The impact of urban transport governance on mobility behavioural change

Scientific Essay, 2013

16 Pages


Table of Contents

0. Summary

1. Research Questions and Objectives

2. State of Research
2.1 Transport Politics, Transport Policy and Transport Planning
2.2 Urban Mobility Culture and Transport Governance
2.3 Environmental Psychology and Mobility Behavioural Research, Mobility Management

3. Theory and Hypotheses

4. Methodological Access and Research Design

5. Bibliography

0. Summary

Political decision makers often shy away from implementing policies that could affect mobility behavioural freedom. In order to support or replace a cost-intensive “material” measure, mobility management campaigns addressing subjective determinants are realized, to set psychological incentives for behavioural change. However, whereas infrastructural or supply activities are well investigated, the causal effects of persuasive measures on the mobility behaviour are obscure. Moreover, the interrelations of indirectly effecting political factors and socio-spatial inequalities are a “black box”. So the central research question of my dissertation project will be to identify causal effects in the urban governance arrangements on the mobility behaviour of different social groups and in certain city districts.

The state of research in transport politics or policy is whether moderate or related to other topics like demography, economy, social politics or planning. However, a new developed concept of “mobility culture” on urban level opens research impulses, which can be linked to the regional governance analyses of political science. This approach investigates new regulation frameworks, where state actors find new modes of cooperation with private actors in order to find solutions.

Since these interactions work with social and psychological motives and mechanics, as well as mobility campaigns, the behavioural research and its sophisticated models offer possibilities to examine the effects of urban transport governance, mobility culture and mobility management measures.

My methodological approach is to investigate with different methods on two levels. On the city level I will try to identify decisive governance factors on mobility behavioural change, by applying a combined expert interview and questionnaire with a statistical analyses of three household mobility surveys in the last 10 years. Parallel and on the level of single policies I will conduct my own panel questionnaire with control groups, complemented by guideline-oriented qualitative interviews. The final objective is to produce general statements on the effects and interrelations of “citizen-oriented” urban transport governance.

1. Research Questions and Objectives

Transport policy measures are often implemented with certain objectives regarding the mobility of the inhabitants, especially on a local level. With good intentions the city governments want to keep the traffic flowing, reduce the individual motorized modes of transport and promote bicycling or walking, strengthen the public transport or manage the parking space. There are measures, which don’t cost a lot: spatial restrictions (such as Low Emission Zones), reclassification of public spaces (e.g. shared space, bike lanes), lower speed limits, higher parking fees or ticket prices, cutting of bus lines, car sharing preferences etc. But these measures hurt the user, and political decision makers often shrink from implementing policies, which could directly affect people. This insight can be found but especially in local transport contexts. Individual spatial mobility is an essential part of the human behavioural freedom, and any restrictions or external influence probably causes rejection, disapproval or uncertainty at a minimum. Moreover, in local politics the citizens can give immediate and personal feedback by organizing protests, founding initiatives or just boycotting a given service.

That’s why strategic long-term plans for urban development, transport, noise reduction or air monitoring are passed to give the citizens and the local economy a reliable perspective to act. At the same time however mayors and municipal councils, often invest a lot of money to build new roads, parking spaces or railway lines to reach more short-term targets, which contradict the strategic plans in the drawer. But the defects in the urban transport system and the resulting public pressure on the local governments lead them to implement a material – presentable – measure, although many experts doubt its effects, since mobility behaviour depend on numerous factors. As Thomas Klinger et al. recently summed up; the transport science deals with determinants that can be divided into an objective and into a subjective dimension. Spatial indicators like urban density or diversity, transport parameters like infrastructure and supply, and socioeconomic attributes such as wealth, age distribution or labour-market characteristics belong to the first dimension, which is independent from individual decisions. Subjective determinants like lifestyles, attitudes and perceptions have been playing a more prominent role in transport research in the last 20 years (Klinger et al. p. 19f.).

Since additional transport supply (streets or railways) are often barely affordable for many cities and – as stated above – restrictive measures not enforceable, political decisions more and more often aim to influence the mobility behaviour in a “soft” way and rely more on incentive or persuasive, communicative measures. This strategy in urban transport planning, if implemented in a systematic manner, is often called mobility management. Developed in the last 15-20 years (see ILS, Schreiner), this approach aims to shift traffic to more environmentally friendly modes of transport, by applying mainly communicative, motivating, demand-driven, i.e. incentive-setting measures. Without any excessive restrictions interfering with the individual freedom or expensive new infrastructure investments, citizens or employees of a company shall be encouraged to go by bike, use public transport or at least carpool. The benefit is clear: The reduction of motorized traffic will lighten the parking pressure and reduce the costs, walking and cycling promotes the health of the citizens or staff, and if well communicated the mobility management can emphasize a concept of sustainability in the city or company.

The “hard” measures to influence the local transport system – new streets or restrictions – are more or less evaluated on the level of traffic output: counted cars or bikes, driven kilometres, used space etc. after the implementation, in comparison to the time before. But personal preferences and opinions – and, moreover, their changes in a time panel – are very hard to measure reliably in a quantitative, representative study, which would be able to make general propositions. Even more difficult to evaluate are processes, which have an intended, but only indirect or psychological impact on the human (mobility) behaviour. Nobody has ever had the chance to assess the effects of indirect influences on the mobility behaviour like socioeconomic changes, mobility campaigns or political planning on individual or group level in a city. Urban transport policy seems to be a black box.

Mobility options, i.e. the possibility for a person to move physically to their workplace, to supply or leisure facilities etc. (“Motility”), in modern societies is inseparably connected to life chances of citizens (see Canzler et al.) – and therefore a political crucial question. Moreover, the research on ecological justice states that there are clear socio-spatial inequalities in the allocation of ecological stress. Urban transport and housing planning can be an intervention measure for urban ecological justice in a city, and “should show more sensitivity for the connections between local environment, public health and social state.” (Hornberg / Pauli, p. 8.e1f.). So the question about the causal effects of political decisions on the mobility behaviour of certain social groups in certain city districts is highly worth being investigated.

This general interrelation can be differentiated by looking into some more detailed questions:

- Are there any detectable correlations of transport related politics (election campaigns, voting results, party decisions, mayor actions, etc.) and the mobility behaviour in or the mobility culture of a city?
- How, in which direction and to what extent do the transport governance and the mobility culture of a city interact?
- Are there governance arrangements that favour the possibility of an intended change of mobility behaviour in a city? And others, which interfere the efforts? Who is involved in the planning process, what is the role of the municipal administration, specialists, private actors and the civil society in this political process?
- Which factors influence the success of urban transport policies? Does political transparency concerning the objectives and the possibility to participate in the measure planning improve the effectiveness of it and increase the probability for a self-regulated behavioural change? How can cities avoid non-intended effects of particular measures?
- What is the impact of particular political measures in local transport on certain social groups – regarding socioeconomic distinctions, life-styles, milieus or other sociological categories? Which social groups benefit from a particular measure; who is negatively affected and will suffer inequalities or constraints in the motility?
- Do marketing and promoting activities support mobility behavioural change in the intended way? Which role do budget, sustainability, credibility and quality of Mobility Management play?

If the planned research is successful, the results could be used to identify key factors in the urban governance arrangement and process, which can determine the outcome of a transport policy strategy, regarding the mobility behaviour of the citizens and social side-effects.

2. State of Research

2.1. Transport Politics, Transport Policy and Transport Planning

Transport policy and transport politics are the unpopular stepchildren of the political sciences (Schwedes 2011c, p. 15), because this topic “seldom reaches public attention. Election campaigns usually avoid references to transport policies”, although they are “shaped by economics, ecological ideas, and social norms.” (Bandelow / Kundolf, 2011, p.1.) Oliver Schwedes states that there was no other policy field with a bigger discrepancy between normative pretension and its realization in social life. On the one hand there are and were intensive ideological discussions about the ecological and social impact of modern transport, and on the other hand the historically grown, strongly economically driven development in technology and planning. In-between these dimensions the social scientists find the reality of the human beings, who every day are effected – and dependent – of modern transport systems. Political science seems to be just an auxiliary science for or a part of economic and engineering transport science, as well as sociology, geography or psychology (Schwedes 2011c, pp. 14ff.).

Most of the recently published research results in political sciences concerning transport issues deal with multilevel-relationships between national and European politics (Bandelow/Kundolf, 2011, p 1.) or discourse and outcome analyses of ecological debates and integrated transport policy strategies (Schwedes 2011b, p.1.). If one looks for articles on urban transport policy or politics, there appears only a more supply and planning oriented contribution of Tilman Bracher about challenges and possible measures in the city traffic. There are other single-issue analyses like historic dimensions, socialisation, poverty, land use, public services, safety and costs or the promotion of certain transport modes (see Schwedes 2011d). However, because there is no big ideological difference in regards to transport between the two leading parties in Germany and – the public recognized – disputes are more about finances and costs or particular issues like a motorway toll for foreign cars, currently political transport politics research is remarkably sparingly represented. Transport related discussions are dominated by the experts of the parties and held under technical circumstances. Though they are deeply connected to politics of social equality, ecology and economy, transport politics are never decisive for the party competition and distribution of power (Bandelow / Kundolf pp. 161ff.).

Some years ago Oliver Schöller1, Weert Canzler and Andreas Knie published the very well composed and precious “Handbuch Verkehrspolitik”. The authors from all sectors of the social mobility science contributed articles about “transport policy as…” “transport history”, „transport policy“, „economic policy“, „social policy“, “technology policy“, “mobility research” and “future policy” (Schöller et al.). Reading these specific articles one can understand the later gained insight, that there is no transport politics or transport policy research, but lots of research about particular transport related policies. Maybe the book should have got the title “Handbuch sozialwissenschaftliche Verkehrsforschung”, but that’s merely a semantic discussion, due to the lacking differentiation between “policy” and “politics” in the German language.

But is has become clear, that there are large intersections of political research, social research and mobility research, which aims to understand the emergence of traffic and mobility behaviour by investigating attitudes, preferences, patterns and life styles of the users (see Scheiner 2007). At the end of this research-chain the classic transport planning or transport geography science is involved, which is more space-oriented and refers to the infrastructure and supply of traffic systems (see Beckmann 2007, Gather et al.).

All planning based, social science driven or geography related transport research can count on two big nation-wide surveys, which are realized regularly at intervals of several years. In contrast to the Germany-wide program "Mobility in Germany", the household mobility survey for cities (SrV2 ) focuses on the mobility patterns of households and persons in particular cities and districts. The SrV has been organized by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Planning at the TU Dresden since 1972, and is used to identify mobility characteristics of urban populations. Currently the tenth survey in more than 300 cities or municipalities in more than 100 examination areas is being realized, and the results of the “SrV 2013” will be published at the end of 2014 (Technische Universität Dresden).

2.3. Urban Mobility Culture and Transport Governance

A newly opened research orientation pursued mainly by Jutta Deffner, Konrad Götz and the workgroup of Martin Lanzendorf in Frankfurt a.M. is the mobility culture. In 2013, this group completed a complex investigation on the mobility culture of 44 German cities. Based on a general concept of culture in day-to-day life with commonly shared knowledge and practices, mobility culture as a theoretical framework integrates objective and subjective elements of the determinants debate on a city-level. Spatial and transport realities here are seen as “the materialised extension” of a culture setting, that “can be interpreted as a complex configuration of different preferences and lifestyles represented by a city’s population, which might even develop common conventions and habits.” (Klinger et al., p. 20) and the concept of urban mobility cultures integrates “both habitual practices, including underlying preferences and lifestyles, as well as […] as infrastructure and spatial characteristics”, added by city-specific discourses and transport policy. Referring to the social theory of Martina Löw, Klinger et al. note that each city has its own historically developed narrative, which forms its unique political and economic city logic or specific patterns. Because urban form and lifestyle patterns are long-lasting constructs, urban mobility cultures show a high level of path dependence and cannot be changed in a short period (Ibid, p. 21).

As a first result of the statistical factor and cluster analysis of Klinger et al. identified “six groups of cities ranging from relatively mature and homogenous socio-technical settings, (‘cycling cities’ or ‘transit metropolises’), to rather less well-defined urban mobility cultures such as ‘transit cities with multimodal potential’”. Varying planning and policy priorities or lifestyle patterns in a city often determine modal split characteristics more than the political and socio-economic framing on a state or national level. Moreover, the researchers found out, that spatial or socioeconomic factors are decisive in some city groups for mobility patterns and mode orientation, whereas especially in ‘auto-oriented cities’, ‘transit cities with multimodal potential’ and ‘walking cities with multimodal potential’ the mobility behaviour “seem to be relatively independent of those [objective] variables”. The Frankfurt group came to the “assumption, that those city types are characterised by urban mobility cultures, which are […] more influenced by policy and cultural preferences.” They suggest further investigation to identify situations and “windows of opportunity for developing mobility patterns” in these cities (Ibid., pp. 23ff.).

In (German) political science the terminus "governance” since the 1990s has been used to analyse and describe new forms of political or state acting on European, national, subnational or local levels. Proceeding processes of interweaving (“Politikverflechtung”) and the intensifying multi-level character, (European Union) increase the degree of complexity in politics. “Governing in complex regulation frameworks” (Arthur Benz) means the overcoming of traditional hierarchical top-down decisions. The new system of relationships between institutions, networks or coalitions with new patterns of interaction and new modes of action (market, hierarchy, contracts, competition, majority or negotiation) is called governance. It covers controlling, coordinating or governing in order to manage interdependencies between actors in different public arenas. The boundaries between state and society are blurred, politics take place and policies are made in cooperation of state and private actors (Benz, p. 25). The acting subject is not the focus of this perspective, but the framework and its effects on the actions of the subjects (Köck, p. 323). Governance is a continuum of various and parallel forms of regulation: pure governmental, pure societal or corporative; in bureaucracies, policy networks, neo-corporatist cooperations or voluntary and self-regulated frameworks (Mayntz, pp. 66f.). Typical is the trust in “soft” control systems and scope for development as well as in the law as the indispensable reserve for sovereign problem solving (Franzius, p. 38). Advantages of new governance arrangements can be more democratic self-empowerment. The states keeps the ultimate responsibility for a certain duty (“ensuring state”), but is confined to set the rules of the game. At the end the result can be better as it benefits from the increased information, higher rationality, involvement and consideration of the affected actors, but the decisions also can be made more conflict-ridden, suboptimal, with less commitment or at the cost of third parties (Mayntz, pp. 72ff.).


1 Now „Schwedes“

2 In German: „System repräsentativer Verkehrsbefragungen“

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The impact of urban transport governance on mobility behavioural change
Humboldt-University of Berlin  (Berlin Graduate School of Social Sciences)
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Academic Exposé for a Doctoral Studies Application at the Berlin Graduate School of Social Sciences.
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Robert Rädel (Author), 2013, The impact of urban transport governance on mobility behavioural change, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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