“Who can I ask for help?”: Mechanisms behind digital inequality in public transport

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - urban, policy - equity, planning - surveys


Digitalisation, Digital inequality, Public transport, Transport-related social exclusion, Transport disadvantage


Digitalisation in public transport has become pervasive over the past decade, especially in urban areas. While it benefits many, it also leaves some behind. Previous research shows that older adults, people with a lower education level, people with impairments and people with a migration background are more likely to be negatively impacted by digitalisation in transport services. In order to uncover mechanisms behind digital inequality in public transport, we interviewed 39 people belonging to these groups. They experience difficulties due to low digital skills, not using digital technologies on-the-go, not possessing the right devices and due to a complex design of technologies, among others. Many participants reap some benefits of digitalisation though. In fact, individuals can experience benefits on one aspect and difficulties on another. Nevertheless, experiencing difficulties with digitalisation does not necessarily equal to exclusion from public transport thanks to coping strategies like support from one's social network. Still, many coping strategies come with pitfalls such as hidden work and costs. Digital technologies facilitate a self-service approach that paradoxically makes some people more dependent on others. This study can support practitioners and researchers in developing a better understanding of the (sometimes insidious) consequences of technological innovations on individuals.


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