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Alternative Automobility Futures
‘Many utopian themes, arising in fantasy, find their way to reality’ - Frederick Polak
Research Associate: Kingsley Dennis
Principal Investigator: John Urry
Both are located within the Centre for Mobilities Research (CeMoRe) based
at Lancaster University.
Automobility is a source of freedom and encapsulates the ‘freedom of the road’. The flexibility of the car enables the driver to travel at any time in any direction along the complex road networks of western societies that link together personal, work, and leisure sites. Cars extend where people can go to and hence what they are literally able to do. Much ‘social life’ could not be undertaken without the flexibilities of the car and its 24-hour availability.
It is possible to leave late by car, to miss connections and to travel in a relatively ‘time-less’ fashion. The car has helped to form a flexibility of individualism, where time is fragmented into schedules of personal destinations. This is in contrast to the public timetables of rail, air, and sea transportation. Yet with this individualistic mode of transport has come a price – a burden of mobility. The lock-in of the automobile has in-formed networks of production and consumption that are increasingly unsustainable. The future of the automobile in its present trajectory is thus contested.
This project is concerned with establishing alternative automobile futures and scenario building.
The aim of this research project is to construct various alternative post-car futures taking into account prevailing and potential global economic, technological and social trends. Principally we pinpoint and examine six technical-economic, policy and social transformations in a global context that in their dynamic interdependence might tip mobility into a new system of the post-car. These six key areas are:
1) New Fuel Systems: new fuel systems for cars, vans and buses including batteries, especially lead acid and nickel metal hydride, hybrid cars powered by diesel and batteries, hydrogen or methanol fuel cells, bio-enviro fuel systems.
2) New Materials: various new materials for constructing ‘car’ bodies, such as nano-carbon hybrids. This may lead to smaller ‘micro-cars’ of greater durability and strength yet lightweight. New materials also in component parts with the capacity to work with alternative fuel technologies.
3) Smart-Card Technologies: ‘smart-card’ technology that could integrate flows of information from car to home, to bus, to train, to workplace, as well as to consumer sites such as the shop-till or bank. Such vehicles may be increasingly hybridized with the technologies of the mobile - car-drivers and passengers may be personalized with their own communication links and entertainment applications. Thus any vehicle is becoming more of a ‘smart home’ away from home.
4) De-privatisation Schemes: cars more generally are being de-privatized through car sharing, car clubs and car-hire schemes. This includes prototype projects of car-pooling, e-taxi systems, and electric hire cars. On occasions this de-privatization will involve smart-card technology to book and pay in advance.
5) Transport Policies: transport policy is shifting away from predict-and-provide models based on seeing increased mobility as a desirable good. Increasingly, ‘new realist’ policies see the expansion of the road network as not neutral but as increasing car-based travel. The focus of policy moves to changing driver behaviour through demand-reduction strategies. The new realism involves many organizations developing alternative mobilities through computer-mediated intermodality and integrated public transport.
6) Communications & Networks: communications and Internet networks are increasingly interconnected with transportation. There is the embedding of information and communication technologies (ICT) into moving objects: mobile phones, PDAs, cars, buses, trains, aircraft and so on. As information is digitized and released from location, so cars, roads and buildings are re-wired to send and receive digital information, as with emerging ‘Intelligent Transport Systems’. These emerging technologies are grafting together existing machines to create new hybrid mobilities.
Dennis, K. and Urry, J. (2008) 'Post-car mobilities'.Arlene Tigar McLaren and Jim Conley (eds.). Car Troubles. Vancouver: The University of British Columbia Press.
Urry, J (2008/9) 'Climate Change, Travel and Complex Futures', British Journal of Sociology
Dennis, K., Urry, J. (2007) ‘The Digital Nexus of Post-Automobility’, Lancaster: Sociology Dept
Urry, J. (2004) 'The "System" of Automobility', in Theory, Culture & Society 21 (4/5) pp25-39
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