Is your city prepared for future mobility technologies?

7 joulu 2016
Milos Mladenovic

Nowadays, we almost weekly hear about various emerging transport technologies, bound to change our everyday lives. Some examples include ride-sharing and trip integration applications, unmanned aerial vehicles, and high speed transport tube. One of these emerging technologies, and potentially the most disruptive one, are self-driving vehicles [1]. This technology is in its late foundational stage, with many pilots internationally, and several alternative visions. Lately we can hear about Tesla’s autopilot feature implementation in the US, truck platooning trials in Australia, or pilots of self-driving shuttles in Helsinki, Espoo, and Tampere.

All of the possible variants have certain premises of their benefits, and some of the already identified burdens. This is where the roots of the wider disruption can be seen. For example, some of the possible benefits are the improvement of traffic flow efficiency, safety, and reduction of CO2 emissions. On the contrary, some of the identified issues are potential job loss in the taxi, bus, or truck driver sector, or potential urban sprawl due to the increase of acceptable travel distances. One can, after a brief reflection [2], see that the disruption will not be just about transport. Quite the contrary, disruption will be societal, including infrastructure and technology, public and private sector organizations, as well as citizen activities and practices, and societal norms and values.

Unfortunately, the current technological development approach largely neglects this whole range of societal aspects. While focusing primarily on the technical aspects, and aiming to minimize the time to the market ready product or service, the approach accounts only for “customers”. Thus, the result is a deterministic perspective on the future. To caricaturize, car manufacturers or public transport operators are not necessarily thinking of the future where biking is the primary mode of transport.

Taking into account the ongoing technological development, potential disruption, and dominant approach, what about your city? Or moreover, what about your city administration? Certainly, planners and policy-makers cannot shy away from the emerging complexity, and the unavoidable uncertainty when accounting for self-driving vehicles? Surely, the city administration is responsible for requiring to be engaged in the technological development process, in order to think of a wider range of alternative, desirable, futures? Moreover, thinking about self-driving vehicles probably requires timely account of general and localized societal values, accounting for the potential conflict among them? Perhaps this is the time to start thinking about some integrative envisioning processes? Integration, as one aspect, could be accounting for horizontal and vertical policy integration, with the inclusion of citizens throughout planning processes? Envisioning, as the other aspect, could be focusing on the lives in the future, and not solely on technology in the future?

The big question remains – is your city prepared for future mobility technologies? More questions follow this question. However, perhaps we should first ask the following – who will ask the questions?

[1] The author intentionally uses the word ‘vehicle’ instead of ‘car’, in order to avoid constraining the concept of this technology.

[2] P-L. Blyth, M. N. Mladenović, B. A. Nardi, H. R. Ekbia, N. M. Su (2016). Expanding the Design Horizon for Self-Driving Vehicles: Distributing Benefits and Burdens. IEEE Technology and Society Magazine.



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