COVID_19 as an opportunity to learn what we might lose or gain from a life with less mobility

Interview with Luca Bertolini

In the first part of the interview, we talked about the disruptive nature of the COVID-19 pandemic for mobility behaviour. Bertolini said the pandemic situation forced us to get the experience of living and working in a context of less physical mobility. He thinks that,

the biggest gain we can make from the situation of the past months is to open a discussion on a compromise, i.e. to travel in the future at least less or not as far as before, be it for holidays, business trips or daily travel.

It is an opportunity to learn what we might lose or gain from a live with less mobility and under which conditions a work / social life with more proximity travel (as a future mobility) is desirable and possible.

In our talk we were also discussing people’s motivation for a change in mobility behaviour. He said, that the issue is not the car use itself, but the extended (habitual) use of cars, i.e. “that too many people don’t use anything else but the car”. On the other hand, he thinks that,

the urgency due to climate change should not be the only driving factor to motivate people for a change. One important requirement is that people should have the choice to use different transport modes for daily activities.

Therefore, attractiveness of other transport modes has to be increased. Once people have a choice, other measures as incentives (positive/negative, material/immaterial) might be important and can be strong instruments to influence the mobility behaviour of people to get that shift in mode. He also stressed that not only time-related values are important, but also the pleasure of travelling. Slow travel in this sense has a quality of its own and offers the advantages to interact with other people and with the environment (e.g., by cycling and walking). A disruption like COVID 19 forced people out of their habits and at the same time created space for new experiences, highlighting the positive value of travel as an enriched activity, and such experiences are relevant for the mode choice.

We also talked about how factors, like positive travel experiences, can play a role in models of urban planning. He explained that,

Current models and appraisal methods are more about time-saving than about travel experience. Even in more advanced versions were broader social cost and benefits are included, there is a dominating approach to quantify everything in Euros, which does not do justice to many essential values. So the methods are definitely a problem, especially because they are so dominating and are often seen as universally valid.

There is a need for different ways of assessing. Models that are trying to measure other things like e.g. travel experience, would be very useful to give some counterweight and to enrich the picture. But in the end, he emphasised, we still have to be aware, that we have to make a choice in the context of uncertainty and a plurality of values in society. This is in the end a political decision of a community rather than a scientific one and models cannot help us with this. They can, however, inform that decision.

Interviewed by Jens Schade & Lisa-Marie Schaefer, TU Dresden

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