From individual mobility to “de-mobility”

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A conversation with Bruno Marzloff, sociologist

In an interview you developed the notion of “individual collective mobility”.

This notion of “individual collective mobility” originated from observing shared bicycle services, particularly in Paris. These services have bridged the gap between the private car and public transport. At the same time, alternative offers are proliferating (BlaBlaCar, Uber, Drivy, etc.). This individual use of a collective asset opened the way to a multitude of combinations that city dwellers embraced as part of their “nimble mobility” tactics.

These innovations are based on the notion of sharing but go beyond that. In this “individual collective”, use prevails over ownership of the mode of transport, giving rise to a network of mobility that is not planned in advance, but which users have made their own. The bicycle stations, which are some 300 metres apart, form a network. They are never far from bus, metro, tram and train stations. In the future, these hubs could also link up self-service scooters, electric bikes, dynamic carpooling, carsharing, and more. Similarly, we could imagine mobility networks forming a network within the “mobility deserts” in sparsely populated areas, currently a blind spot in terms of mobility.

Have the consequences of this proliferation been fully appreciated?

The challenge is to coordinate the different modes of transport and to create conditions for smooth travel. This explains the notion of “Mobility as a Service”, the horizontal integration of existing transport modes, with a single ticket, modal, informational, fare and service integration. But the need for the physical aspect of the network is often overlooked, which is what we call “Mobility as Networks”. A tight network of Velib-type hubs would make it possible to organise car-sharing meetings, the transfer of electric bikes, etc. This question of intermodal platforms – combining public, private and collaborative transport, possibly mixing transport services and urban amenities – is a useful avenue to explore. Whatever the sector, taking new means into account opens up new prospects for the user. They can then switch, combine and innovate. The choice is only limited by the accessibility and coordination of the means of transportation. What we are witnessing is the emergence of a less proprietary, more fluid mobility. The resulting complexity is largely overcome by digital platforms.

What trade-offs will guide users’ daily choices and how can this ‘multimodal’ approach be stimulated?

For there to be trade-offs, there must be choice, and this is by no means the case everywhere. For example, in sparsely populated areas, you have your car and that’s it. For multimodal trade-offs to take place, the number of transport interruptions must also be reduced. Here too, there is not yet enough consultation to link all modes. The trade-offs are context specific, but what prevails are: the avoidance of involuntary travel, saving time, cost, of course, and seamlessness. Stimulating multimodal transport is less about adding new modes than about guaranteeing universal links. It’s all about making it easier, and there is a long way to go…

As head of the Chronos Group since 1998, Bruno Marzloff has been supporting Bouygues Construction in its open and collaborative approach to mobility, one of the challenges of the intelligent and sustainable city.

Who would be the proper stakeholder to take leadership of this coordination?

Given the proliferation of private initiatives, on top of the existing offer, how can we cooperate intelligently? The regulatory authority is the public sector. Its role is to control this flourishing of private initiatives for the benefit of the general interest. The digital giants must not be allowed to impose their vision of the city through their offers and applications. Looking back a century, the public sector guaranteed a universal public transport service. The region was connected by trains and coaches in a very tight network. This model was upset by the spread of the motor car. The goal is now to reduce the use of the private car by guaranteeing alternative modes and increasing accessibility. In the past, the public sector shaped the offer, but now we expect a mastermind to draw up a vision of the city, which naturally includes a vision of people’s mobility. Remember that the private car is still very dominant, accounting for 80% of distance travelled. We should also remember that goods mobility is growing even faster than passenger mobility.

Does the issue of mobility simply boil down to ‘transport’?

No. If we intend to solve mobility issues through transport solutions alone, we are heading for disaster. The aim is first to reduce demand. Mobility is also an issue of urban planning, regional development, work organisation and trade management. We are being handed cities with unbelievable distances between home and work. We have created a punishing system for users, for the city and for companies… We cannot question mobility without taking a look at the distinction between chosen and imposed mobility. How can we reduce imposed mobility, especially home-to-work travel? Using the Observatory of Emerging Uses of the City, we listened to the inhabitants. What did they say? First of all, they no longer want this sprawling, congested ‘Fordist’ city. They can no longer stand the excessive cost, stress and pollution. Secondly, they extol the virtues of proximity. They demand active means of getting around: walking and cycling are popular, as are shared modes of transport, provided that urban planning allows for it. Proximity is guaranteed access to the essential resources of mobility and transport within a fifteen-minute walk of the home. It is the ” quarter-hour city”. Another point that users praise is daily life from a distance – teleworking, e-commerce, telehealth, etc., ways of avoiding transport, a form of “de-mobility”. This is not about reducing freedom of movement, but rather about avoiding unnecessary travel.

What do we offer to rural or suburban dwellers?

The car has been allowed to dominate rural and semi-urban areas and the outskirts of large cities. We have created “mobility deserts”. We have let it dry up the supply of urban amenities in the centres of towns and medium-sized cities. Local hubs adapted to these territories do not exist; they must be invented. We have looked at how the bicycle (standard or electric) can respond to this transport network at very low cost by integrating dynamic carpooling or car sharing. This is a major blind spot in mobility.

The autonomous vehicle is joining the debate, with new players. How is it perceived by the users you interviewed?

When users are asked what modes of transport they envisage for the future, two emerge: the autonomous shuttle and the river shuttle. The private car, autonomous or not, is far behind. The inevitability of the private car, which prevails in the automotive industry, is much less apparent in people’s minds. Why? Because these shuttles are public transport. Their slowness reflects expectations of calm, proximity and a “city within reach”. The autonomous vehicle’s “magic” will not solve the problem of congestion in cities. Although cars will be cleaner and more connected, the invasiveness of private cars will remain. Once again, let’s not forget to think about the city and to listen to the users.

Chronos is a sociological research and innovation consultancy firm that observes, questions and analyses changes in mobility and the issues at stake. The firm’s skills are organised around three areas: strategic intelligence and analysis, foresight and change management, and innovation management. Chronos makes targeted use of it, depending on the specific needs of its clients.


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