The role of citizens in urban mobility

20 December 2021

Throughout the year of Conversations in the Park, we have talked about many different parts of mobility, sustainability, investment, cybersecurity, the cities, but we left the most important part for last. The citizens. The people that live in cities and use mobility modes, and at the end of the day – those whom mobility is meant to serve. We were very happy that this very important episode was made in collaboration with the EIT Urban Mobility. So let’s look at some of the key points when it comes to the role of citizens in mobility.

Does Citizens engagement matter?

All our speakers on episode 9 of the podcast agree that citizen engagement is paramount to the way we design mobility. Julienne Chen, as Citizen Engagement and Program Manager at EIT Urban Mobility, explains that there are a lot of preconceptions among those who design mobility about how people move. But in reality these are not always true. Today’s society is diverse and ever-changing, so there is a huge range of mobility needs and habits. In order to have solutions that benefit everyone and are successfully integrated, we need to bring citizens into the conversation from the start.

Paddy La Torre, Head of Strategic Partnerships at Humanising Autonomy, shares that in bringing new AI technology to a city, it is important to not just overcome obstacle A or B, but look at the root cause of that obstacle. And founder of ReedMobility, Nick Reed, further explains that we can’t leave it just to tech companies to bring new modes of mobility into a city, because their motives might differ from what citizens actually need and want.

In short, yes Citizen engagement matter very much. 

Not just on ethical but also practical point of view. Citizens are the ones who use mobility and the ones who vote. Therefore for a mobility mode to be successful, it needs the people to use and support it. And politicians and governing bodies have the responsibility to bring solutions that serve their voters the best way. 

Does culture matter or are all people the same?

In an ideal world, a mobility providers would be able to universally apply their solution everywhere. However, reality is different. Every city of every country has its own challenges, culture, laws. The urban planning of Oslo is very different to the planning of Rio de Janeiro. Both because of the specific climate, budget and other factors, as well as the people living there. As a further example, the population of Holland is very environmentally focused, with the car being the least popular mode of transport and bikes taken everywhere. Whereas in the USA the car is seen as a symbol of status and freedom. So how you introduce a new escooter, for example, will vary immensely.

However, there are similarities between people of different nationalities on a more basic level. We all want the mobility mode with the smallest barrier of adoption. Something that is easy, safe and simple to use. Hence on that level, providers can work on making new technologies more accessible and easier to understand. 

On that note, there is a tendency to prioritise younger tech-savvy users in urban areas over those in less developed ones, when introducing smart mobility. Which creates inequality. It also means that these new platforms don’t reach their full potential. Because they are only tested on a limited number of users. And regardless of who uses the technology, it affects everyone in a society, so everyone should be able to have their say about it. That is another challenge in citizen involvement. 

The good of the citizens VS What the citizens want

There is also the issue of citizens resisting new technologies. Such is the case with AVs for example. Even though they are a top example of innovation and software application, if people are scared of using them – who are self-driving vehicles really serving? 

We have to also mention sustainability vs people’s comfort. There is, as we all know, a race to netzero to make our cities sustainable for the preservation of our planet and effectively ourselves. But we, the citizens, are not willing to sacrifice our standard of living to make that happen. If we need to get from A to B, we are going to choose the transport which is quickest and easiest. So it comes to urban planners to make the eco option the easiest option. Or to governments to bring legislation that may not be popular, but is necessary.

Our speakers go into more detail about the importance and challenges of Citizen engagement in mobility on our podcast, which you can listen to on Spotify and  Apple Podcasts.

We discuss the ongoing trade-off between sustainability and equity in a previous blog, and we also previously looked at the Ideal city of the Future.

This article and the podcast episode were proudly sponsored by:

 

EIT Urban mobility logo

 

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