevent society from revoking driving privileges.

Survey experts and the public to determine whether inadequate travel options are increasing the amount of high risk driving.


Degree to which transit helps achieve equity objectives such as basic mobility for physically, economically and socially disadvantaged people.

Portion of transit users who are economically, socially or physically disadvantaged, the importance of mobility in ameliorating these inequities, and the value that society places on increased equity.

Option Value

Benefits of having mobility options available in case it is ever needed.

Transit service coverage, ability of transit to serve in emergencies, the value that society places on mobility insurance. EcoNorthwest and PBQD (2002) describe ways to quantify transit option value.

Public transit provides several types of mobility benefits. These are affected by the degree that transit service is available to non-drivers, and the amount of increased mobility it provides.



Related Chapters

For more information on issues related to Basic Access see Evaluating Equity, Accessibility, Evaluating Transportation Choice, Community Livability, TDM Planning, Measuring Transportation, and Sustainable Transportation and TDM.




Rural Public Transportation (Oluwoye and Gooding 2006)

A survey of rural Alabama transit riders found that the largest portion of transit trips were for medical purposes, accounting for 63% of all trips, 18% of trips where for other purposes, and 9.1% were for work and education. Of riders who use public transit for commuting, 36% indicate that they would be unable to work if the service were unavailable. Overall, the survey indicates that these services, although limited, provide basic mobility for people who have no other options, especially elderly and disabled residents, and that inadequate rural transit services leads to increased dependence on home healthcare.



Fairness in a Car Dependent Society (

The U.K. Sustainable Development Commission (SDC 2011) commissioned a study that analyzes the costs of car dependency and ways to ensure that the decisions we make about future transport priorities help minimise the negative impacts on everyone. It concludes that a new approach to national transport policy is needed which achieves a better balance between potentially conflicting rights and freedoms in a way that is equitable for both this and future generations and, which respects environmental limits. This approach must recognise that transport planning decisions have significant indirect and external impacts, and so should consider effects on all members of society, not just motorists.



Community Ridesharing (Kishi and Satoh 2007)

A survey of residents in Naganuma Town, Japan finds relatively high willingness to provide rides to senior non-drivers in areas not served by public transit, particularly if drivers are financially compensated. Concerns about accident risk liability is a deterrent.



Transportation Affordability Evaluation Framework (Fan and Huang 2011)

This research project developed a contextualized transportation affordability analysis framework that accounts for the different demands and abilities of various demographic and geographic groups. The utility of such a context-sensitive framework is demonstrated via a case study of the Twin Cities metropolitan area, which discusses the quality of access in different geographic areas and measures the transportation financial and time costs of various demographic groups. This analysis indicates that socio-economically disadvantaged groups, such as lower-income working parents, have the lowest auto ownership rate, yet their mobility needs are best served by automobiles, particularly in auto-oriented locations, which require more travel for access to destinations, which leads to higher transportation costs. The researchers conclude that improving transportation affordability and social welfare requires a combination of reduced automobile dependence and financial subsidies for car access among disadvantaged populations.



Automobile Ownership and Travel By Low-Income Households

Analyzing the 2009 U.S. National Household Travel Survey, Blumenberg and Pierce (2012) identified factors that affect vehicle ownership and passenger travel, including income, age, gender, race-ethnicity, employment status (student, work, retiree, homemaker), children in household, geographic location (density and urban region), vehicle insurance costs and vehicle ownership (as it affects personal travel).  The results indicated that low-income households are less likely to own cars and more likely to travel by modes other than the automobile. As household incomes rise from low to medium levels, vehicle ownership and travel tend to increase proportionately faster than incomes. Vehicle ownership and travel increase for workers and if a household has children, decline with land use density.



Right To Basic Transport (KOTI 2011)

Korea recognizes the right to basic transportation, which includes the right to move freely, conveniently and safely, the freedom to choose transport modes, the right to transport cargo, and the right to gain access to transport information regardless of economic, physical, social and regional barriers. It is a right based on the citizens’ basic rights stipulated in the Korean Constitution such as freedom of residence and movement, freedom of occupation, assurance regarding human dignity and worth. Korean planners are developing minimum service policies based on indices and criteria to implement these rights within practical resource constraints.



Welfare to Work (Lucas and Tyler 2006)

A number of studies indicate that inadequate mobility is often a significant constraint on employment and career advancement by disadvantaged people, such as people with disabilities, lower-income workers in general, and people transitioning from welfare dependency to employment. Welfare-to-work programs often include various components to improve mobility options, including public transit subsidies, carsharing, and support to purchase private vehicles.


Yi (2006) found that job accessibility by public transit have significant impacts on employment levels in Houston, Texas. Although the private mobility also appears significant for improving employment status of the economically disadvantaged, job accessibility by public transit has stronger effect in increasing the levels of employment than private vehicles. This study defies the contention that public transit is helpless for the underprivileged of the society.



Transit Access (Tomer, et al. 2011)

The Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program developed a detailed database of transit service and demographic data in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas which can be used to measure transit access for various demographic groups. This quantifies the portion of residents within convenient walking distance of transit services, the frequency of that transit service, and the portion of jobs within 90-minute maximum transit trip for residents, as indicators of a transit system’s ability to provide basic mobility for non-drivers in a particular area. The results reveal considerable variation in transit coverage and service levels, and transit’s ability to connect workers to the types of jobs they are most likely to hold. The results indicate that more compact and transit-oriented cities and neighborhoods provide much better transit access to employment than more sprawled, automobile-oriented cities and neighborhoods.



Incorporating Social Justice Into Transport Modeling (Martens 2006)

Researcher Karel Martens argues that current transport evaluation practices exaggerate the benefits of automobile-oriented improvements and undervalue improvements to alternative modes, because they are based on demand (the amount of transport that people can afford) rather than need (the amount of transport that people need to access basic services and activities). To correct these biases he recommends the following changes to transportation modeling and economic evaluation techniques:



Missed Medical Appointments

Wallace, et al. (2005) analyzed the 2002 National Health Interview Survey to evaluate the degree to which inadequate transportation is a constraint to non-emergency medical services. They estimate that 1.3% of the U.S. population misses non-emergency medical appointments due to mobility constraints. People who rely on public transit are most likely to miss appointments. The study concludes that improving transport to medical services is likely to be a cost effective public investment.


Wit and Humor

A guy walks into a bar with both ears bandaged up, and orders a stiff drink. Other patrons can’t withhold their curiosity, and after a few minutes one asks, “Hey buddy, what happened to your ears?”

He replies, “Yesterday I was ironing a shirt when the telephone rang and (holding his fist near his ear) shhh! I accidentally answered the iron.”

The other patrons shake their heads sympathetically, and after a pause somebody asks, “That explains one ear, but what happened to the other one?”

He says, “Well, jeez, I had to call an ambulance!”



References And Resources For More Information


AARP (2005), Livable Communities: An Evaluation Guide, AARP Public Policy Institute (


Linda Bailey (2004), Stranded Without Options, Surface Transportation Policy Project (; at


Gary Barnes and Heather Dolphin (2006), An Exploratory Survey of Potential Community Transportation Providers and Users, University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies (; at


Evelyn Blumenberg and Margy Waller (2003), The Long Journey to Work: A Federal Transportation Policy for Working Families, Brookings Institution (, Transportation Reform Series.


Evelyn Blumenberg and Gregory Pierce (2012), “Automobile Ownership and Travel By The Poor,” Transportation Research Record 2320, Transportation Research Board (, pp. 28-36,


BTS (1997), Mobility and Access; Transportation Statistics Annual Report, Bureau of Transportation Statistics (, pp. 173-192; at


A. Church, M. Frost and K. Sullivan (2000), “Transport and Social Exclusion in London,” Transport Policy, Vol. 7, No. 3, pp. 195-205.


ECONorthwest and PBQD (2002), Estimating the Benefits and Costs of Public Transit Projects, TCRP Report 78, (, TRB (


Yingling Fan and Arthur Huang (2011), How Affordable is Transportation? An Accessibility-Based Evaluation, CTS Report 11-12, Transitway Impacts Research Program, Center for Transportation Studies (; at


Gerard Fitzgerald (2012), The Social Impacts Of Poor Access To Transport In Rural New Zealand,  Research Report 484, NZ Transport Agency (; at


David J. Forkenbrock and Glen E. Weisbrod (2001), Guidebook for Assessing the Social and Economic Effects of Transportation Projects, NCHRP Report 456, Transportation Research Board, National Academy Press (


FTA (1998), Federal Transit Administration Strategic Plan, Federal Transit Administration (


John Hamburg, Larry Blair and David Albright (1995), “Mobility as a Right,” Transportation Research Record 1499, Transportation Research Board (, pp. 52-55.


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Kunihiro Kishi and Keiichi Satoh (2007), “Attitudinal Study on a Reciprocal Community Transport System in Japan,” International Journal of Sustainable Transportation, Vol. 1, No. 3 (, July-Sept 2007, pp. 161-171.


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Todd Litman (2008), Multi-Modal Transport Planning, Victoria Transport Policy Institute (; at


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Karel Martens (2006), “Basing Transport Planning on Principles of Social Justice,” Berkeley Planning Journal, Volume 19 (


Patricia Mokhtarian and Ilan Salomon (2001), “How Derived is the Demand for Travel? Some Conceptual and Measurement Considerations,” Transportation Research A, Vol. 35, No. 8 ( September 2001, pp. 695-719.


Phuong Nguyen-Hoanga and Ryan Yeung (2010), “What is Paratransit Worth,” Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Volume 44, Issue 10, December, pp. 841-853.


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Sandra Rosenbloom (2003), The Mobility Needs of Older Americans: Implications for Transportation Reauthorization, Brookings Institute (, Transportation Reform Series.


William Ross (2000), “Mobility and Accessibility: The Yin and Yang of Planning,” World Transport Policy & Practice (, Vol. 6, No. 2 pp. 13-19.


Ilan Salomon and Patricia L. Mokhtarian (1998), “What Happens When Mobility-inclined Market Segments Face Accessibility-enhancing Policies?” Transportation Research D Vol. 3, No. 3, pp. 129-140.


K.H. Schaeffer and Elliot Sclar (1980), Access for All, Columbia University Press (New York).


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Robert Wallace, Paul Hughes-Cromwick, Hillary Mull and Snehamay Khasnabis (2005), “Access to Health Care and Nonemergency Medical Transportation: Two Missing Links,” Transportation Research Record 1924, Transportation Research Board (, pp. 76-84.


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This Encyclopedia is produced by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute to help improve understanding of Transportation Demand Management. It is an ongoing project. Please send us your comments and suggestions for improvement.




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