How to lobby for sustainable mobility?

In general, public transport, e-mobility, bicycle and pedestrian traffic are summarized as sustainable modes of transport. There is a consensus among researchers, planners and most politicians that sustainable mobility should be promoted in order to reduce the negative effects of motorized individual traffic (MIT). Especially urban agglomerations invest much effort in shifting the modal split towards sustainable modes. So far so good.
But why is the number of travelled MIT kilometers per person in the  EU27 internet still on the rise? Why is it so hard to provide really integrated mobility services? Why are automotive lobbyists so successful in their lobbying? And finally, how could the voice for sustainable mobility be amplified?


Lobbying for sustainable mobility.

The last three days I attended a national conference on sustainable mobility, the “Salzburger Verkehrstage” internet. The conference is organized by a NGO which supports public transport, especially rail traffic.
The event as such was very interesting with excellent key note speakers, inspiring formats and many engaged practitioner, planners and researchers who shared their views. I’ve learned quite a lot and will need some time to work through and sort out my notes.
But the conference also showed, that it seems to be quite a long road (maybe too long?!) to get together all stakeholders under an umbrella or at least speak with a common voice. This observation made me think on how to effectively lobby for sustainable mobility. Isn’t it completely outdated to see and push only one mode? Isn’t the future inter- and multimodal? And who are the relevant ‘vendors’ on the marketplace of attention (whom should decision makers listen to)?
I’ve no definite answer nor do I have a perfect overview of all initiatives and projects. What I sketch here are some thoughts and observations and a general impression of the “Verkehrstage”.

Key players and what they contributed
The keynotes at the conference were hold by distinguished experts, mainly from academia. Some of them (such as Prof. Schmid, ETH Zürich internet) gave insights into very practical, down-to-earth research. Others put their focus on future trends and in doing so draw quite unambiguous pictures (Prof. Kummer, WU Wien internet or Prof. Knie, InnoZ Berlin internet to name two of them). And a third group, or better a single person, repeated vehemently what he has been preaching for the last decades. Whereas the first two approaches are helpful and essential for promoting and pushing sustainable mobility, a rigid repetition of fundamental positions (although they might be valid and necessary to consider) impedes reasonable cooperations and trendsetting strategies.
A second, and maybe the biggest, group of players were representatives of public transportation services. Within their ‘ecosystem’ most of them are very innovative. But while they praise the latest weight reduction of a narrow-gauge railway in Lower Austria’s province, many make the impression that they forget to account for the big revolutions which are currently going on in society and in the mobility sector in particular. A very pleasant exception was Mr. Röhrleef from Hannover’s PT services. He pointed to the fact that car ownership is the parameter which needs to be addressed in order to change mobility habits (“If you spend a lot of money on your own car, you won’t pay extra for any other transportation mode.”). As an alternative he presented a mobility card internet with which any kind of transportation mode in the Hannover region can be used.
Beside academics and providers lots of engaged citizens, rail nostalgists and unionists attended the conference and contributed to the discussions. Probably this is the most inflexible group. Each of them has a very specific (mostly narrow) view and struggles to bear in mind the complexity of the whole system. For example a unionist argued against digitalization because he feared the loss of jobs at the ticket counter or on the trains. Well, that other jobs are actually created through digitalization was out of his scope. Others repeatedly claimed that they love to travel by train and this should be reason enough to never touch their holy cow. To be fair, quite a lot of attendees saw the necessity to adapt to social, technological and budgetary changes.
Mobility budgets are the perfect bridge to the fourth group of players: politicians. Mobility as a cross-domain topic – touching infrastructure, spatial planning or social departments – was widely recognized (Of course, attending such a conference demonstrates a certain willingness to learn. More problematic are those politicians who were not there!). And although evidences from academia and experiences from providers are well received in most cases, budget constraints and cumbersome bureaucracy hinder to make things going more quickly.

Lessons learned or what to do?
Although everyone at the conference listened politely to the different contributions it seemed that most players remained in their respective ‘world’ – that’s the whole tragedy of the story. There was very little real interaction or discussion. And from what I’ve witnessed I can hardly imagine how a unionist’s or nostalgist’s mindset could be influenced, not to say opened or changed. On the other hand I’ve learned how important it is to be ready to really engage with persons who love and/or daily use different means of transportation.
As long as every player and every advocate of different modes of transport (from rail to bike enthusiast) works in his or her isolated environment, neither looking left nor right (or better back and forth), there will be no efficient lobby for sustainable mobility.
To make it very short: alone we don’t have any chance to be heard beside the loud voice of automotive industry’s lobbyists.

layer concept

Through the layer concept GIS can combine multiple persepectives on space and thus facilitates an integrated understanding of complex systems.

  • Academics can produce myriads of papers and studies. But they are in vain when they aren’t applied in reality (a first step to transfer scientific findings into practice is to communicate in a clear and understandable manner!).
  • Politicians can try to push sustainable mobility with the best motives. But as long as they don’t use the right instruments, their efforts will have little effects.
  • Transportation services and infrastructure providers can improve their respective offer as much as possible, but when they don’t understand mobility being a complex system with very important interdependencies, they won’t succeed.
  • And finally, as long as representatives of particular interests only shout for their specific concern, they will still shout when their object of interest is already a museum piece.

As a geographer by training I see the big and realistic chance for my discipline to catalyze the process of gaining a holistic view and develop complementary strategies to foster sustainable modes of transportation.
We are used to look at the world from many perspectives and with GIS we have the concepts and tools to bring these perspectives together. This common understanding and representation of several particular interests can be the starting point for informed discussions, strategy developments and targeted measures. And it enables decision makers to base their work on participation, integration and evidence.
Lobbying for sustainable mobility must be integrative, because, as it holds true for any complex system, the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.

P.S.: I sadly missed bicycle and pedestrian advocates on the stage. At least in my home town they account for a much higher modal split than public transport!


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