Journal of Mobility Cultures & Policies
Ideas for a New Mobility Paradigm
ISSUE 6 | NOVEMBER 2022
After two years of intensive high-level discussions and deliberations across Europe on all the fundamentals of transport policy embedded in the current mobility paradigm, we are pleased to present to you the Rebalance Cultural and Political Manifesto. It is the result of the critical review of the present, the vision for the future and the roadmap to achieve it, with the aim of stimulating European politicians to adopt concrete legal and political measures while moving the wider European communities towards a change radical. We invite you to listen to some of the responses we have already received and to read and sign the Final Manifesto if you agree with it.
“As the Manifesto states very clearly, at the heart of the problem is that we live in a culture of optimization. This particular philosophy of time, it seems to me, views time as a resource that must be measured and mastered somehow. According to an accountant view of time, the time optimization is how we should value time, and I think this is rarely questioned, and Rebalance is precisely trying to address this”.
“Mobility justice has become even more key as a result of what’s called within Europe, the 4th Industrial Revolution, because of the rise of the gig work or platform economy, which has algorithmic software at its core. If there was ever a case of forced mobility, it’s Uber drivers, Amazon workers rushing around in warehouses and food deliverers whose work is timed to the minute. So that seems to me at one end, there’s a lot of this really forced mobility.”
“The rationale at the moment for much technological innovation reflects and feeds the culture of optimization and hyper productivity. Indeed, the sheer speed of innovation is equated with inventiveness, productivity and efficiency and it’s the ultimate measure of progress. I think really we need to be much more critical and discriminating and deliberative about the kinds of technologies we want and the values and purposes they serve and could serve.”
“I love the fact that the subtitle of the Manifesto has the word meaningful in it. Because for me, the core of the slow philosophy is reconnecting us with meaning. Not doing, not ticking boxes, but meaning, purpose, that all those deeper things that can never be accelerated, you can never speed up meaning. You can’t download meaning from Amazon or find it in an app. Meaning only blossoms, flourishes, becomes real when we slow down, when we are present, when we give it the time it deserves, and, of course, when we bring meaning to the journey itself”.
“Seamless is often translated in Silicon Valley as frictionless. Everything must be super smooth and as a result, super-fast. So that’s the kind of Holy Grail, that’s the nucleus of the Silicon Valley view. But the trouble is when everything is frictionless, nothing has any meaning. We end up just skimming through the surface. We have no contact with ourselves, with the moment, with other people. It is a world without serendipity, a world without invention, a world without random collisions. A world without joy, magic, and humanity. A world with friction is a world with all those things, and I think that Rebalance is pointing us in the direction of a world of good friction.”
“There is as of yet no such thing as a slow mobility movement. But I wonder if today may be the day that changes”
OUR CLAIM: A RADICAL CULTURAL CHANGE IN MOBILITY IS ON ITS WAY!
Expanding opportunities, creativity and freedom of movement are accompanied by growing constraints. Nowadays, we face the terminal paradoxes of modern values: the wish for more fluidity creates worse traffic congestion, we feel social distancing and isolation whilst moving together through massive flows, freedom of movement is often possible because of centralised surveillance, social inclusion happens in more segregated or exclusive enclaves. We are witnesses of an important cultural shift: mobility is increasingly perceived as weighing heavily on the quality of life, in line with the stress generated by the pursuit of ever-increasing productivity and efficiency. We acknowledge the convenience of autonomous vehicles and intelligent traffic management systems, and the need for a full decarbonisation of transport, but we do not see the immediate benefits of living in a smart and optimised city, populated by sensors and robots transporting us from place to place. However, it is not technological innovation per se that is to blame for our collective sense of loss of time, but the culture of speed that still prevails.
We realise that technology has profound and uncertain impacts in the way we live, in particular in how we work and move, how we relate to others. Disruptive technologies are redefining the ways we communicate with each other: remote places are connected instantaneously and more specialised and exclusive transport and communication modes emerge. New business models, new transport patterns and new communication modes emerge. The distinction between private and public transport is increasingly blurred, as well as the difference between transport modes, consumers and producers. Automobile industries become providers of mobility services. Compulsive consumption of mobility services has intensified. Massive data is provided by consumers themselves since all human activities having a digital component leave a data trace. Electronic commerce is replacing shopping trips with fast delivery at home. The time between our desire and its satisfaction is minimised, as the buying process becomes seamless.
OUR VISION: A WORLD FREE FROM MEANINGLESS MOBILITY
Thinkers and artists have expressed and illustrated the need to recalibrate fast and slow, stress and calm, freedom and safety or security, creativity and care, cultural diversity and social inclusion. Leisure is not laziness. Work should be socially useful and meaningful to the worker. We see postmaterialist values emerging: communitarianism and solidarity, as well as an increasing environmental awareness. Rebalancing extreme values is necessary for the welfare and flourishing of life. This attention to balance was already present in Western culture since Aristotle’s mesoteti, or medium-term understanding of virtues. Aurea mediocritas avoids the excesses of too passive or too active ways of living: nothing in excess was the motto. The visions of Vita contemplativa and Vita activa, up to now confronting ways of understanding the human condition, must be remodelled.
We believe that mobility should always be meaningful, not forced and compulsory, made of cities with inclusive and mixed-uses areas, open communities who invest in physical proximity and digital communication over compulsive mobility. We advocate more creative workplaces and educational facilities able to provide more flexible working schedules and learning models. Designing user-friendly and safe transport does not imply introducing standard services which are indifferent to travellers or to their journey. Vehicles and facilities should be designed to facilitate travellers in engaging, during their travelling time, in other valuable activities. Besides, transport services should not just provide safety and reliability, but also offer comfort, hospitality and conviviality. We consider that, by providing faster and cheaper mass transport, we are not necessarily improving our living conditions in the long run. Saving time to millions of people commuting every day from home to work, or among remote cities across the world, is not necessarily turning our cities into better places to work, to live and to thrive in.
We agree with the new “Mobility Paradigm” proposed by John Urry (2007) and other thinkers from different disciplines: mobility is not just a demand derived from social and economic activities; it has a meaning in itself. People are actually living when travelling! A richer experience may well justify a longer route. More flexible and autonomous working models may reduce forced mobility and peak hours. Mobility does not always need to be decreased, or slowed down, but should also begin to translate into an increase of personal and social welfare. Better communication does not always imply more mobility or physical proximity; digital connectivity may often provide for more meaningful and useful communication strategies. We believe that a new human geography of proximity and connectivity is possible. The concepts of proximity and connectivity are not necessarily in contradiction. Beyond the slow/fast and collective/individual dichotomies, a new human geography can be imagined, also surpassing the local/global conflict. Places may restore their cultural landscapes and ecologies, while people and activities become connected and transmit information from anywhere via high-speed communication networks.
OUR POLITICAL PROPOSAL: MAKING MOBILITY MEANINGFUL TO PEOPLE
Seamlessness is politically perceived in positive terms, as if people should be transported as easily as freight, energy or information flows. An ideal seamless transport requires full predictability, no surprises, no interaction with strangers, and a disregard of the paths being crossed when moving from A to B. Delays, break downs, interruptions are often costly, but they also confer meaning to the trip. We feel the overall aim should be to reduce forced and compulsory mobility and the resulting time wasted in meaningless travel, not just to concentrate on making this forced mobility seamless or painless. Seamless interconnectivity between long distance and ‘first and last mile’ connections for efficient freight transport might be fundamental for the smooth functioning of logistic systems, but it is not always crucial for the people involved. Faster and seamless transport systems and real time digital communication generate an illusion of freedom but threaten to alienate people’s lives. The experience of distance and a reasonable pace for our activities provides quality and meaning to our lives. Delivering useful and cost-effective transport and communication services to people cannot be a paramount political objective.
We support land-use and time-sensitive policies aiming to reduce the need for forced and compulsory mobility. We should not consider mobility just as a derived activity. Improving human welfare is not linked to developing cheaper and faster transport services, but to a reduced need for wasted, forced, low added-value, meaningless mobility. Avoiding urban sprawl and exclusive or specialised zones, planning more compact cities and neighbourhoods to reduce forced and repetitive commuting whilst increasing proximity. Digital connectivity, teleworking and more flexible working places will also contribute to lower undesirable mobility peaks.
We stand for Mobility Justice: mobility impacts on groups, classes and sectors differently. It is likely that society will become divided between those able to control their own time and mobility (the kinetic elite) and those unable to do so; between those unplugged and those in always-on. Mobility injustice will spontaneously tend to grow. However, assuring affordability (from free to universal mobility) and new transport technologies should allow all people to choose how to move. The user-pays principle can provide for useful market incentives but may generate unfair impacts across sectors and groups. Spatial Justice involves territorial cohesion and requires policies to provide for a minimum accessibility from any place to Services of General Interest.
We propose that appraisal methods used to assess transport policies will not be based mostly on saving-time
The General Interest of a given transport policy cannot be fully assessed by applying a Cost-Benefit Analysis if it does not consider the room for conviviality provided by transport services, the quality of transport in a deeper sense, as well as equity impacts among social groups and different generations. Cost-Benefit Analysis should provide a proxy measure of the General Interest. Since freedom to move is a fundamental right, restricting people’s mobility should always be justified as an acceptable exception, on the grounds of the General Interest. An increasing number of Courts of Justice rulings in different European countries, although not always fully consistent, are defining what we should regard as General Interest when designing transport policies. The transport policies that best serve the General Interest should not always be those saving more time, for as many people as possible, at the minimum cost, particularly in cities and regions where transport networks are well-developed and time-savings may be marginal. Social Choice Theory and Multicriteria assessment frameworks must be further investigated to complement the utilitarian approach of the Cost-Benefit Analysis, making explicit what a given policy actually means for people, communities and institutions. Ethical concerns should be more manifest in transport policy appraisal.
We encourage policies that aim to shift from the current approach based on making traffic flows more efficient
We welcome the widespread adoption of Urban Sustainable Mobility Plans that improve the city as a whole
We welcome the widespread adoption of Urban Sustainable Mobility Plans that do not intend to provide as much mobility as possible but to improve the city as a whole, balancing traffic flows and places. We celebrate that sustainable mobility policies are already being applied in most European cities. Introduced in 2013, Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMP) and Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plans are a cornerstone of EU urban mobility. Traffic calming policies are being increasingly implemented in European cities, reducing noise, stress and pollution whilst improving wellbeing (these being the main goals of Urban Sustainable Mobility Plans). Current Urban Sustainable Mobility Plans do not intend to provide as much mobility as possible but to improve the city as a whole, balancing traffic flows and places. Upgraded SUMPs will favour active, collective and public transport and shared mobility (including catering for urban-rural links), integrating resilience strategies as well as Sustainable Urban Logistics Plans (SULP) based on zero-emission vehicles and solutions. Still, these upgraded SUMPs do not sufficiently recognise the social and cultural dimensions of mobility, and the fundamental difference between passengers and freight transport.
We support the -Vision Zero- policy that aims to eliminate road fatalities and injuries to almost zero
We support the “Vision Zero” policy that aims to eliminate road fatalities and injuries to almost zero. As walking, cycling, electric scooters and other new forms of micro-mobility increase, a higher number of people are expected to travel through the streets of our cities.
- Most people feel disadvantaged and fearful of losing the fundamental rights associated with the freedom of unconstrained mobility. Current change attempts in the European mobility sector, in favour of sustainable development, have spurred emotional debates on speed limits or massive protests on rising fuel taxes. European Courts of Justice may rule against policies rebalancing mobility if their General Interest is not well defined or justified. The culture of speed, and optimisation, still prevails. The change we advocate is political and cultural, and will not happen spontaneously.
Listen to Andreu Ulied’s introduction to the Manifesto
Listen to Carl Honoré responding to the Manifesto
Listen to Judy Wajcman responding to the Manifesto