Governance of the Smart Mobility Transition

Cover of Governance of the Smart Mobility Transition


Table of contents

(12 chapters)

Despite the massive social benefits that the car has brought, it has become evident that the current mobility system is undermining the benefits it creates with substantial air quality problems, inactive lifestyles, deaths and injuries from accidents and major contributions to the global climate change challenge. The introduction of smart mobility innovations, in promising to challenge the existing regime of automobility may be a major policy opportunity, and also provide a source of new economic opportunity. However, it is far from clear that these opportunities will be recognized or, even where they are, realized due to the complexities of steering any transition in the mobility system.

This book sets out how we should understand the challenge of governing the smart mobility transition and, in this introductory chapter we set out the key arguments and contributions of each part of the book for addressing these challenges. The first section of the book focuses on how the role of the government is challenged by the growing network of actors and the new resource interdependencies that emerge from smart mobility. How these challenges come to be recognized and resolved is itself a critical part of the governance process as explored in the second section. The third section examines the changing context of governance and the capacity of the state to act to steer the transition. This allows us to identify, in our final concluding section, a set of critical topics for those researching and implementing the smart mobility revolution.

Section One Navigating the Role of the State


This chapter seeks to bring more clarity and urgency to the debate about the impacts of ‘smart’ mobility by highlighting the critical role of the state in managing the transition to a ‘smart’ transport future. This debate is currently dominated by producer-led imaginings of how technological innovation will solve apparent mobility problems, but has yet to address substantively more complex questions about how the impacts of these innovations will disrupt the mobility status quo, and how changing patterns of mobility in a ‘smart’ future will redefine the places in which we live. The chapter explores what impacts such innovations might have on the economic, environmental and social outcomes associated with the mobility system, and some key issues that systems of governance will have to address as ‘smart’ options become an increasingly important part of overall mobility provision.


This chapter provides a reflective critique of Mobility as a Service (MaaS), an emerging development seeking a role within the Smart Mobility paradigm. We assess a range of its future implications for urban policymakers in terms of governance and sustainability (i.e., social and environmental impacts). We begin by describing the origins of the MaaS concept, along with the features of precursor technologies and current early examples. We then reflect on the marketing of MaaS and use it to consider how we might anticipate some potentially less desirable aspects of the promoted business models. Finally, we discuss the implications for governance.

Section Two Whose Voices Are in the Smart Mobility Debate?


Transport governance is dependent on, and works through, legally defined or socially accepted categories that are challenged by the technological and business disruptions that characterize smart mobility. This chapter explores the dynamic interactions between the categories of transport governance and new (disruptive) forms of mobility, using a framework that highlights the ways governance solutions are influenced by how problems are framed. The argument is made through two empirical cases – of car sharing and motorized (electric) personal mobility devices. Car sharing emerged quietly onto the transport landscape in Australia, and has been accommodated and facilitated by local government parking policies. In this case, the tools for governing smart mobility already existed, and became adaptable to new imperatives. Personal mobility devices (PMDs), battery-powered motorized devices designed to be used by an individual on footpaths or shared user paths, are neither common nor legal on many roads or footpaths. The process through which PMDs became regulated in the Australian state of Queensland is used to illustrate the ways in which ‘epistemic experimentation’ can challenge regulatory framings and foster the introduction of new forms of smart mobility. The chapter concludes that smart mobility both disrupts and confirms dominant framings of transport governance, especially in relation to automobility, and that further challenges will need to be met as autonomous vehicles become more widespread across transport infrastructure.


Automated vehicle technologies dominate many visions of future systems of smart mobility. This chapter uses the approach of Transition Management to explore the multi-actor governance processes around automated vehicle technologies in the United Kingdom (UK), with specific attention being paid to the role of the UK government. It shows the relatively comprehensive approach to automated vehicle innovation that has been adopted by the UK government, emerging across multiple domains including the creation of positive discourses around automation, and the facilitation of network building and demonstration projects. Framed by the Transition Management cycle of strategic, tactical, operational and reflexive activities, the chapter argues for greater integration across the levels of the cycle, and experimentation that moves beyond technological capability, to include the heterogeneous publics, in a more diverse set of roles than the current framing of ‘potential technology adopter’. The chapter points to the techno-optimism displayed by governments participating in the international race to vehicle automation, often with dual roles as both producers and consumers, and suggest that greater inclusivity, democracy, diversity and openness in the innovation process may contribute to context sensitive implementation.


We analysed the unequal treatment of target groups and the role of technology in Dutch smart mobility policy, by looking into the connected bike projects of Maastricht and Brabant. In doing so we combined insights from the Social Construction of Policy Design frameworks and Science and Technology Studies. We identified four target groups, receiving a differential treatment in policy. Difference in treatment is driven by the variety of incentives used to encourage behaviour change. We conclude that car users are the winners, while students benefit the least from these projects. In this preferential treatment, technology plays a crucial role. This raises pertinent questions about social equity and the contribution to sustainability of smart mobility technologies in the mobility system.

Section Three State Capacity


Using materials drawn from San Francisco and Stockholm, this chapter assesses the extent to which recent efforts to upgrade transport services through smart mobility technologies have advanced short- or long-term urban policy aims in the arena of transport governance for sustainability. We argue that positive governance impacts depend largely on degrees of coordination and oversight. Our findings suggest that these aims are not going to be easily met by a network of competing private firms or individuals using smart technology to achieve their own singular trip priorities. Stated in the lingo of social science, the smart mobility transition will produce a ‘collective action problem’ if it remains in the hands of individual firms without some larger territorial and service coordination by governing authorities. To counter this possibility, we argue that transparent implementation processes involving multiple stakeholders will offer the best opportunity for ensuring that smart technology innovations will become a means for expanding governance capacity.


In Australia, corporations are playing an increasing role in the shaping of urban regions through their ability to mobilize capital to support large infrastructure projects and to usurp institutional planning roles which have traditionally been the responsibility of public-sector agencies. The chapter outlines emerging evidence of changes in the roles of corporations in generating ideas and mobilizing political support for their favoured city-shaping projects, and shows that the private sector is embedded in the processes of government, such as planning, in increasingly complex ways. Through ‘market-led’ or ‘unsolicited’ proposal evaluation frameworks, corporations can now bring proposals to political leaders in ways which go outside traditional planning processes and bypass conventional engagement with civil society.

In this context, we present data from a recent survey of planners in state and national land-use and transport agencies. The survey, conducted through semi-structured interviews, gathered information about the expectations of these organizations in relation to the nature and timing of the deployment of new AV technologies; about the potential implications for achieving environmental and social planning objectives; and about the collective infrastructure investments that AV technologies may require. This work is being used to shape a new research agenda to explore the planning and regulatory frameworks that are needed to ensure that the AV technologies can be deployed in ways that maximize the public good.


As with previous transport innovations, the transition to ‘smart mobility’ will occur in different ways and at different speeds in different places. Innovations such as Uber and trials of autonomous vehicles are already being welcomed in some places but resisted in others or left to the market. While the technologies may have the potential to be deployed globally, how this happens is, in part, down to the institutional settings and approach to governance amongst all of the actors (public and private) involved. Deciding who should act, how, when and at what spatial scale is, we argue, critical in setting the conditions in which new mobility systems can flourish but in a way which promotes the goals of local, state and federal governments and meets the needs of citizens as well as the industries that promote them.

This chapter reports on an international scenarios exercise conducted in 2017 across nine countries. Key dimensions of uncertainty were the degree of governmental involvement in steering policy and the degree of social desirability for smart mobility innovation. Reflecting on the period up to 2035, the scenarios considered the implications for smart mobility transitions by asking which innovations are more likely to flourish and which falter. Strong state involvement is reported as a necessary condition for the most integrated and sustainable visions of smart mobility. Other pathways were suggested to favour some innovations over others but typically offer a smaller market and more atomized and less sustainable set of mobility options.

Section Four Conclusion


This chapter considers the book as a whole to draw out the key findings and link these to broader themes. In it we suggest that as we are in the relatively early stages of smart mobility adoption, there exists a key window of opportunity to think about to what end, and how, the transition can be steered. If this window is not seized, there is a heightened risk that governments will always be responding to, rather than shaping, events.

Four key themes emerge from our reflection. First, while the current system is not equitable, there is a need to be cognizant of who the new winners and losers will be in the next transition. It is far from clear that commercial business models always align with notions of social provision. Second, while the early stages of the transition appear to be marked by technological optimism, reinforced by government industrial strategies, it seems clear that without politics with a capital P, the opportunity to engage the public and educate decision-makers will be missed. This leads to our third point: that a lack of pro-active state engagement in the early stages of these innovations will undermine the institutional capacity to engage later on in the transition. Without governmental steering, the transition risks representing what we are given rather than what we want or need it to be. Finally, we highlight the importance of context to how the transition will unfold, with some countries or cities already at arm’s length from transport provision while others are more hands-on.

The chapter concludes with our reflections on what actions governments could take now to prepare better for the transition and on what the volume of work says for future research needs. While greatly enthused and rewarded by the debates we have had in assembling this book, we see these as the starting point for future agendas and very much open to contestation. We, therefore, hope this book acts to advance the study of the governance of smart mobility and to elevate its status relative to the significant body of work underway on the technologies themselves.

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