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Dealing with inequality in mobility: Tactics, strategies and projects for poor households on the outskirts of Paris

Yves Jouffe, David Caubel, Sylvie Fol et Benjamin Motte-Baumvol
Traduction de Alvin Harberts
Cet article est une traduction de :
Faire face aux inégalités de mobilité


Many poor households cannot meet the requirements of automotive mobility. They suffer great inequalities in their daily mobility, especially when they live away from urban centers, in areas where the provision of public transport and local amenities are reduced. Nevertheless, a normative interpretation in terms of shortages, based on the observation of low mobility capacity, underestimates the concrete mobility practices of poor households, and secondly how these households bypass the injunction of mobility required of them. This set of alternative practices – be they tactics, strategies, and projects – can substitute expensive automotive mobility with a set of resources drawn fundamentally from spatial proximity. This article aims to analyze the diversity of these practices, their quantitative importance and nesting, for the case of Paris suburban and periurban areas. To conclude, it draws how the variety of adjustments exhibited by poor households could be taken into account by public action.
keywords : daily mobility, poverty, spatial inequality, social inequality, stakeholder, territorial policies

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1Over the past decades, daily mobility has increased significantly, as highlighted by numerous research studies (Urry, 2000; Orfeuil, 2000). Mobility has grown not only because it is technically easier but also because it is socially valued (Remy, 1996). It has become a condition for a "normal" entry into social life. This norm is even more strongly imposed because of the generalization of automobile dependence (Newman and Kenworthy, 1989; Dupuy, 1999), formatting accessibility to territories and urban amenities and translating into "a system of injunctions to autonomous and automobile mobility that leaves aside those least endowed with monetary, cultural or psychosocial resources" (Massot and Orfeuil, 2008). Car mobility defines the sum of mobility requirements that society addresses to individuals, to the detriment of a section of the population that cannot meet these requirements, in particular its cost, and which then becomes dependent on public transport networks or services located close to the place of residence. The resulting mobility inequalities are therefore a multidimensional construction, associated with residential location and constraints linked to individual and social characteristics (Delbosc and Currie, 2011). They tend to be increased far from the centres, where public transport provision and local amenities are limited.

2Inequalities in mobility are frequently subject to normative interpretation in terms of deprivation. This is formulated on the basis of the observation of a lower mobility capacity, whereas movement seems to be the prerogative of the rich, "the poor are imagined as living slower, more fixed lives" (Jackson, 2012). However, while this interpretation reflects the existence of real resource inequalities to the detriment of poor households, it seems to be somewhat reductive. First of all, it underestimates the concrete mobility practices of poor households and, second, the ways in which these households circumvent the mobility injunction imposed on them. This set of alternative practices, whether they be tactics, strategies or projects, makes it possible to replace costly car mobility with a set of resources fundamentally drawn from spatial proximity. This article aims to present and analyse the diversity of these practices, their quantitative importance and their interweaving, from the case of peri-urban Île-de-France areas.

Inequalities in household mobility and adjustment: a review of the international literature

3Explanation of the unequal constraints on poor and/or peripheral households is necessary to understand their specific adjustments. However, the identification of constraints is based among other things on the analysis of actual practices, limited mobility being interpreted as an index of constraint, especially when it is superimposed on relatively limited accessibility. The identification of the constraints begins to explore that of the adjustments, which we will detail in a second part of this review of French and Anglo-Saxon literature.

The social factors of inequalities in mobility and access

4Access to mobility is differentiated according to social groups and in particular according to income levels (Pucher and Renne, 2003; Olvera et al., 2004; Orfeuil, 2004; Wixey et al., 2005). Monetary poverty does not exhaust the variety of social factors of mobility inequalities, in particular gender inequalities, racist effects, situations of physical, sensory or cognitive disability, or prejudices linked to age or origin. On the other hand, economic inequality is amplified by the superimposition of other social factors, as illustrated by the avoidance of the commuter train for people stigmatized as young, poor and immigrants (Oppenchaim, 2011). Irrespective of a possible accumulation of social handicaps, poverty in economic resources has a specific effect on daily mobility. Thus, poor households have shorter and less frequent trips. Their lower mobility is primarily due to lower access to cars, in terms of ownership and use (Pucher and Renne, 2003; Dargay and Hanly, 2007; Giuliano and Dargay, 2006). In France, while only 60% of households in the first quartile of living standards own a vehicle, this is the case for 90% of households in the 3rd and 4th quartiles. The average number of vehicles is 0.8 for first quartile households and 1.5 for last quartile households (Le Jeannic and Razafindranovona, 2009). In the United States, car ownership is strongly linked to income, with 27% of poor urban households not owning a car compared to only 2% of rich households. In addition to the level of motorisation, equipment inequalities according to income also concern the type and age of the car (Bhat et al., 2009) as well as maintenance and repairs (Hivert, 2001). On the other hand, the cost of a driver's licence can also be a factor limiting access to the car. These inequalities weigh particularly heavily on the poorest and on immigrants (Prya and Uteng, 2009).

  • 1 The sharp increase in fuel costs since 2004 now tends to have a partial impact on household budget (...)

5The rate of motorisation also plays an important role in usage, i.e. in the distances travelled. In a survey in Melbourne, Australia, Delbosc and Currie (2012) show that households with more than one car per adult travel more than twice as far as households with less than one car per adult. Even poor motorized households adopt extremely moderate car use (Orfeuil, 2004). In France, motorized households in the first income quintile travel only 9,000 kilometres per year by car compared to 32,000 kilometres for those in the just top quintile (Hivert, 2001)1. In Great Britain, the difference is of the same order since the motorized households in the highest quintile travel annual distances three times greater than those in the lowest quintile (Wixey et al., 2005).

6For all poor households, lower car ownership and use combine and result in shorter distances travelled annually. More specifically, these households limit the scope of their travel by favouring closer destinations for daily activities other than work (Olvera et al., 2004; Gray et al., 2001). In the United States, the ratio between the daily distances travelled by rich households (more than $100,000 per year) and poor households (less than $20,000) exceeds 1.7, with 18 miles and 32 miles per day respectively (Pucher and Renne, 2003). In Great Britain, the ratio between the distance travelled by extreme income quintiles is greater than 2: poor households tend to limit their travel, including for employment, and generally live closer to their place of work (Wixey et al., 2005). This is also the case in France, where the working poor work more often in their commune of residence and commute shorter distances (Orfeuil, 2004).

7The shorter distances travelled by poor households can also be explained by the use of alternative modes to the car: public transport and walking. In the United States, while public transportation accounts for only 5% of poor households' trips, non-motorized modes account for 17% of their trips compared to 10% for wealthy households (Pucher and Renne, 2003). Indeed, poor households are likely to have poor access to public transport as in the United States (Garcia and Rubin, 2004) or in low-density Scottish areas (Gray et al., 2001).

8In addition to constraining the location of residences and activities, the mobility difficulties of the poorest also limit the number of their trips. In France, rich households make only 10% more trips than poor households (Olvera et al., 2004). But the gap reaches 35% in Great Britain (Wixey et al., 2005) and almost 50% in the United States, with 4.8 daily trips for rich households versus 3.3 for poor households (Pucher and Renne, 2003). As a result, the reasons for modest households to travel are less varied: in the case of French peri-urban areas, their trips for shopping and leisure are rarer (Motte-Baumvol et al., 2010) and suggest increased inequalities in these areas.

Greater inequalities of access in the urban peripheries

9Disparities in mobility experienced by poor households can result in significant inequalities in access to critical resources for individuals, particularly for households located in more poorly equipped areas. These accentuated mobility inequalities in the outskirts of urban agglomerations have been analysed in different national contexts. In the case of Great Britain, according to Wixey et al. (2005), about one fifth of car-free households have difficulty accessing a supermarket or doctor. Hine and Kamruzzaman (2012) show that the health service utilization rate of car-free and low-income individuals is much lower than that of other groups. Moreover, in the last period, conditions of access to urban resources have deteriorated overall. Despite attempts at regulation by public policies, the territorial coverage of many facilities and businesses has tended to slacken. Lucas et al. (2001) show that in the United Kingdom, between 1991 and 1999, the proportion of households living more than 27 minutes' walk from a shopping centre rose from 40% to 90%. Similarly, the "rationalization" of health facilities has led to the creation of larger units, serving a larger population but being much less accessible (Lucas, 2006). Changes in the location of urban activities, exclusively favourable to the better-off, widen access gaps with the inhabitants of poor neighbourhoods (Caubel, 2006). Everything happens as if dominant social groups, by their economic or consumer force, shape the establishment of activities in their territories, to the detriment of the weakest populations (Halbwachs, 1932; Roncayolo, 1990).

10Inequalities in mobility linked to household resources tend to increase when one moves further away from the centre of urban areas (Morency et al., 2011). Indeed, the disparities in access between central areas and urban peripheries are particularly wide and tend to increase, as shown by work carried out in French conurbations (Caubel, 2006; Motte-Baumvol, 2008). In Canada, the peripheral location of a portion of social housing is the main explanation for a very limited level of access to services and facilities for half of social housing residents (Apparicio and Seguin, 2006). Even for low-income households that are motorized, the accessibility gains associated with car ownership are lower in outlying areas (Paez et al., 2010). In the case of Australia, Delbosc and Currie (2011) show that transport and accessibility problems are more likely to cause discomfort and social exclusion in rural and peri-urban areas than in central areas. Indeed, weakly motorised households living in peripheral areas poorly served by public transport are forced to reduce their daily mobility, which reduces their participation in many activities and their opportunities for social integration (Delbosc and Currie, 2012).

  • 2 For example, long walks in places hostile to pedestrians or driving without a licence for borrowed (...)

11In the Barcelona urban area, Cebollada (2009) highlights the importance of territorial differences in terms of mobility and access to employment. It shows that if non-motorised households have access to more limited employment opportunities and a more limited labour market, and are less likely to find and keep a job, these inequalities can be partly offset, in the dense urban area, by the proximity of jobs and the use of public transport. Other studies show that in peripheral areas, car-free households are forced to resort to precarious, unsustainable or even dangerous2 solutions to get to work. In this context, women, in particular, are often forced to give up work or to confine themselves to local, under-qualified and poorly paid employment (Camarero and Oliva, 2008; Ortar, 2008).

12Social and territorial conditions therefore combine to constrain daily mobility and limit the accessibility of poor households, particularly in peri-urban areas. Faced with these constraints, the practices of these households are a symptom of inequalities of access but also and inseparably a way of overcoming them.

Household adjustments to mobility inequalities

13Whatever the residential context, poor households deploy multiple forms of organization of their daily lives that allow them to adjust their mobility. The simplest adjustment is to restrict their movements according to a strict necessity criterion. Trips are then focused on access to employment, school and what is needed to maintain the family, thus limiting their experience of urban space.

14Although the mobility of poor households takes place in a relatively small territory, it nonetheless reflects the intense practices of local space. The maximisation of local resources by poor households goes hand in hand with a labour market that is deployed at a short distance from the place of residence. Various North American studies have highlighted the central role of geographical proximity in access to employment for poor or ethnic minority households. Immergluck (1998) shows that the existence of a local job offer has a decisive impact on the unemployment exit process of poor households. As for Kawabata and Shen (2007), their work indicates that the least qualified individuals tend to work in a much more local labour market. Indeed, this local space is largely favoured in job search, because of the (low) earnings and (high) costs that poor households can expect from geographical mobility, given their qualification profile, in the US metropolis (Chapple, 2001) as in the French countryside (Vignal, 2005). This emphasis on local employment is partly linked to the role of social networks, leading to finding work close to home. These adjustments are thus characterized by a voluntary limitation of the scope of job search and the distance from jobs likely to be accepted (Chapple, 2001 ; Vignal, 2005 ; Fol, 2009).

15Social networks are also used by poor households to increase their mobility (Grieco, 1995; Hine and Grieco, 2003). This is reflected in intense carpooling or car-pooling practices (Lovejoy and Handy, 2011; Gray et al., 2001), particularly for food purchases (Clifton, 2004; Ohls et al., 1999). Thus, even for poor or modest non-motorized people, the car has a central place in mobility (Rogalsky, 2010; Coveney and O'Dwyer, 2009). In the United States, individuals living in households without cars make about one-third of their trips by car (Lovejoy and Andy, 2011). These practices, which reflect the importance of the use of social networks, are particularly intense among immigrants (Charles and Kline 2006; Blumenberg and Smart 2010). Spatial proximity to social networks is one of the conditions for this use, which is sometimes accompanied by monetary compensation or exchange of services (Lovejoy and Handy, 2011; Gardenhire, 2000) and which needs to be carefully "created, arranged, and planned" (Clifton, 2004).

16Finally, social networks are mobilized to avoid travel without giving up the activities they allow. Child carers are thus widely sought after in the family environment, which is a major provider of services and mutual aid, particularly care and accommodation (Barnes, 2003). Generally speaking, the family lives mostly close to poor households (Bonvalet et al., 1999), which in turn devote a large part of their free time to it. Popular households have relational networks based on proximity, which favours a much stronger local anchorage than among most other social categories, particularly managers (Grafmeyer, 1998). Thus, people living in poor neighbourhoods are more likely to have strong family and neighbourhood centred ties than those living in wealthier neighbourhoods. These strong bonding capital ties (Putnam, 2000) make mobility less necessary while ensuring "well being" for low-income households (Delbosc and Currie, 2011). The maintenance of the social network, however, creates its own mobility requirements. Orfeuil and Soleyret (2002) show that weekend visits to family and friends account for a much larger share of trips among the poorest households than among wealthier households.

17These forms of social capital that can be mobilized locally have the effect of reducing the residential mobility of modest households. Thus, workers are "all the less inclined to move as they evaluate their chances of integrating elsewhere lower" (Retière, 1994). While managers affirm their social identity by moving away from their families, it is by remaining close to the family nucleus that workers demonstrate their social belonging. The residential choices of working-class households are also linked to the need to maximize their access to basic shops, facilities and services. Thus, individuals who do not have cars often live closer to a business than those who are motorized (Clifton, 2004). They make residential choices that allow them to balance mobility and accessibility within a limited budget (Currie et al., 2010). This work highlights the satisfaction of non-motorized households with their low but economical accessibility. This valuation of anchoring is certainly linked to the adjustment of subjective expectations to objective unequal opportunities (Passeron and Bourdieu, 1968), but it is also the effectiveness of anchoring to compensate for access difficulties that encourages its valuation. Finally, local withdrawal has its own advantages. Thus, particularly in sparsely populated areas, urban mobility appears disconnected from well-being, which results more from the strong links established in proximity (Delbosc and Currie, 2011). Numerous works (Gieryn, 2000 ; Morel-Brochet and Motte-Baumvol, 2010 ; Jouffe, 2011 ; Lazo, 2011) underline the subjective attachment of the inhabitants to their place of residence. The enhancement of local anchorage finally appears as another form of adjustment to mobility inequalities, insofar as it frees inhabitants from the normative injunction to mobility.

Methodological system


18International literature shows the generalised nature of the mobility inequalities suffered by poor populations and especially those located in territories that are not very far from urban centres compared to populations which are well-off and/or living in these centres. At the same time, with often more qualitative methodologies, it underlines the existence of adjustments on the part of these populations, whether in terms of daily mobility practices, residential pathways or the enhancement of proximity. Our questioning aims on the one hand to highlight, on the basis of French cases, in this case from the Île-de-France region, such adjustments of poor households living on the urban periphery. On the other hand, and more specifically, we show the articulation and possible complementarity of these various adjustment modalities.

19In order to discuss this articulation, we propose to classify the adjustments into three categories of action: tactics, strategies and projects. We do not claim to affirm or even evaluate the more or less strategic nature of the practices analyzed. Strategies here serve as an analytical operator without pretending either that the actor chooses freely through rational deliberation or that he is merely an agent of social structures. From our point of view, it has room for manoeuvre, even minimal and without an overall vision, room for manoeuvre that ethnography reveals even among the homeless (Bruneteaux, 2007). Research has shown that mobility, for individuals with few resources, can be a burden but can also be used as a tactic, strategy or resource (Jackson, 2012). “Tactics” (de Certeau, 1980; Lanzarini, 1998; Memmi and Arduin, 2002) oppose “strategies” to define actions without control of space and time. In the area of daily mobility, tactics, which Clifton (2004) calls "mobility strategies", force households to settle for poor accessibility, for example by using parent-car, public transport and local resources that avoid long journeys. More complex to implement, strategies change the control of space, i.e. accessibility. These are essentially moves analysed as "residential strategies" by Bonvalet et al. (1999). Finally, we add a third category of action (Jouffe, 2007), “projects”, which change the purpose of accessibility. Here access to the local amenities is no longer an impossible substitute for access to the city but is desired for itself.

20This segmentation makes it possible to overcome the binary opposition between objective adjustment and subjective consent. The distinction between tactics and strategies opens the way to a scalar reading of the different adjustments, which therefore fully integrate the projects as a third scale. This fine breakdown into coherent elements highlights the precarious complexity of the articulation of the different types of household adjustments under both spatial and socio-economic constraints. Moreover, the normative dimension, evident in projects, becomes more legible in tactics and strategies, defined as adjustments in relation to a binding standard. Inequality is generally characterized from conditions of accessibility and tactical adjustments to those conditions. It thus appears objective. But the understanding of three scales of adjustments also highlights other inequalities, not in tactics but in strategic and project reconfigurations, whose interpretation is clearly normative. Moreover, each adjustment both reveals and resorbs the constraint that impels it. The nested scales thus question the normative reality of inequality, both in the recognition of the constraints that underlie it and in their possible neutralisation through adjustments.

Data and fields

21The analysis of adjustments in the mobility of poor households presented in this article is based on a synthesis of previous work by the authors, both quantitative and qualitative work carried out in the Île-de-France region. The quantitative work is based on the 1999 and 2007 French population censuses, as well as the 2001 Île-de-France Global Transport Survey (EGT). Qualitative work combines four survey sites and two modes of selecting respondents, as poor inhabitants and as precarious workers. The survey among the inhabitants of two poor neighbourhoods in the Paris region reveals particularly the mobility and networks centred around residences. About thirty interviews were conducted in each of the two neighbourhoods, one near the outskirts (in the commune of Saint-Denis) and the other in the outer suburbs (in Chaumont-en-Vexin). The other part of the survey concerned some thirty precarious workers met in the waiting rooms of two temporary employment agencies in the Paris suburbs (in the municipalities of Villepinte and Montigny-le-Bretonneux). Their places of residence and work are scattered throughout the Paris region.

Understanding poverty

22These works, although different in approach and method, all share a common interest in the mobility of "poor" individuals and households in the sense that they have fewer economic resources than a large part of the population living in their area, city or country. The category of "poor" raises different types of questions and its use is not without criticism. Indeed, not only is this category silent on the processes that lead to social inequality and poverty, but it is also very vague and highly dependent on the geographical and historical context (Paugam and Duvoux, 2008). However, we use it because it refers to a generic lack of economic resources, whether this lack primarily concerns income, job stability or the social status linked to the profession. In the quantitative data used, income levels are not systematically available. Workers’ poverty is approached from the socio-professional categories which are correlated with income. Thus, individuals belonging to the categories of unskilled manual workers are considered poor in the quantitative data. Not all households belonging to the unskilled manual workers categories are poor, and conversely, a significant proportion of the poor belong to other categories and in particular to the inactive. But these categories allow a territorialized analysis of poverty and mobility better than incomplete income data.

23We also refer to the "precarious", a category that refers to the instability of certain situations and therefore to the multidimensional nature of a process that lacks various types of protection. In particular, in his analysis of the processes of disaffiliation, Castel (1995) insists on the context of the weakening of the wage relationship that permeates society as a whole, while focusing more particularly on "zones of social vulnerability" with limits ever shifting. The term "precarious" here refers to temporary workers who are subject to an intermittent, sometimes daily contractual relationship, which is the basis of their economic and social precariousness.

Outcomes: Access to urban resources despite everything: adjustments of poor households

24Poor households in the Paris region rely on several practices, such as those presented in the literature review, to adjust their daily mobility to their limited access to car mobility. On the one hand, we show that these practices can be grouped into three types of strategic action: mobility tactics, accessibility strategies and life projects. On the other hand, these practices are complementary and articulated as such by households.

Daily mobility tactics as an alternative to the car

25Interview surveys reveal the great diversity of tactics used to be mobile by poor individuals and households, while the exploitation of the EGT shows the recurrence of some of these practices. Our results thus highlight the importance and complementarity of three types of tactics that constitute a system of alternatives to costly car mobility.

26The first tactic identified in the EGT analyses is the use of another person's car, with that person belonging to the local social network. This practice confirms access to car mobility for car-free households, already highlighted in the literature review. Access to the car on a weekday concerns a quarter of car-free households in the Paris region. In the suburban areas of Île-de-France, car access is even higher, since it concerns one in three non-motorised households and 80% of them report travelling at least once a week by car. This suggests that access to car mobility is widely available to non-motorised households, particularly in peri-urban areas where it is most needed. The EGT also gives us information on the main reasons for the use of cars by these non-motorised households in the Île-de-France region. Car-pooling (65% of cases) and car-lending (35% of cases) are used in particular to get to work or to the supermarket. The other reasons remain poorly represented. When they are motorized, modest households partially practice this system of alternatives to the car of carless households.

27Qualitative surveys among poor inhabitants show that the family is the main provider of car mobility. When the family fails, poor households solicit neighbours or co-workers which they compensate or pay for the sustainability of this service. One of the most frequent reasons for using social networks is the need for non-motorized families to regularly shop for food in volumes that are difficult to transport on foot or by public transit. The presence of a small supermarket does not solve the difficulties of households living in the social housing outside the town. Similarly, respondents point out that it is impossible to bring home weekly shopping from the hypermarket even for a very short trip by public transport. The other frequent reason for car mobility for working people without a car is commuting. This type of carpooling presupposes a regularity in the common trips of the driver and his passenger and very precise modalities of participation in the expenses. These constraints greatly limit precarious workers to highly fluctuating missions. They therefore mobilize their occasional colleagues first.

28The second type of tactic involves increased use of public transit, especially for work-related travel. According to the EGT, more than 60% of non-motorised workers travel to their workplace by public transport, compared to 20% of motorised workers, including in territories where the supply of public transport is particularly low, limited to one or two bus or train in the morning and evening. On the four qualitative survey sites, all close to commuter train stations, the difficulties linked to the absence of cars are largely relativised by the possibility of using a well-developed public transport system. Thus, non-motorized households often consider that they can get by without a car and that the latter, whose acquisition represents a very significant financial effort, would not necessarily offer them benefits commensurate with the necessary sacrifices (Coutard, Dupuy, Fol, 2002).

29Finally, the last type of tactic highlighted consists of more frequent use of local spaces. According to the EGT results, more than 60% of non-motorised household trips are made within the municipality of residence and within a radius of less than one kilometre, including in sparsely populated municipalities poorly equipped with shops and services, compared to around 35% of trips for motorised households. Among modest motorized households, use of the local space is also intense and their trips for purchases are less frequent and shorter. For those interviewed in qualitative surveys, lack of money, as well as lack of a car, are sometimes cited as reasons for the scarcity and local nature of travel. The low mobility, added to the lack of financial means, then translates into limitations in practices, especially in the field of leisure, whose choice is not very wide, especially in distant outskirts. Most respondents go out very little in the evenings and on weekends, except to visit family or friends. As for holidays, households usually spend them at home, sending their children to camp or with their families whenever possible.

30Practices centred on local space are largely linked to the presence, in the neighbourhood of residence, of resources that alleviate the constraints of poverty. The local concentration of services and equipment thus compensates for the lack of mobility of low-income households with limited or no access to cars. Moreover, qualitative surveys show the very local character of the labour markets of the low-income households interviewed. In the context of limited accessibility due to the absence of a car, it is important to find work nearby, i.e. within a radius that allows travel times compatible with the organisation of family life, particularly for women. In the job search strategies of poor households, the criterion of proximity is therefore widely favoured. Even precarious individuals interviewed in temporary employment agencies tend to refuse assignments that are too far away. They even assume the risk of not being approached for some time by the temporary employment agency. Expensive and strenuous travel to low-paid work limits the labour market for these precarious workers to local employers. The latter have the advantage of being both known and close, but precarious workers will depend on them and will therefore have to submit more to them.

31The three types of tactics highlighted here, which consist in making the most of insufficient accessibility without modifying it, constitute, together, a substitute for costly car mobility. However, these adjustments are fragile because while these three types of tactics are complementary, they are not substitutable, since they touch on different reasons for displacement. If one of these arrangements breaks down, access to weekly or daily employment or supplies may be jeopardized. Nevertheless, the recurrence and regularity of this type of tactic for non-motorized or low-income households show that this system of alternatives is organized. It rests on three pillars. The first is local social networks. The second pillar relates to public transport, the supply of which has been steadily increasing in recent decades. Finally, the last pillar, local resources, probably seems the weakest of the three. Local services tend to decline in some of the less populated peri-urban areas, which may call into question the residential locations of some non-motorised households.

Residential relocation strategies to benefit from proximity

32While daily mobility tactics make it possible to compensate for scarce financial resources, they do not make it possible to overcome the constraints linked to all territorial and individual contexts. Poor households therefore develop residential strategies, which can be explicitly associated with daily mobility tactics. While motorized households often limit themselves to avoiding prohibitive commuting times to work, carless households are more likely than others to relocate, even though poor households are known to be more prone to residential immobility.

33The 2007 population census reveals an over-representation of poor households leaving the outer suburbsthat offer poor access to places of employment, services and shops. Some of them are moving towards territories with better accessibility, as illustrated by qualitative surveys. Thus, in the suburban commune of Chaumont-en-Vexin, the mother of a single-parent family surveyed linked her move to the disappearance of the bus service offered by her employer. Similarly, another respondent said that he had chosen his place of residence according to the shops, services and public transport available nearby. Finally, several women, after a divorce, left the nearby village where they lived to return to Chaumont, near their family. While research shows that residential mobility is lower among poor households (Bonvalet and Gotman, 1999), our results show that in peripheral areas, it can be a means of maintaining their local and social roots. Indeed, the moves highlighted do not amount to uprooting, but rather constitute repositionings, since these households only move over short distances and justify their choices in the interviews by a better control of their new residential environment. This claimed control can also be read as a way of maximizing the ability of poor households to mobilize the mobility tactics identified in the previous section.

34The interviews conducted with precarious workers in the greater Paris suburbs also reveal short-range residential strategies around accessibility to family supports and known employers, as well as to controlled and quality public transport. Some precarious workers also demand better accessibility through residential mobility, this time of greater scope, and to improve accessibility to employment areas while becoming autonomous from family networks. Conversely, some people living with their parents do not consider moving unless they have found an unlikely remote job or have saved enough. In all cases, residential strategies therefore constitute accessibility strategies, differentiated by the localized resources they target, particularly the family network or the metropolitan job market.

35These results highlight the congruence between mobility tactics and residential strategies. Thus, those who deploy intense daily mobility implement or enunciate equally strong residential mobility strategies. On the other hand, the less mobile on a daily basis envisage only a very hypothetical or short-range residential mobility. Residential strategies and mobility tactics combined define accessibility and modulate access inequalities experienced by these disadvantaged populations. Their combination can then lead not only to limiting these inequalities, but also to neutralizing them by reconsidering the meaning given to daily mobility and accessibility for the benefit of anchoring.

The anchoring project that neutralizes the need for mobility

36Beyond the optimization of local resources to circumvent the mobility injunction while satisfying the need and desire for access, it is necessary to underline the adaptation between anchoring projects and the main or exclusive use of local resources. For the member of a poor household with low mobility resources, anchoring can thus constitute an aim, the support of his values and aspirations, in particular instead of aspirations that imply intense mobility. This anchoring is based on a resource provided essentially by the local space: social and family networks.

37In the areas surveyed qualitatively among the inhabitants, the density of social networks is partly linked to seniority in the area of residence. Indeed, among the poor inhabitants interviewed, more than half have lived in the commune for more than twenty years and more particularly, in the greater suburbs, one third are native of the village or the immediate surroundings. Conversely, two thirds of the precarious workers surveyed are immigrants, sometimes recently. Their social network is less important and less locally rooted. Nevertheless, the proximity of the relatives strongly influences the residential strategies of some of them, in particular because they are temporarily accommodated. Social networks, and in particular family networks, are an indispensable resource for many of the poor households met.

38But the surveys also revealed the effort required to use this particular type of resource. Indeed, the mobilization of networks requires planning and prioritization of needs, as well as careful organization of travel, as emphasized by the poor inhabitants of Chaumont and Saint-Denis. Requests for assistance are generally carefully balanced and while respondents do not always highlight the constraints this represents, these seem important. In some cases, the offer of financial compensation can facilitate recourse to mutual assistance, bearing in mind that in many cases, the persons solicited do not have much more financial means than their obligated counterparts. The organisation, the visits and the possibly financial counterparts can eventually constitute a constraint which partly replaces that of avoided mobility. Services and travel involving mutual aid also require synchronization and adjustments in the order of collective mobility identified by Le Breton (2005). The strength of these constraints appears among the precarious workers surveyed in the widespread desire (apart from those living with their parents) to quickly obtain residential independence or even to achieve autonomy by moving geographically away from the family network.

39The gain is therefore not net for those who resort to local social resources. But both the daily assistance and the practical constraints it generates contribute to the consolidation of the emotional relationships that underpin the social network. In this logic, carpooling will be used as an index of social capital (Charles and Kine, 2006). Finally, the density of social relations established at the local level contributes to creating familiarity with places, which is itself a source of attachment to the territory, or even of "local dependence" (Coutard et al., 2002), households declaring themselves less inclined to leave a neighbourhood where they all have their ties and the possibility of maximising their access to globally limited resources.

40This inclination towards residential anchorage based on emotional and economic anchorage may then go beyond simple interest due to unfavourable mobility conditions to express an absolute valuation of local anchorage. It is to this extent that the term anchoring project takes on its meaning, less as a projection towards the future than as an appropriation that goes beyond mere strategic adaptation. This appropriation of the anchorage thus allows the social norm of mobility, essentially defined by the automobile, to be put at a distance.

41Many poor inhabitants surveyed claim their anchorage. The result is a renunciation of residential mobility due to old age, a particular attachment to the local and to other inhabitants resulting from shared life experiences. In fact, the lack of residential mobility promotes a real knowledge of the local space. The commune of residence thus concentrates places of practice which are also places of identity reference for the inhabitants. In surveys, many respondents say that they do not want to leave their neighbourhood or commune. They base their arguments on the risk of mobility, while residential stability offers them the security of long-established unsurprising ties.

42But poverty alone does not determine the valuation of local anchorage, which also depends on the individuals' life project, itself a function not only of the capital and opportunities available, but also of the life history and in particular of the position in the life cycle. Thus, intensive daily mobility tactics and residential mobility strategies linked to family emancipation and accessibility to metropolitan employment sites correspond to life projects focused on professional success. Conversely, low daily mobility tactics and very local residential mobility strategies combine and effectively support family first projects. In the interviews with the precarious, one factor seems particularly decisive to explain the anchoring. This concerns housing and in particular the provision of "own" housing (de Certeau, 1980), i.e. autonomous and decent housing. Lack of own housing would thus tend to neutralise mobility strategies and professional projects, and on the contrary to favour the search for housing and family anchoring projects.


43Mobility tactics and accessibility strategies make it possible to substitute the use of local resources for costly car mobility. Poor households rely on residential relocations, public transport, local jobs, services and businesses, and especially on local social networks. The contribution of our work is to show the intensity of these practices and their articulation in an alternative system to automobile mobility.

44The strong complementarity of tactics and strategies makes this system more effective but also more vulnerable. Thus, car dependence is replaced by a "local dependence" (Coutard et al., 2002), which can be read positively through the strong social ties it maintains and which form the basis of a well-being disconnected from daily mobility. From this positive reading can emerge a project of anchoring, in the sense of appropriation and enhancement of the privileged use of the local territory. Not only do tactics and strategies moderate the injunction to mobility but this project neutralises it by advocating sufficient minimum access to the city, essentially based on proximity and social networks.

45Among the ways of dealing with mobility inequalities, collective strategies should be added to individual and family adjustments, such as the self-construction of an alternative neighbourhood or local economy (Ripoll, 2010) or social mobilization that claims access based on the territory (Ripoll, 2004; Jaffe et al., 2012). These strategies did not appear on our ground, unlike the collective tactics of daily organization from social networks. Yet transformative and demand strategies are similar to individual residential strategies in the alternative mobility system. Residents struggling for their neighbourhoods in Argentine cities thus interweave their collective strategies with both daily mobility tactics and a strong anchoring to the neighbourhood (Pujol, 2010).

46With or without social mobilization, the variety of adjustments of poor households invites public action to refer to them. Public policies of mobility for integration invest a lot to bring the whole population back into the automobile norm, for example through aids to the passage of a driving licence (L'Horty et al., 2013) or to the rental of vehicles, which is very costly and can only be limited (Féré, 2013). Beyond this effort, a first public policy objective could be to support, strengthen and replicate the resources used by mobility tactics, namely public transport, carpooling and vehicle borrowing systems, and local equipment (Fontanès et al., 2013). A second objective would be to accompany residential relocation strategies. Above all, one lesson of the alternative mobility system is to think of the different public mechanisms in a joint and complementary way. In particular, support for residential relocation would include support for the provision of social housing in secondary centres conducive to mobility tactics, namely: served by public transport, organised into local shared car-sharing systems, and equipped with essential services and shops. The last objective for planners is the essence of the local anchoring project: to distance themselves from the automobile mobility standard. In concrete terms, this means in particular considering the legitimacy of public support for travel and relocation for reasons other than the link between home and work, or positively assessing situations of high well-being and integration into local networks, even if social inclusion through mobility is low.

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1 The sharp increase in fuel costs since 2004 now tends to have a partial impact on household budget management (Merceron and Theulière, 2010).

2 For example, long walks in places hostile to pedestrians or driving without a licence for borrowed vehicles.

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Yves Jouffe, David Caubel, Sylvie Fol et Benjamin Motte-Baumvol, « Dealing with inequality in mobility: Tactics, strategies and projects for poor households on the outskirts of Paris », Cybergeo: European Journal of Geography [En ligne], Espace, Société, Territoire, document 708, mis en ligne le 15 novembre 2019, consulté le 15 avril 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Yves Jouffe

École des Ponts ParisTech,
UMR LVMT, Research associates,

David Caubel

CEREMA, Direction Territoriale Centre Est,
Département Mobilités, Chef de projet Villes durables,

Sylvie Fol

Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, CNRS
UMR Géographie-Cités, Full professor,

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Benjamin Motte-Baumvol

Université de Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, CNRS
UMR THéMA, Associate professor,

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