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‘Gaining access to what we need without travel is re-shaping services’ writes Alistair Kirkbride in Mobility Matters for Local Transport Today

“Mobility” is everywhere. “Mobility as a Service” (MaaS) is increasingly filling column inches and conference halls, and many car manufacturers and rail companies are re-branding as “mobility service providers”.

 

But do we really have a clear understanding – or any agreement – of what mobility means? And shouldn’t we really be looking at “Accessibility as a Service” – the argument being that people’s primary need is to access things (jobs, shops, friends etc) rather than to travel?

 

We should start by looking backwards at people’s lifestyles now compared to, say, a generation ago through a transport lens. In addition to the well-rehearsed changes in public transport use, walking, cycling and car use, the big change is the ability to access stuff via smart phones and the internet without needing to travel. We can have contact with friends, family and colleagues without having to physically move. We increasingly access services and information without needing to travel, and goods come to us rather than us having to go to fetch them.

 

Stark examples of this are from a current smartphone marketing campaign[1] “…the young generation are pioneering new ways [with smartphones] to do business, create social movements and reach out to millions” and an app that gives me an online video appointment with a GP in a few hours rather than a few days (so long as I am prepared to pay).

 

Furthermore, someone delivering anything from my groceries, a book or packet of paper clips to my door in no time is now the norm rather than the exception for many.

 

Only a few years ago, we would have travelled to buy these. For the purposes of the train of argument, let’s not question the comparative impacts, ethics or politics of these developments, but focus on what they mean for modern lifestyles and the need for mobility.

 

It all suggests that somewhere between “mobility” and “accessibility” might sit “connectedness”. In this context, connectedness means the ability to access what we need – either by making journeys (mobility) or our smartphones, tablets or computers. It is not the same as “connectivity” – which implies lubricated travel.

 

“Connectedness as a service” (CaaS) then looks interesting in that not travelling (because we can access stuff via the web) effectively becomes a mode alongside the other components of mobility when we are planning compelling lifestyle packages.

 

 

This has two implications. Firstly, it invites us to ponder what sort of other service providers might work alongside mobility services to provide compelling packages of “connectedness”. Secondly, it allows for a positive critique of the mobility-led proposals for large scale infrastructure. Put another way, if I lived in Sheffield, would my quality of life be better with a bundle of connectedness services (local and long distance mobility with information, entertainment and networking services) rather than driving in a long tunnel to work?

 

I have recently seen two other approaches to unpacking mobility; at the recent World Combined Mobility Congress (Wocomoco), Ghislain Delabie of OuiShare.net defines three types of mobility. These are: Ultramobility, where moving “far and fast” is still dominant; Aftermobility, where the car is less attractive and less present in public space; and Proximobility, where “time has some qualitative value”.

 

How he interprets these in relation to quality of places and quality of life and what the “mobility landscape” would look like for each gets interesting. Secondly, Derek Halden linked different types of mobility to historic UK traffic growth forecasts.

 

Although considered for different reasons and in different ways, there are still common contrasts between hyper/ultra mobility and proximobility/hyperlocation of these two representations of mobility.

 

If we interpret the “GB actual” line on Halden’s chart as an indication of what people actually want to do, then it seems to refuse to head to hypermobility. Apart from the possibility of people not wanting a hypermobile lifestyle, there might be an influence of the emergence of other forms of connectedness replacing the need to travel during this era. This starts to paint a compelling picture of desired future lifestyles and by association (via Delabie’s diagram) future places when looked at through the lens of connectedness.

 

The title for the Halden’s slide was “Better to shape the future than forecast it”. In the emerging world of mobility, it’s therefore worth questioning who is likely to be involved in shaping it.

 

We can almost certainly be sure that the influence of its rapidly emerging user-focussed service providers on the transport landscapes is only going to increase. “Predict and provide” will probably therefore be more usefully applied to people’s desired lifestyles – and desired types of places to live and work – than it ever has been to infrastructure.

 

The challenge, therefore, is to understand more clearly what sort of connectedness lifestyles people actually want. This can form the basis of working out not only what services will be required, but what is appropriate infrastructure for the world of new mobility. In this case, even considering infrastructure that would lead to hypermobility – such as road tunnels under the Peak District – just seem antediluvian and completely out of step with the likely future lifestyles of the travelling public.

 

I wonder, therefore, whether we can dust off transport being a derived demand in the new framework of MaaS. This time, transport is just a part of connectedness with the whole system driven using a different set of levers.

 

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