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On the way to a more sustainable mobility system

The mobility system has to become more sustainable, but how? What possibilities are there? And how do you deal with the complex interplay of governments, companies and citizens? In the On the Move project, an interdisciplinary team of researchers from Nijmegen and Delft is examining these questions. On the Move is part of the NWO Transitions and Behaviour research programme.

(This article first appeared in RU News on March 8th, 2021)

“It is clear that mobility must be made more sustainable,” says Rob van der Heijden, professor of Innovative Planning Methods. “It is less clear how we achieve such a transition and how we should deal with the complexity and uncertainties. You can only answer such questions if you understand the positions of all relevant players: companies that innovate, citizens who do or do not adjust their behaviour and governments who want to give shape to a transition.”

“On the Move focuses on the interactions between those players,” says Vincent Marchau, professor in Nijmegen specialising in the uncertainty and adaptivity of social systems. “The result of these interactions determines future mobility transition(s).”

Refining the questions

On the Move is a collaborative project between Radboud University and TU Delft that was begun last September by four PhD students and a postdoc. Van der Heijden reports, “We are working with them to refine the research questions. In the relationship between citizens and government, for example, an important question is how you can involve people in making their own mobility and that of the people around them more sustainable.”

Marchau adds, “In the relationship between governments and companies, questions arise such as: as a municipality, which public transport companies do you want, and which services should they provide?”

The researchers have set up a collaboration with governmental offices such as the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, the province of Gelderland and the municipalities of Nijmegen and The Hague, as well as with public transport companies, infrastructure managers and representatives of passenger interests.

“We try to combine the research questions as much as possible with the questions of these social partners”, Marchau says. “They really need knowledge to deal with the uncertainties of the mobility transition and vice versa: as researchers we learn a lot from them about the practical side.”

Scientific tools

The research team will use all kinds of scientific tools, like interviews, surveys, and (digital) conferences. “The idea is also to develop games and simulations,” Marchau reports. “We have a wonderful group decision room in Nijmegen, in which we can simulate decision making with various stakeholders.”

The researchers will share the knowledge that they gradually acquire with the social partners ‘in training-like forms’. “You don’t learn adaptive planning from books – you have to experience that,” says Marchau. “I would soon like to sit down with municipalities and say: you have this mobility vision and these transport innovations in mind for the next twenty years, so how can we develop a strategy in an adaptive way that does justice to the various uncertainties?”

Robust transition strategy

A logical question is what the research will yield. “We have not formulated the end result clearly,” says Van der Heijden. “We hope that we can develop approaches around these kinds of transition questions: how do you deal with them, what are the do’s and don’ts and how do you measure effectiveness? We also hope that a different consciousness will arise among the social partners, ensuring they will start thinking about the uncertainties themselves, take different scenarios into account and learn to be proactive in coming up with a robust transition strategy.”

Improving municipal mobility plansVincent Marchau and Rob van der Heijden are also participating in a consortium with urban planner Sander Lenferink, investigating how urban mobility plans can become more sustainable. For the project ‘Triple Access Planning for Uncertain Futures’, the consortium has received a grant of 1.6 million euros through the European research programme JPI-EU. The research consists of seven case studies in five countries.Existing mobility plans quickly become outdated and fail to adequately take future developments into account. The consortium is looking at whether Triple Access Planning (TAP) leads to improvement, which involves looking at physical mobility, spatial proximity and digital connectivity. These factors then together lead to a Triple Access System (TAS). The role of uncertainties is also being investigated, such as economic developments, technological breakthroughs and demography.

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