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.
On average, humans spend about an hour each day moving from one place to another, a figure known as the Marchetti Constant that has remained remarkably stable throughout history and across cultures. The reasons we move – to get to school and work, to meet people, to find food and clothing and medical treatment and meet other daily needs – have also scarcely changed since ancient times.
What has changed dramatically is the speed and distance of our movements, the modes of transport we rely on, and the amount of resources, energy, and emissions associated with our movements. To accomplish the same tasks that we used to do on foot, we must now often cover great distances. As a result, we are dependent on transport modes capable of great speeds. This is not a natural occurrence, but rather the consequence of many decisions over time concerning spatial development, technology, and mobility infrastructure.
Human settlements have always developed at the scale of the primary mode of transport. Fossil fuels and mass production made it possible for automobiles to replace one’s own feet as the dominant mode of individual transport during the twentieth century, and spatial planning adapted itself to the logic of the car system. The basic functions of daily life, the destinations for our human needs, were spatially separated and moved further and further apart.
Stores for food, clothing, furniture, and more were moved to the outskirts, where the production and distribution of goods and services could be organized in a more cost-efficient way. Sure, people now needed cars or other elaborate mobility modes and infrastructure to reach these goods, services, and activities, but space, material resources, and energy all seemed in endless supply. Instead of being limited by weary legs, the new modes of personal mobility appeared to set us free. The reality, however, was that the entire system was underwritten by higher mobility costs borne by individuals and households, not to mention the environmental toll. All while businesses profited from centralized distribution hubs such as shopping centres.
Now, as we reach limits of space and resources, as the cost of living is skyrocketing, and as we must rapidly decrease energy consumption to reduce the existential threat of climate chaos, we are receiving the bill for the era of cheap mobility and discovering just how expensive it has been.
How can we make transport systems fair in a finite world? We need to ensure that dominant modes of mobility use minimal amounts of energy and resources and produce nearly no greenhouse gas emissions. We must reduce mobility inequalities within and between countries. We need to share the burden of a highly mobile society in a fair way between industry and private households. In short, we need two paradigm shifts: one in systems of transportation and mobility and another in the land-use patterns forcing us to cover ever greater distances at ever greater speeds.
To support these changes, MyFairShare proposes individual mobility budgets that are fairly aligned to the socio-spatial context of each person and household. Everyone would still be able to access all their daily needs while being incentivised to organise their mobility within a limited share of resources. This is true not only for households but also for companies, organizations, cities, and entire countries, which all become incentivized to reorganize how they use space in order to reduce the need for excess mobility.
By revealing the spatial distribution of both mobility poverty and mobility profligacy, and by making the hidden costs of individual mobility plain to see, mobility budgets can become a driver for transition to sustainable transport systems.
- “the second most important expenditure item for a typical European household which spends about 13% of its total disposable income on transport.“ https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/products-eurostat-news/-/ddn-20200108-1
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