Accessibility for All:
Mobility must be fairly shared
The idea of a mobility budget might at first seem counterintuitive. Isn’t mobility a human right? Aren’t we free to move wherever we want, whenever we want, and by whatever means we choose? Wouldn’t any attempt to restrict this freedom be unjust? Indeed, notions of freedom and fairness are at the very heart of mobility budgets, but in ways that might not be obvious at first glance.
The freedom of mobility is an illusion. Cars can only go where roads allow them to, trains only where rails can carry them. All modes of mobility are limited by infrastructure, energy, time, and geographic obstacles such as forests, mountain, rivers, and oceans. Political borders, speed limits, private property, restricted zones, built environments, technologies, and financial limitations, among other factors, all restrict our mobility.
There is also the inescapable fact that space is finite. The allocation of space is a zero-sum game. When one use or user group gains space, it is always at the expense of other possible uses and user groups. Unlimited freedom of movement would require all forests to be razed, all mountains to be levelled, and all bodies of water to be covered. Buildings and cities would need to be demolished and the entire world would need to resemble an endless parking lot.
Moreover, every movement, whether powered by oil, electricity, or muscle, incurs a claim on finite resources. The physical reality of limited space and limited resources imposes limits on mobility and transportation that cannot be transgressed. It is simply not possible for even a single person to have unlimited freedom of movement, let alone for such freedom to be universal.
Not only is our current transport paradigm not as free as we might like to think, but the freedom that it does offer is far from equally shared. While efforts are made to accommodate people with certain physical impairments, such as wheelchair users, many individuals and groups remain structurally disadvantaged. Lower-income and rural neighbourhoods tend to be poorly served by public transport options and situated too far from employment centres for bicycles. Car ownership is often a necessity for those who can least afford it, and even where distances are not too great for cycling a lack of dedicated infrastructure creates unsafe conditions.
Although transport systems in European countries are not equally accessible to all parts of society, the mobility they provide is far greater than those found in many parts of the world. However, when wealthy countries offer better mobility options to their citizens, they mostly do so at the expense of poorer countries by exploiting their labour and natural resources and using more than their fair share of the global carbon budget.
What, then, would fair mobility in a finite world look like? How would it ensure that all people are able to meet their daily mobility needs while fairly sharing space, resources, and the absorption capacities of our planet?
Rather than trying to provide unrestricted access to mobility options, we should focus instead on universal accessibility to the things that cause us to move in the first place.
Turning back to the principle of local accessibility would provide equal opportunities for all parts of society, in all parts of the world, as we have lived for thousands of years. Most of all, in addition to societal and global justice, it would grant generational justice by reducing transport carbon emissions to a tolerable level. Still, the transition to local accessibility must be done without increasing existing transport disadvantages. Fair individual mobility budgets may be the best indicator to achieve a fair transition.
Next Core Principle
Shifting Needs to Move:
Mobility is a spatial problem
As a species, we humans are defined by our mobility, by walking upright and migrating to every corner of the globe. Mobility has made possible the wealth and diversity of human cultures and economies, and our current era of globalisation would be unimaginable without it.(…)