Accessibility Behind the Veil of Ignorance - a Thought Experiment

Accessibility Behind the Veil of Ignorance - a Thought Experiment


B Lange, Campaign for Better Transport, UK


The paper develops an innovative approach to accessibility and carbon reduction, which is capable of overcoming the conflict between self-interest and altruism using a political philosophy method.


Reducing carbon emissions and ensuring accessibility for all have been core policy aspirations in UK and more generally UK transport planning for the last ten years or more. There have been local or temporary successes, but overall progress towards these aspirations has been disappointing. Many reasons can be identified for this comparative failure, among them insufficient resources, lack of political leadership, poor quality alternatives to car use, and the cultural disposition to default to a car-centred lifestyle. This paper proposes an innovative way of addressing the cultural dispositions. Several disciplines have been brought to bear on climate change and accessibility issues including economics, land use planning and psychology. This paper develops a new approach using ideas from political philosophy. It argues that, if this approach is adopted, progress towards accessibility for all becomes easier and carbon emissions are more likely to fall as a result, and conversely that unless motivation in favour of accessibility for all is structurally enhanced, little progress will be made towards carbon reduction.

The paper takes as its starting point insights from economics and from various analyses of climate change-related initiatives to change behaviour. These show that in the main people are unlikely to be motivated by altruistic, longer-term concerns about the impact of climate change. Motivation is more likely to originate from more personal, shorter-term considerations including accessibility considerations such as price, time and convenience. Two main responses to these insights have become standard in research which underpins transport planning. Either attempts are considered to change people's motivations towards more altruistic ones, or incentives are planned to make alternatives to car use more attractive in the short-term. The practical results of both responses may coincide - for example, a reduction in car use in response to higher car parking charges may redcue carbon emissions. But the correlation is not stable as self-interest and altruism remain incompatible at the level of principle, and neither approach offers a mechanism for resolving conflicts between the two. This paper uses John Rawls' 'veil of ignorance' method to demonstrate an alternative to the self-interest/altruism deadlock.

A Rawlsian appoach does not attempt to make people more altruistic. Rather, it takes self-interest at face value but utilises it to engage people in thought experiments in which they do not know which particular personal attributes they have, whether for example they are able-bodied or disabled. It then encourages people to devise principles for society which would allow them to have their needs met whatever their self-interest consists in. This paper seeks to demonstrate that if Rawlsian thought experiments were conducted routinely when engaging the public on transport issues, progress towards accessibility and carbon reduction would become much easier than it currently is.

The paper will consist of 5 sections. Section 1 will review briefly how unequal accessibility currently is. Section 2 will summarise research results concerning the extent to which people are motivated by self-interest and altruism respectively. Section 3 sets out Rawls' 'veil of ignorance' method, which will then be applied to accessibility in section 4. The final section will outline how what is currently one person's (the author's) thought experiment can be empirically tested in structured qualitative interviews or focus groups.


Association for European Transport