We need the artists
In this Rebalance Dialogue, Andrea Ricci talked with Benjamin Docquir and Xavier Tackoen  about how mobility services, whether for passengers or goods, are increasingly relying on ICT-based solutions, which are supposed to increase economic efficiency, safety, and the environmental performance of the transport system.

REBALANCE considers that this clear and unchallenged perspective does not take into account obstacles and undesired implications such as a loss of privacy, a decrease in social interaction opportunities or widening inequalities that leave some people behind.

Pursuing the digital and green transition, the so-called “twin transition”, has now become a widespread policy mantra. In the transport sector, there are obvious synergies between the digital and the green dimensions, but there are also potential challenges in combining the two. Therefore, there is the need to identify and negotiate eventual trade-offs. According to the participants, trust is a key for adopting new technologies, considering digitalisation as a mean and sustainability as a goal, but this not yet reflected in reality.

When it comes to leveraging individual and collective motivations to promote sustainable mobility, two approaches can be followed: one is to build upon the efficiency of digital solutions and the other is to lean on environmental concerns and awareness.

Digital-enabled solutions such as MAAS and Transport-on-Demand services are designed to better meet individual needs, but this objective could be hindered by the digital divide that will either leave some groups behind (vulnerable people, elderly, technology-unsavvy…) or rather, by making it easier and cheaper to move around, therefore favouring inclusivity. Gaps could appear between “physical” public (planners, decision-makers) and “virtual” private (service providers) approaches.

The COVID-19 emergency helped realise that technology is an enabler since it has significantly changed mobility patterns, for both goods (online shopping) and passengers (smart working).

But there is no certainty whether these changes will be sustained when pandemics is under control. People have developed a fear of crowded spaces, although they do not seem prepared to give up the social benefits of physical mobility. Anyhow, we could be heading towards an overall less convivial life.

Privacy concerns arise from the obligation to share personal data to be able to use or benefit from digital mobility services. People might seem more afraid of “Big Brother” than they actually are, given the global spread of social networks. The battle between efficiency and privacy is not decided. According to the discussants, privacy and personal data will be shared if asked in a smart way, but there will also be more use awareness. Data are needed by operators and planners in matters of public interest. The downside is that the public does not seem to show much confidence in the mobility app.

In regards to efficiency, cycling is embraced because of it (and socialisation) and not because of environmental conscience. Alternatively, speed is about fun and not efficiency. There is the need to redefine efficiency from economic to the welfare of society.

In order to change behaviours, the participants stressed that the best way is through education and training (raising awareness), digitalisation comes last. Individual freedom articulates many behaviours and choices. Even when considering people at the centre, the digital gap will not disappear. Inclusion will come before digitalisation and not because of it. This needs gatekeepers because nudging might not be sufficient to address group needs and diversity needs. Another issue is whether local benefits are overshadowed by global externalities (cyclists make more long-distance travels).

The discussants agreed that people subscribe to the sentence: “I want to master my mobility”.

This conclusion is reached after understanding the stakes and raising awareness, evaluating the diversity of options (e.g. opt-in & opt-out), defining the concept of “usable time” and moving from JIT (Just In Time) to as fast as possible (and from companies to consumers).

In terms of governance, the participants agreed that transparency is a crucial element to be taken into account by decision-makers. Also regulation, which either comes too early (kills innovation) or too late (monsters surge).

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Andrea Ricci is a recognised foresight expert who is highly regarded for his knowledge on sustainability policy analysis, impact assessment and forward-looking analyses, with particular emphasis on public policy.

Learn more about Andrea Ricci

Benjamin Docquir is a Partner in Brussels and heads our Belgium IT & IP law department. An expert in intellectual property and technology law, Benjamin specialises in privacy, data security and information technology law. He assists clients with the digital transformation of business processes and the mitigation of risks associated with information security and information management.

Learn more about Benjamin Docquir

Xavier Tackoen obtained a Bachelor of Commerce from ICHEC in Brussels as well as a Diploma of Specialized Studies (DES) in Transport Management from CIEM. In addition to the administrative management of the office, Espaces-Mobilités, since 2012 is in charge of strategic mobility studies with in-depth knowledge of the public transport sector and a keen interest in new forms of mobility.

Learn more about Xavier Tackoen

Watch the full explorative conversation