Mobility/Transport and Social Innovation (WP8)

Two central aspects make transport-related mobility a fundamental field for studying social innovation. Firstly, there is particular potential to reduce the negative effects of transport (greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, congestions, noise) by implementing new ways of mobility behaviour through social innovations. Secondly, mobility is a key characteristic of a modern society and central for getting access to societal life. Ensuring the mobility of all citizens including those with reduced mobility (young and elderly, people with disabilities, people living in remote areas) is a crucial step for moving towards a socially inclusive society and a territorially cohesive European Union. Social innovation initiatives are an important means towards achieving this goal.

Social Problems
Mobility shows several deep social problems. Solutions require conflicting measures from markets and public policy. Mobility and traffic is (still) increasing and is expected to continue to increase in the next decades. The social problems can be exemplified in a number of pressing aspects:

  • Especially within urban areas, the negative effects of transport go hand in hand with a reduction of what is broadly perceived as quality of life. This not only concerns the low quality of air impacting human health and the environment. Also, around 70 million people living within urban areas in Europe are affected by noise levels that exceed 55dB and that are caused by road transport (EEA 2012).
  •  With a share of 17% of total greenhouse gas emissions in 2009 road transport is among the major emitters in the EU. This needs to massively decrease in order to reach the goal of cutting 20% greenhouse gas emissions compared to the 1990 levels by the year 2020 (cp. the 20-20-20-targets).
  •  Mobility is a lever to ensure access to societal life and public services for all people. Especially as concerns Europe’s remote areas which furthermore are heavily affected by the implications of demographic change, the maintenance of public transport and therefore the accessibility of public services is connected to major challenges.
  • Congestion and traffic is causing high costs: for example, the costs of congestion and delays on Dutch main roads in 2010 are estimated to be around 3 billion Euros (KiM 2011). Costs for all traffic accidents, economic loss due to congestion and emission costs are about 20 billion Euros (KiM 2011).

Existing Innovation model
The dominant innovation actions regarding mobility and transport truly show awareness of these negative effects and public policy, both from an EU and member states perspective, is working hard towards diminishing them. However, despite certain actions aiming at improving co-modality, the model can also be labelled as technocratic and heavily centred on cars as will be explained by the two dominant routes of action: firstly, it particularly supports technical innovation in order to shift towards least polluting and energy efficient electric vehicles (electro mobility). The main instrument is the co-funding of relevant research, development and pilot projects. The second
emphasis is on traffic flow engineering, through the instalment of intelligent traffic systems directing the traffic flow through the city areas in order to avoid congestion (and thereby making car driving more convenient). Roadcharges and high costs for inner-city parking too, belong to the management of urban traffic.

Though comprising promising components, the technocratic approaches could not yet unfold their full potential to be an effective solution for cleaner and more sustainable mobility. Electro mobility is still in stage of research and includes particular uncertainty for end-users when buying an e-car. Next to the high acquisition costs, unresolved issues are connected to the storage capacity of batteries, the weak distribution of power stations to recharge batteries, the maximum amount of distance that can be travelled, etc. Traffic flow management indeed has positive effects in terms of avoiding congestion, but at the same time it facilitates car-driving.

Social Innovation in Mobility
With an average distance travelled per person per year of more than 9000 kilometers in the EU 27 (homepage EEA), minimizing personal car usage is another, though less prominent field to realize reduction potentials. Social innovations are a promising lever through which these reduction potentials can be realized, as they allow for practicing new bottom-up, user-centered (in contrast to car-centered) ways of mobility behavior. Furthermore, they can also be an effective means for providing access to societal life through enhancing the mobility of particular (vulnerable) groups. The scope is considerably broad, containing:

  •  alternative mobility involving cars such as car-sharing and -pooling including the important shift from carownership towards car-user groups, and thereby minimizing the costs of car-driving,
  • multi-modal mobility heavily supported by social change through society’s digitalization and the so-called digital natives,
  • new ways of walking such as walking school buses or pedi-buses firstly established in France, where school kids walk together a specific route to get to school and back home (accompanied by an adult person),
  • citizen’s initiatives planning car-free city areas, improving the amenity value of the immediate surroundings,
  • voluntary public transport in remote areas closing gaps within the timetables or routes of public transports through the voluntary engagement of residents, etc.

It is obvious that both approaches (“cleaning” car-driving and a bottom-up change of mobility behavior) need to go hand in hand to achieve sustainable transport. Therefore, it is essential to strengthen the latter approach. Though first initiatives have already started 30 years ago, at this moment, the impact of mobility-related social innovation on public policy and markets is still limited. However, awareness is growing all over Europe and there are observable tendencies of behavioral change (ifmo 2011). An important reason is a shifting perspective from traffic safety to sustainable and clean traffic underpinned by the current generation of young adults for whom owning a
car is less important than it has been for former generations and who are much more acquainted with multi-modal mobility (ifmo 2011) and environmental concerns. The SI-DRIVE research in the policy field of mobility will aim towards enhancing this trend by  empowering relevant social innovations– not least in supporting Smart City strategies.


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