RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2015

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276 Reimagining the mobility transition
Convenor(s) Astrid Wood (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Anna Nikolaeva (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Peter Adey (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Chair(s) Tim Cresswell (Northeastern University, USA)
Timetable Friday 04 September 2015, Session 3 (14:40 - 16:20)
Room Queen's Building - Lecture Theatres 4.1 & 4.2
Session abstract This session addresses the future of mobilities taking place around the world. Rather than merely retelling stories of a low-carbon future facilitated by motorized and non-motorized transit systems, the papers envision a more dynamic future comprised not only of bicycles and buses but also of airships and electric vehicles. The papers focus on the national policy context but maintain a scalar approach that avoids methodological nationalism by also honing in on the details that enable a more mobile future. Many policies and initiatives that envision a mobility transition represent a diverse collection of explicit national and grass roots responses to global environmental change and demands for low-carbon living. A closer investigation further reveals that reducing CO2 emissions is not necessarily the primary or the only goal of related policies and projects. Mobility transitions envisioned by governmental agencies, local authorities, think tanks, businesses and activists may be embedded within other kinds of issues and categories of social and political change (e.g. social justice and equality, urban conviviality, resilience, security, aging societies and access). As such, some visions and policies are highly contested while others coalesce from competing interests and imperatives. The papers in this session argue that failing to grasp the entanglement of mobility transition policies into other issues and neglecting the processes of contestation and negotiation will lead to a very limited understanding of the dynamics of development and implementation of policies.

This session welcomes papers that consider the following key questions:

• How are mobility transitions represented? How are envisioned mobility transitions mobilized in particular representations of the future? In what ways are mobility transitions commodified and aestheticized?
How is the idea of transition articulated in different contexts? Can “transition” always serve as a suitable umbrella term for a variety of conceptualizations of change occurring in thinking about/planning/practicing mobilities?
• What is the correlation between the interests of stakeholders and the representations of mobility transition/future mobility that they produce?
• What is the role of supposed successes and failures in envisioning future mobilities? What models of success and failure have become influential? How are “successful models” exported and imported? How are success and failure understood in different contexts?
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2015@rgs.org
Thinking through the mobility transition
Peter Adey (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Tim Cresswell (Northeastern University, USA)
In this paper, we outline an approach to the study of mobility transitions. The facts of increases in greenhouse gases and decreases in the availably of oil means that societies around the world are going to have to move away from the carbon-intensive modes of mobility that dominate current constellations of mobility. The ways in which we move account for a significant and growing percentage of greenhouses gas output and carbon fuel usage. One word that has been used to describe these necessary transformations in ‘transition’. This paper aims to bring current work in the mobilities turn in conversation with existing work on transition in order to begin to map a way forward.
Envisioning mobility futures in Canada from a multi-scalar transitions perspective
Cristina Temenos (Northeastern University, USA)
Jane YeonJae Lee (Northeastern University, USA)
Problems concerning congested cities, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change have sparked debates about how people are going to move and to live in the near and distant future. More than half of the greenhouse gas emissions come from carbon-intensive transport practices including the use of private vehicles. Creating conditions of sustainability and carbon-free modes of travel is an important and growing vision in transportation policies around the world. Yet, it is also a challenge for many countries because of existing infrastructures and knowledge-bases that create path-dependent development trajectories which continues to encourage car use. This paper examines the visions and actualities of mobility transition policies in British Columbia and Ontario, Canada through document analysis and interviews with key stakeholders. Despite a lack of low-carbon transportation policy at the federal level, there are strong representations of mobility transition in policy at the municipal and local levels. In this paper we raise questions regarding appropriate scales for developing low-carbon mobility, and the extent to which scales may conflict with visions of mobility futures.
Moving forward by looking backward: Reimagining the mobility transition in the UK
Astrid Wood (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Over the past two decades, nine light rail schemes have been proposed across the UK – Croydon, Docklands Light Rail, Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle, Nottingham, Blackpool and Edinburgh. The widespread espousal of these ostensibly new systems is advanced by financial and political support at the highest levels of government and tied to a resurgence across the UK of intensive transport infrastructure. While the revival suggests a mobility transition, trams are not a new technology. In the early part of the twentieth century, nearly every city and town in the UK, however large or small, had a tram service, but within a few decades, nearly all these services have been removed. This revival of trams draws on a particular nostalgia for these long discarded services without necessarily improving on them. This paper will explore the introduction of East London Transit and Edinburgh Trams in London and Edinburgh, respectively to understand the following set of questions – what types of mobility futures do trams generate?; why are these systems being revived at this particular moment?; and what does that say about the way in which we envisage the mobility transition?
A “Quirky project” or an “Industry”? Challenges of imagining a mobility transition
Anna Nikolaeva (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Aeromobility as we know it, as evident in various UK policy documents, is here to stay despite the controversial position of aviation in respect to contributing to climate change and the difficulties related to expanding and upgrading existing airport infrastructure. While there is a variety of plans of transforming urban mobility (through electric cars, low carbon public transportation, cycling etc), jet airplanes and the supporting infrastructure appear to be irreplaceable. The paper discusses a project that partially contests this presumption. A UK-based company Hybrid Airships claims to have found a cost-efficient, low-carbon way of air travel that would require minimal infrastructure. While they do not aspire to replace jet airplanes, they do aim to diversify aeromobility and set up a new industry. The first part of paper follows the development of the hybrid airship project through the decades of failures to recent successes and identifies what it takes to offer an alternative kind of mobility that is not (yet) welcomed: what actors, what motives and what events were needed to make this vision possible. The second part of the paper compares the challenges that Hybrid Airships face with those that slow down progress of some other proposed mobility transitions. The paper thus opens up the discussion about the drivers behind envisioning mobility transitions and the origins of inertia of the accepted mobility practices.
Sustainable motility: introducing a new concept
Andre Novoa (Northeastern University, USA)
This presentation is meant to bring forward the idea of “sustainable motility”, introducing it to the debates on mobility transitions. In 2002, Vincent Kaufman explored the concept of motility as the potential for being mobile. According to the author, “motility can be defined as the capacity of a person to be mobile, or more precisely, as the way in which an individual appropriates what is possible in the domain of mobility and puts this potential to use for his or her activities” (Kaufmann 2002, p. 37). Drawing upon Kaufmann’s theory, sustainable motility could be defined as the capacity of a person to be sustainably mobile, or more precisely, as the way in which an individual appropriates what is possible in the domain of sustainable mobility and puts this potential to use for his or her activities. We think that this concept may be of interest for a number of reasons, such as (1) an emphasis on people and less on the numbers of targets and goals to be achieved, (2) forcing policy-makers to think about conferring individuals’ with capitals of mobility, (3) opening the door for a less econometric perspective on mobility transitions, or (4) allowing for a re-thinking of behavioural change. These will be explored throughout the presentation.