Problem, Research Strategy, and Findings
“Fairness,” though commonly invoked as an evaluative metric in transportation policy, remains an ambiguous concept. This paper provides a three-layer framework for assessing the fairness of transportation policies. The first layer differentiates substantive, perceived, and procedural fairness; the second layer concerns the concrete rules of assessing these three aspects; the third layer concerns the categorization of people. The framework also identifies four challenges, including frame of reference for comparison, scope of analysis, measurement difficulties, and conflicting fairness concepts. We apply the framework to assess Beijing’s vehicle license lottery policy, through a review of policy documents and a survey of public perception (n=1505). Assessed from the standpoint of substantive fairness, the policy mainly conforms to the equality rule, and dismisses the rules of equity and need. Regarding perceived fairness, the policy appeals to the general public, though three disadvantaged groups are less satisfied. Assessed for procedural fairness, although the policy has adopted reasonably complete procedures, the public does not perceive the procedures as fair. The limitations of the analysis are the incomplete contents of framework and the limited representativeness of data. We conclude that the policy is superficially fair in three senses: 1) It only conforms to a narrowly conceived equality rule; 2) The government leverages the equality rule to improve public views without improving fairness substantively; and 3) the policy only creates weak connections between procedural and substantive fairness, and between procedural and perceived fairness.
Takeaway for practice: Practitioners can understand multiple and conflicting fairness concepts, and learn to balance substantive, perceived, and procedural fairness by drawing on the lessons from the vehicle license regulation.