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On the way to a multi-mobile age

Mobility is a megatrend. Each and every one of us would like to and needs to be mobile. Anyone who is not mobile is standing still. The interplay of business, politics and science plays an important role in this. Why? By Kira Britten

This article comes from the 5/2021 issue of the transfer magazine 'TRIOLOG. Science – Economy – Society in Eastern Bavaria' with the emphasis on mobility. The university consortium Transfer and Innovation in Eastern Bavaria (TRIO) is a project of six East Bavarian universities, in which the University of Passau is also taking part. The project is being funded from the programme 'Innovative University' by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and will run for five years. TRIO sees itself as an initiator of innovations in Eastern Bavaria. It aims to expand and actively organise the transfer of knowledge and technology and intensify the exchange between science, economy and society in the region.

The world of the 21st century is changing and our lifestyles and needs are changing with it. Living sustainably, moving around in an environmentally friendly way, acting efficiently and working flexibly – these are important to us. In all this, our one main concern is to be mobile. Mobility is identified as a megatrend by the Future Institute (Institute for Trend and Future Research). It devotes a whole dossier to the subject: “What we are experiencing is an evolution of mobility. We are standing at the beginning of a new, multi-mobile age.” The phenomenon is continuous, global, multi-faceted and can be felt everywhere – for example, living, working, leisure and education are influenced by mobility. The motors of mobility are globalisation, climate change and digitisation.

But what exactly is mobility? Where does the term come from and how has it developed? What does mobility research deal with? For which players is the issue important and what are the current trends? 

Term and development
Mobilitas is the Latin word for mobility, strictly speaking the ability to move spatially and physically. For a long time, mobility was understood in a rather one-dimensional way with this meaning; only the adjectival form “mobil” (mobile) was represented in German. This related, for example, to particularly agile troops in times of war. The term was abstracted from this concept for the first time in the 1950s to describe altered population numbers as a consequence of emigration and internal migration. From the middle of the 20th century, the term gained a broader understanding. For example, the Brockhaus Enzyklopädie now defines mobility as “a social science concept that has found its way into general linguistic usage and into other specialist terminologies (e.g. transport science, urban planning, psychology, economics, tourism).” 

The motors of mobility are globalisation, climate change and digitisation.

Mobility is more than transport
In everyday life, the term “mobility” is primarily used in connection with means of transport such as buses, trains, cars or bicycles. However, mobility means more than just transport. Whilst mobility is a basic human need that should be available to everyone according to their individual requirements and ideally without limitation, transport must be an instrument for this purpose. In concrete terms, the transportation of people and goods is measured in journeys (volume of traffic) and in passenger or tonne kilometres (transport performance). Transport is also part of the realised mobility, i.e. the mobility that has actually been executed to meet people’s needs. It differs from the potential mobility. For example, scarce financial resources may lead to possibilities for mobility existing, but not being equally accessible to all population groups.

Dimensions of mobility

In academia, the concept of mobility is subdivided into individual aspects and examined from various perspectives at an interdisciplinary level. Therefore, there is a further differentiation into spatial and social mobility ­– areas that can be subdivided in their turn. Spatial (or territorial) mobility refers to the movement of people and goods in a geographical space. This includes short-term everyday mobility, but also, viewed over the longer term, residential mobility. These two areas sometimes influence one another, for example when the residential location is selected such that a good infrastructure provides a fast commute in everyday life. Typical research subjects here are migration processes, traffic development and the choice of means of transport and their social, ecological and economic costs.

Digitisation and globalisation have recently given rise to another dimension: informational or virtual mobility.

In a sociological context, mobility means overcoming social distances. On the one hand, this relates to questions of social advancement and descent – in comparison with one’s parents’ generation or within the course of one’s own life. On the other hand, social mobility also means a possible change in career within a social stratum. In this context, mobility research focuses, for example, on the unequal living conditions between East and West Germany or on the issue of gender equality.

Digitisation and globalisation have recently given rise to another dimension: informational or virtual mobility. Information is mobile in the sense that it can be transmitted to anyone and be received by them almost simultaneously and independently of their location. In this context, the English concept of “mobilities” is often used.

When we focus on the topic of special mobility, we primarily encounter the following subject areas:

Smart transport

The boundaries between private transport (walking, cycling, cars) and public transport (for every accessible means of transport on the road, on rails and in the air) are becoming increasingly blurred according to a study by the Future Institute (“The evolution of mobility”, 2017).

Multi-modal mobility concepts are being developed to meet the increasing requirements of society. People are increasingly thinking along the lines of mobility chains, in which several means of transport are used for a single journey in order to achieve the greatest possible efficiency. In public transport in particular, new forms of mobility, such as car and bike sharing, are increasingly supplementing the conventional means of transport. Information and communication technologies (ICT), for example apps that compare transport options and suggest the best possible combination, aim to optimise this extended range of options in a smart way. The keyword is smart mobility.

Mobile in the country

Trends such as smart mobility show that digitisation in particular provides solutions for the increased mobility requirements, but these often focus solely on the towns. For years, the urban-rural gap has been large because urbanisation affects almost all areas of life in rural areas: there is a lack of jobs, basic services and health care, educational institutions and leisure opportunities – but also of alternatives to private transport. This is where initiatives such as the Digitale Dörfer (digital villages) project funded by the State of Bavaria, which aim to make rural regions future-proof and mobile, come in.

An einer Ladesäule hängt ein weißes Elektroauto zum Tanken.

Electromobility and alternative drive systems

There is hardly any topic that is currently as high on the agenda as e-mobility. Emission-free electric vehicles are regarded as the key to sustainability and demonstrate the megatrend on the roads. Unlike the finite fossil fuels benzene and diesel, the renewable electric drive is deemed to be efficient, environmentally friendly and economical. Political support measures such as carbon pricing or the expansion of the charging infrastructure aim to bring seven to 10.5 million such vehicles onto German roads by 2030. The battery-powered e-cars also play a major role at companies; the automotive industry in particular is investing in concrete research into this. Research is also being done in other areas, for example in longer-lasting batteries or in hydrogen-powered cars.

Autonomous driving

In addition to e-mobility, there is also focus on another topic: autonomous driving, a complex technology that manages entirely without a driver. However, experts say that it will still be a number of years before this development will take root – from 2040 according to a study commissioned by ADAC. Having said that, partially autonomous systems are already fairly widespread. Depending on their level of automation, vehicles are assigned to five levels, which have partly fluid boundaries: assisted driving, partially automated driving, highly automated driving, fully automated driving and finally autonomous driving. Step by step, the drivers are transformed into passengers who have to intervene less and less and can spend the journey flexibly doing other things, for example working. One of the greatest challenges is perception, which the car has to process and translate into a concrete action within a very short time.

Eine blonde Frau in weißer Bluse sitzt an einem Tisch und schaut auf ein Laptop, auf dem Teilnehmende einer Video-Konferenz zu sehen sind.

Mobilität in Unternehmen

Die Corona-Pandemie hat verdeutlicht: Flexibles Arbeiten unabhängig von Ort und Zeit ist wichtig und wird die zukünftige Arbeitswelt maßgeblich verändern. Viele große Unternehmen sehen starkes Potenzial in der Krise, stellen auf Heimarbeitsplätze um oder bauen neuartige Workspaces zum Beispiel ohne festen Arbeitsplatz auf. Ein Recht auf Home-Office besteht nach derzeitiger Gesetzeslage allerdings nicht, sodass diese Entscheidung der Arbeitgeberin oder dem Arbeitgeber überlassen bleibt.

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