Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Mobility practices of the urban poor in Ahmedabad (India)

Joshi, Rutul

Mobility practices of the urban poor in Ahmedabad (India) Thumbnail


Rutul Joshi


Urban poverty, a prominent issue in the rapidly urbanising developing world, consists of many interrelated aspects in poor people’s lives. One such aspect is accessibility, which determines the crucial links between housing, labour markets and other amenities. Relatively little is known about how poor people negotiate the complexities of their daily lives in relation to their mobility choices with respect to existing transport systems, especially in Indian cities. This thesis argues that the poor should be viewed as ‘disadvantaged citizen’ rather than ‘disadvantaged commuters’ or ‘vulnerable road users’ as often described in the transportation studies in India and elsewhere. It is important to ask why the poor make certain mobility-related choices and how these choices shape their own efforts to deal with poverty. This thesis develops a conceptual model linking poverty and mobility debates by employing social practice theory for understanding and structuring mobility related practices of the poor. Further, the conceptual model is pitched in the larger international debates of informality, poverty alleviation and sustainable mobility.
To situate the mobility practices of the poor, Ahmedabad is selected as a case-study which represents the dynamics of poverty, informality and intraurban relocation and displacement coupled with some innovative urban projects which, at least in terms of rhetoric, are engaged in developing more sustainable mobility and with poverty alleviation. This study adopts an inductive research strategy based around ‘building theory’ where the focus is on understanding the poor’s own efforts to deal with their mobility and poverty. A mixed methods approach is followed involving qualitative narratives of individuals and a quantitative household survey, supported by secondary documentary analysis. This thesis extensively uses the qualitative narratives of the poor to build empirical knowledge about the differential sub-groups within the poor and to understand the dynamics of poverty in their mobility related decision-making.
A range of social practices was identified by the research, which have developed around the low affordability of transport. The poor people are largely dependent on the human-powered transport modes like cycling and walking. The poor are found to seek shelter-livelihood-mobility balance variably across their locations, and differing based on their livelihoods and other social categories like gender. The prevailing informality in housing or job markets is often helpful for poor households to not only minimise transport but to also move out of poverty over a period of time, at least, in some cases. However, the current mobility practices of the poor based on walking, cycling and use of shared or public transport, in spite of their low energy consumption, are being marginalised in the official urban and transport planning in Ahmedabad. The poor face an intrinsic paradox in their mobility to access the various facets of the city; on one side, they resist motorised trips due to low-affordability and on the other side, even if some of them want to travel longer distances to access better opportunities, they are constrained in the absence of an affordable and reliable transport service in the city. Finally, this thesis makes a case for more inclusive and integrated policies around shelter-security, livelihood protections and sustainable transport linked infrastructure provision for the poor people in the cities of India. It is crucial that improved articulation and understanding of the social dimensions of transport should attract greater research and policy attention in India in future years.

Thesis Type Thesis
Publicly Available Date Jun 6, 2019
Keywords sustainable mobility, poverty, developing countries, India, urban development, urban poor, motorisation, transport equity
Public URL
Award Date Oct 21, 2014


Downloadable Citations