The extent to which “new” mobility in the form of battery electrical vehicles (BEVs), sharing systems and innovations in power provisioning will ultimately contribute to dematerialisation in the mobility sector remains largely uncertain (Hoerler et al. 2023, Asensio et al. 2022). Recent years have seen the rapid increase of micro e-mobility ownership and the launch of public rental schemes across many European cities. However, its long-term impact is dependent on its ability to complement other sustainable modes, and ultimately to displace car use and ownership.

To achieve a more sustainable mobility system, it is commonly understood that significant shifts in both mode use and the public space assigned to those modes will be required. However, what is not at all clear is to what extent overall mobility patterns will have to change. Traditional commuting, provisioning and leisure travel patterns place heavy demands on the system as it tries to support peaks and troughs of movement. This results in system-wide inefficiencies and just-in-case thinking (Southerton and Warde 2023). While the various trade-offs on improving the frequency, reliability and efficiency of traditional public transport and increasing the space allocated to more sustainable mobility choices have been thoroughly debated, the wider impacts of changes in the way people move and go about their daily lives are less certain.

The patterns of movement demanded by urban dwellers as well as each urban setting’s unique geography will determine the optimal future mobility mode mix in each case. Whether or not private car ownership can be significantly reduced in that future is not only dependent on the new mobility system’s ability to compete with traditional car-centric systems. It will also depend on our ability to shift, smooth and reduce total mobility demand so that more sustainable direct substitutes designed to displace ownership (e.g. sharing and short-term rentals systems) are not frustrated by the inefficiencies created by fluctuating mobility patterns.

By Eoin Grealis & Henrike Rau – LMU

Asensio et al. (2022) Impacts of micromobility on car displacement with evidence from a natural experiment and geofencing policy. Nat Energy 7, 1100–1108

Hoerler et al. (2023) Push and pull strategies to increase the uptake of small electric vehicles. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, 116, 103638.

Southerton, D., & Warde, A. (2023). Towards Sustainable Consumption: Reflections on the Concepts of Social Loading, Excess and Idle Capacity. In Consumption, Sustainability and Everyday Life (pp. 339-361). Cham: Springer International Publishing.