Social Determinants of Health - Transport
Rising worldwide incomes have led to a massive use of automobiles and in particular cars. Cars are seen as a threat to health because of their links to obesity, air pollution and traffic accidents. Some health experts call for a wide range of government interventions designed to limit the use of cars, encourage alternative forms of transport (ranging from building cycle lanes to turning current roads into green spaces). Alternative methods like allowing cars with even numbered plates to ply on certain days and odd numbered plates on others, auctioning the permission of buying cars to the highest bidder, etc. are followed in some countries.
The argument comes down to restricting the use of cars. However, it could also be argued that motor vehicles are an important tool of economic growth enabling goods and labour to be transported quickly and cheaply. They also enable isolated communities to participate in national or regional economy. They are thus valuable as a tool of social cohesion allowing families to stay in contact even while staying hundreds of miles away. The economic and social consequences of motor transport cannot therefore be ignored. An yet another suggestion made to minimise the threat to health by motorised vehicles is that planning regulations be tightened to stop the growth of low density suburbs and out of town supermarkets. The argument once again is that they increase the dependency on cars. Once again, such arguments are critiqued on the ground that they affect poor indirectly. For instance, restrictions on suburban development will constrain the housing supply, leading to rise in both general price level and the rental prices.
Also, restricting the ability of retailers to operate from out-of-town locations where land is cheaper will stimulate price inflation in city centres. The higher rents will be passed on to consumers via price rises. Again, these will hit the poor the hardest. A range of alternatives are available to reduce the health consequences of air pollution. For instance, encouraging free trade in motor vehicles by eliminating import tariffs will incentivise local industries to produce better cleaner fuels. Traffic and congestion on roads increase when roads are used as a ‘free good’. The harmful effects of air pollution can be curbed by better roads allowed to be used against ‘road pricing’. In cities where road pricing schemes have been implemented (as an alternative to road tax), this has led to more rational use of limited road space.