Income inequality and rule-systems within public transport: A study of Medellín (Colombia) and Santiago (Chile)

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - south america, place - urban, mode - bus, mode - subway/metro, policy - equity, policy - sustainable, ridership - demand, ridership - perceptions


Bus, Metro, social policy, transport affordability


The objectives of reducing income inequality and providing sustainable transport systems are part of the Sustainable Development Goals and are inter-related. On the one hand, income distribution influences transport decisions and accessibility. On the other hand, transport can be a source of redistribution by facilitating access to opportunities, and by being a target for public spending. Yet, two schools of economic thought, neoclassical economics and institutionalist political economy, expect contrasting effects of income inequality on public transport demand and supply. This research empirically explores how income inequality at the city level is linked to socioeconomic distribution of supply and satisfied demand. The article compares two highly income-unequal Latin American cities: Santiago (Chile) and Medellín (Colombia). Both quantitative descriptive analyses and qualitative semi-structured interviews are used to analyse the cases. Aligned with subjective perceptions captured in interviews, the quantitative results show that, although both cities have similar income distributions, allocation of supply and satisfied demand among income groups is different. One of the most notable achievements of Medellín is to avoid socioeconomic segregation between buses and the metro network, as it occurs in Santiago and other cities studied by the literature. Furthermore, the analysis highlights unwritten rule-systems, or informal institutions, that influence income distribution within public transport.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Elsevier, copyright remains with them.


Journal of Transport Geography home Page: