Investigating Links between Social Capital and Public Transport

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

land use - planning, ridership - disadvantage, mode - mass transit


Trust (Psychology), Transportation planning, Transportation disadvantaged persons, Transit, Social factors, Social capital, Public transit, Mobility, Mass transit, Local transit, Accessibility


Social capital (SC) describes the advantage individuals and communities can gain from social participation, mutual assistance and trust. The provision of travel options for those who are socially disadvantaged is a major rationale for providing public transport. While there has been recent work on how transport can address social exclusion, SC has been overlooked. This article describes the theoretical basis of SC and suggests ways in which the concept might relate to public transport planning, research and practice. Disadvantaged groups can lack SC, mobility and accessibility. Public transport can provide mobility for this group and, in doing so, provide a greater opportunity to create social networks, trust and reciprocity. Although these concepts are abstract, plausible links are identified between the concepts of enhanced positive social interaction associated with the 'livable city' concept and those engendered in SC theory. Public transport by definition involves travelling with others and hence provides opportunities for social interaction while travelling. While a series of possible links between SC and public transport are theorized, it is unlikely these are necessarily strong since other mobility options are available and a range of land-use and non-transport alternatives can address social needs. Aspects of the SC concept are already covered by the social mobility and accessibility literature, although it does offer a wider insight into the potential advantages of improving access and mobility for disadvantaged communities. The concept of SC is complex and suffers from a 'fuzzy' definition. There is a lack of quantitative primary research associated with measuring SC. Measuring the influence of improved mobility options on SC in disadvantaged communities would be a worthwhile research area. Despite the challenges associated with researching SC, the links between SC and travel present an opportunity to understand how public transport acts to address social disadvantage through the provision of mobility to disadvantaged communities.