The Future of Our Cities – Challenging Urbane Logistics (Part 3/3)

The desire for something new: The Mobility Transition needs behavioural change

It is difficult for most people to change embedded behaviour. The longer a routine is exercised, the less often it is challenged. One of the best examples is the daily route to work. But the urban mobility transition requires considerable personal behavioural changes of townspeople and commuters. These inconsistent imaginary worlds often bounce off each other. Thus the way to the urban traffic reversal with multimodal transportation is long; that is, to the combined usage of different means of transport, like local public transport, car-sharing, bicycles etc. In this case, how can requirement and reality get closer together?

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Agora Mobility transition, a collective initiative of the Mercator Foundation and the European Climate Foundation, would like, with a discussion paper, to help municipalities and cities that are making desired behavioural changes in street traffic more palatable to their citizens. Communication is the magic word. The necessary life- and traffic style should be ‘boosted’ with a modern and desirable attitude to life. For one would rather aspire to something chic, and in this way one more easily overcomes the resistance that stands in the way of these behavioural changes.

Berlin shows how it’s done

The urban mobility transition does not only require new transport methods and routes. Above all, regarding the theme of short-distance traffic, a behavioural change in townspeople is required. Not everybody likes riding a bike. Very few are familiar with car-sharing. Local public transport has a negative image, often unfairly. Consequently, urban mobility transition does not merely struggle with the problem of purely technical transformation, but also with the issue that enduring traffic possibilities are either not noticed by inhabitants, or simply perceived too negatively. Communications campaigns can change this.

The Berlin transportation firms have shown me how, through their long-term campaign #weilwirdichlieben, running since 2015, one can enduringly improve the negative image of local Berlin public transport through well-constructed PR. For instance, the viral BVG hit ‘Is mir egal’ promises to make the morning journey on Berlin buses and subways into an adventure. You have something to talk about if you use the local public transport, and BVG portrays itself as the liberal embodiment of a multiform Berlin.

In other clips from the campaign, hate-tweets against BVG are read out by staff members, and thus brought into an alternative, amusing setting. Similarly, a witty explanation for the inadequacies of the BVG is given in the clip ‘Alles Absicht’.

Reframing, that is, giving a new explanation and interpretation to an issue by placing it into another context, is recommended in the aforementioned discussion paper as a communications technique alongside other PR tools.

Respecting the mobility needs of all road users

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However, the mobility transition cannot simply be achieved by feeling that the use of local public transport is cool. Firstly, one must be informed about alternative means of transport, for whom they are practical and how they actually work. This applies to local public transport modal tickets and (minor) hire vehicles of all kinds. So youthful hipsters are just one manageable minority, who very quickly outgrow this target group. Not all groups of people in road traffic can partake in all mobility solutions in equal measure. For instance, car-sharing might be practical for a hipster, or equally for the old married couple, but for the family with small children, and accordingly with booster seats, it is effectively infeasible. The private car as a sporadic and partial mobility solution warrants its place in the debate just as much as the bicycle or local public transport.

Even more important than information and motivation is the creation of opportunities to actually use alternative means of transportation through the construction of public commute systems, including cheap modal tickets for the various means of transportation. Together, opportunity, information and motivation can create an enduring change of behaviour to the personal advantage of all road users.

What is most needed in the mobility transition for more people to become multi-modally mobile?