Mobility labs – a method to enable a fair transition of the transport system

Sustainable transport

How should policies for a transition of the transport system be formulated to be perceived as fair, and hence acceptable to citizens? Many of the policies and measures for reduced car travel discussed today (e.g. higher fuel taxes, increased spending on public transport and bike lanes) have different outcomes in urban and rural contexts. While people living in urban areas can choose to drive their car less often if costs increase, and instead go by bike or public transport, people in rural areas have fewer alternatives to the car, and these policies risk being perceived as unfair.

In the research project “Policies for a fair and sustainable accessibility”, financed by the Swedish innovation agency Vinnova, researchers from Trivector together with colleagues from Lund university and Trogon AB investigate a new method for formulating bundles of policies and measures together with individuals who will be affected by these policies. The method, which we call ”mobility labs”, builds upon the tradition of “urban labs”, where citizens are invited as co-creators to solve complex problems.

Three mobility labs

During a couple of days in the end of October, three “mobility labs” where carried out in three locations: Hällefors, Odensbacken and Örebro. All three are located in the centre of Sweden to the west of Stockholm. Örebro is the regional capital, whereas Odensbacken is a commuter village 25 kilometres from Örebro, and Hällefors is the regional centre in a large rural area located around 80 kilometres north of Örebro. At each location, we met with several groups of citizens (groups of around 6 randomly selected people) for focus group discussions on their current travel habits, their views on the sustainable transition of the transport system, and their views on different policies. The discussion was punctuated with presentations of research results on travel habits of different groups of people, the size of the reduction of car travel needed for the transition to a sustainable transport system as indicated by research, as well as presentations on different possible policies and measures.

Many policies and measures are perceived as unfair in rural areas

Discussions in the groups had both similarities and differences. Most people we met expressed an understanding for the need of a transition of the transport sector in order to achieve climate goals. However, inhabitants in the more rural locations Hällefors and Odensbacken experienced that much of the spending done to enable the sustainability transition of the transport sector, such as investments in high speed trains between the major urban regions and a state premium for people buying an e-bike, did not benefit them, while higher fuel taxes affected them negatively. In order to make the transition of the transport sector work in rural areas, they asked for more long-term stability in regulations concerning green cars, as well as better public transport both for going into town (i.e. Örebro), and for connecting urban buses once there. Several participants also highlighted the importance of good broadband to increase the possibilities to work and make service errands from home. At the same time, the people we met in Örebro expressed an understanding for the different pre-conditions in rural and urban areas, and found it reasonable that those who live in urban areas will have to reduce their car travel more than those who live in rural areas. In other words, there seem to be good possibilities to get acceptance for bundles of policies and measures with different content for urban and rural areas.

The next step: creating proposals of fair bundles of policies and measures

Based on the results of our “mobility labs”, we are now in the process of creating proposals of bundles of policies and measures which can be perceived as fair by people in both urban and rural contexts. During the spring, we have met with our respondents again to get their reactions on our preliminary proposals.

The aim of the study is to research possible bundles of policies and measures that better can secure a sustainable accessibility for all groups in a post-fossil society, but also to develop a method for including local actors in the formulation of policies and measures for the sustainability transition of the transport sector, specifically including those actors that risk becoming net losers in the transition. The project can hence contribute with a change in the way new policies and measures are prepared. Our hope is that the project will contribute to policies and measures that are more cost effective, long term and predictable. The method also strengthens the democratic perspective through enabling a systematic inclusion of the voices of different groups in society. Taking their voices into consideration is an important part in creating a not only ecologically but also socially sustainable transport system.

Further information

For further information, contact Emma Lund, +46 10-456 56 30.