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Unequal detours: Breaking public transport’s circuits of inequality

Netherlands-based Indian scientist wins 2022 Young Researcher of the Year Award for study on the effects of public transport design on equity

Malvika Dixit was named the International Transport Forum’s (ITF) 2022 Young Researcher of the Year for her unique investigation into how income levels can determine the distance travelled and fares paid on public transport. Ms Dixit received the Award from ITF Secretary-General Young Tae Kim at the Closing Plenary Session of the ITF 2022 Summit on “Transport for Inclusive Societies” on 20 May 2022.

Since 2008, the ITF Young Researcher Award honours scientists under 35 years of age for research that supports sound transport policy making. The Award carries a prize of EUR 5 000.

Ms Dixit, an Indian national, is a PhD Researcher at the Delft University of Technology’s Smart Public Transport Lab in the Netherlands. She holds a Master of Science (Transport) from Imperial College London and a Bachelor of Engineering (Civil Engineering) from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani.

Ms Dixit identified the potential relevance of detours on equity during a doctoral analysis of the impact of detours – or network circuity – on how people choose public transport routes. The work explored disparities in travel times and fares paid by different travellers in the network due to detours. Ms Dixit found that more circuitous itineraries lead to longer transport distance for the same “crow flies” distance, increasing travel times and fares where these are calculated on a distance-travelled basis.

Ms Dixit’s work explored how public transport network design could influence disparities in travel times and fares. It pulled from a rich database of smart card data covering almost all journeys made on Amsterdam’s public transport network and combined that with neighbourhood-level income data. The work highlighted that users living in lower-density peripheral areas of monocentric cities typically suffer from more circuitous routes that may result in higher fares.

The study established a fundamental link between income and circuity: public transport users in Amsterdam’s predominantly higher-income areas have more direct routes, meaning shorter distances and, therefore, lower fares. These combined effects exacerbate the income disparity between the lower- and higher-income areas.

The results highlight the role of public transport network design in determining equity and emphasise the importance of considering equity during route and fare planning.

ITF Secretary-General Young Tae Kim said: “Effective public transport networks are the bedrock of sustainable and accessible urban mobility. Malvika Dixit’s outstanding work provides the concept and evidence-base for public transport authorities to put people’s equity at the centre of their network designs. The findings sensitise us to the impact of route and fare design on people’s transport experience, allowing public authorities to tweak future designs and reduce existing disparities. It is heartening to see the quality and interest demonstrated by the next generation of transport researchers to designing policies to ensure a more inclusive transport future.”

Young Researcher of the Year 2022 Jury member Dominique Mignot, Université Lumière Lyon 2 said: “Malvika Dixit’s paper excels by virtue of a well-explained methodology and solid data. Circuity is a new concept in this context and will be of great interest to policy makers. The links made between real travel and the possible direct route are of particular interest. Such links could be very useful for public transport firms and authorities.”

Winner Malvika Dixit said: “I am very interested in working on problems that have societal impact. Winning this Award is a huge motivation to keep undertaking research which affects society at large. Such a prestigious Award will also provide visibility and exposure to this work specifically for practitioners and policy makers, meaning that it can be used by more people!”

The award-winning paper “Examining circuity of urban transit networks from an equity perspective” by Malvika Dixit, Subeh Chowdhury, Oded Cats, Ties Brands, Niels van Oort, Serge Hoogendoorn can be downloaded free at

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