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Studies of justice and equity in mobility rarely produce explicit conceptual or practical insights into an ethics of transport and its planning. Discussions focused on equitable outcomes and just process retreat from engaging critically with normative ethical aspirations among practitioners and academics. Thus, we ask, what ought an ethics of transport planning look like? In responding to this question, we focus on Australia, introduced by a brief historical take on socio-political changes over the last century, and the ethical questions these changes raise for scholars of contemporary transport planning.
Australian cities, being almost entirely developed after the industrial revolution, benefited from innovations in mass transit that created dispersed urban forms planned and regulated by powerful centralised statutory authorities. Privatisation, government retrenchment and the increasing reliance upon private sector actors have produced modes of governance that are exclusive, managerial and largely shielded from public scrutiny, further entrenching car-based suburbanisation and under-funded, fragmented and privatised transit networks. Our aim is critically to engage with ethical questions for contemporary transport planning generated by worsening conditions of transport disadvantage, rapidly growing cities, high levels of car-dependency and increasingly privatised planning and delivery of infrastructure and services within a largely bipartisan neoliberal political consensus.
Within this frame, there is a growing disconnect: evidence from national and international experience and research sits increasingly in tension with the kinds of transport planning and infrastructure projects favoured by Australian governments. In this paper we assert that this tension presents a complex ethical conundrum for transport scholars, and we consider the possibilities and potentials for opening arenas for research, practice and politics in transport planning.