Accepted paper:

Futures of personal mobility: a tale of two innovations


Noam Bergman (University of Sussex)
Tim Schwanen (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

We address energy futures by analysing future explorations of the role of electric vehicles and car clubs in UK transport. We find large differences in framing, assumptions and recommendations between these innovations, reflecting different positions vis-à-vis the incumbent automobility regime.

Paper long abstract:

Private vehicles in the UK have unsustainable energy consumption and CO2 emissions. We study future personal mobility in the UK focusing on two innovations: electric vehicles (EVs), which offer technological reduction in emissions, and car clubs, which offer cultural and behavioural shift. Using sociology of expectations, we analyse a variety of future 'explorations' (forecasts, visions, etc.), to see how they frame potential futures, including assumptions about demand and mobility, and policy recommendations.

Many more explorations address EVs than car clubs. The former are more national in scope and developed by 'mainstream' and government actors, whereas the latter are local (London) and regional (Scotland) in scope. EV futures are framed as market transformations. Recommendations include supporting R&D and infrastructure, and incentivising manufacturers and consumers, but also 'technology neutrality' amongst low carbon vehicle options. Assumptions include constant (auto)mobility: little change in demand for cars, modes of travel, or mileage. Car club futures focus on whole system, integrative transport, framing car culture as problematic, and assume club members reduce driving and car ownership; here changing mobility demand and modal shift are integral to reducing emissions.

These differences are significant. EVs offer technological substitution, with little user behaviour change, conventional market mechanisms and diffusion through normal business models. They pose little threat to vested interests and existing power structures. Car clubs bring more uncertainty and promise of radical change. Whilst many potential futures are explored, EV explorations work to instil an imagining of the future as an unbroken continuation of the past and present.

panel T078
Contested energy futures and temporalities in retrospective: instruments and practices of forecasting and scenario work