Imagining mobilities in 2050

Yearbook 2024 : l'innovation a trouvé sa boussole
Mobility is at the center of social, economic and environmental transformations. While it accounts for 30% of greenhouse gas emissions in France, it also represents an exciting breeding ground for technological and regional innovation.

This article is from the 2024 yearbook:Innovation has found its bearings.We have designed this annuel review to inspire you and spark new vocations in the service of transforming cities and territories. Happy reading!

Are you rather “sky filled with flying cars”, or “ an army of cargo bikes flooding the streets”? The gentle purr of an electric motor or a chorus of birdsong? When it comes to mobilities, there doesn’t appear to be a grey area: technological dreams or eco-friendly utopias, the two ends of the spectrum remain defiant as they size one another up, yet between them lies an unchartered land waiting to be explored. Stuck between these two polar opposites, how can we imagine a credible future for mobilities?

There’s no lack of imagination when it comes to mobility. But what it really needs is quite the opposite: a good dose of reality. Private car use accounts for the overwhelming majority of personal journeys, and cycling, although on the increase, accounts for only a fraction of all journeys. All-electric is still a distant horizon — and it could remain unaffordable for many of us. Car-sharing is still rather niche and self-driving vehicles are still yet to fulfill their promises.

If the scenarios diverge, this is because mobility isn’t a spectrum, but rather a multi-variable equation. To visualise it, we need to create a dialogue between the often-conflicting issues, and put on the table complex realities, completely opposing regional geographies, and ambitions which snub one another. This is the price to pay to be able to be able to start drawing not one, but several credible mobility solutions, solutions which are far from being fantasy and pie in the sky, but which are looking towards feasible possibilities that will leave no one by the wayside. Here’s a brief look at the issues that need taking into consideration.

Challenge #1 : Address the priority of environmental sustainability

In 2023, when we think of “mobility,” carbon springs to mind. In our Mobilities 2050 study, the environment is the angle that stakeholders address the most, across the board. Cars, lorries, trains and planes, they all hide the pollution we no longer want to see. All modes of transport are capable of doing it: from low-emission driving zones to hydrogen vehicles, as well as electric cars and biofuels. Transport is an obvious lever for the climate transition, since it alone represents 30% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, coming in ahead of industry and agriculture.

So, what does credible mobility for 2050 look like ? Well, it’s a transport solution that has found ways to reduce its environmental impact.This isn’t merely a technological issue, it’s a cultural and regional one too. Decarbonising at the wave of an electric wand would not necessarily resolve the tricky question of our resilience in the face of climate change. For the sake of completeness, we must conduct the discussion by questioning how and why we get around.

The idea is not to swap one dogma for another, going from hypermobility to total sobriety. Instead of trying to get about less, we need to look at moving about better, empowering people and giving them choice rather than restrictions. Which journeys are really necessary? How often? How far? And how fast? If, in many dense areas, a large number of car journeys are less than 5 kilometres, perhaps we first need to tackle everyday mobility. Providing the keys to fluid mobility, intermodal solutions that make life easier. Making for a positive and desirable transition that is more likely to succeed.

Yearbook 2024 : Article mobilités 2050
Crédit : Southworks Stock

Challenge #2 : Preserve the freedom to come and go

“The full-scale lockdown experience has reaffirmed the almost sacrosanct nature of freedom of movement. The freedom
to come and go is confirmed as an inalienable right,”
says Isabelle Lambert, head of foresight at Leonard.

As a condition for exercising other freedoms, mobility must not create new inequalities or widen those that already exist. On the contrary, it should help to mitigate divides already found. Therefore, we must imagine mobility within everyone’s reach. It can be multi-speed and multimodal, but it must maintain and encourage equal access to opportunities, whether professional (finding and keeping a job), personal (going shopping, going to the doctor, taking your children to school), or social (visiting family, friends, meeting new people), regardless of social class or post code.

Challenge #3 : Preserve the freedom to come and go

Mobility is a value creator. It conditions, among other things, regional and industry attractiveness, talent acquisition and retention, the size and distribution of public services (and their civil servants), the proper functioning of industrial, academic and scientific hubs, and the survival of entire sectors — such as the tourism industry.

Because it acts as the support for all these exchanges, we must therefore consider mobility in all its complexity, sector-specific and territorial, and move away as far as possible from political, economic or cultural dogmas. Because to get about is to set in motion, and everything in the economy is movement, mobility must inevitably cross paths with the economic challenges facing people and local regions. We cannot talk about sobriety or technology deployment without considering the impacts on the exchange of goods and people.



"If scenarios diverge, this is because mobility isn't a spectrum, but rather a multi-variable equation."

Challenge #4 : Contribute to social and territorial inclusion

In many countries, expenditure for transport is a significant spending item for French household budgets, but it does not carry the same weight or in the same way for everyone. To be credible, mobility must enable more than it limits. Considering “fair” mobility means thinking about mobility flows as a whole, a whole that repairs divides and help erase inequalities. Access to employment, leisure and services: mobility must be thought of as an equaliser of opportunities. Therefore, it must be plural and regionalised.

But each region has its own unique geographical, economic and demographic situation. If the impetus must come from a national level, it is up to the local level to implement it, as close as possible to the local reality. The question of inclusion therefore comes up against those of mobility governance and financing. But what is the most relevant scale? By region? By city? Or inter-municipal cooperation? What are we doing to ensure transport remains fluid at the borders of these zones? If intermodality stops at the edge of a regional border, is it really effective? 

Are local authorities properly equipped in terms of skills and resources to make these transitions? Are we not at risk of creating multi-speed countries depending on the political will and economic capacity of each region? And who should bear the cost of this transition? Customers (private service provider mindset)? Users (public transport)? Taxpayers (by making local authorities mobility operators)? These are just some of many issues that debates on mobility must be able to put on the table, in a discussion involving many public, private and citizen stakeholder.

”Mobility must serve everyone, everywhere. As such, there cannot be a single answer because there are multiple situations. We must open the conversation to try to address all the issues, all profiles, and engage all those concerned, from decision-makers to users. It’s a social project that underpins all the others,”, concludes Isabelle Lambert.

A propos de la démarche prospective Mobilités 2050

By putting around the table local authorities, transport and logistics sector leaders, and mobility researchers and thinkers, our approach brings together multiple visions for mobility, to compare and tackle them head on in order to find credible common ground.” notes Isabelle Lambert, head of foresight at Leonard.

This convergence of ideas and meeting of minds brought to life scenarios which outline a plurality of mobility solutions. “Our main interest was to position these possibilities on a matrix according to two factors which, for us, seemed to provide structure for thinking about the future of mobility. On one side, you’ve got the lengthening or shortening daily commutes, which touches upon the issues of urban sprawl, public services restructuring, manufacturing reshoring and hybrid work models. While on the other, there’s the implementation — or not — of real intermodality; here is an issue that’s both technical, regional, financial and economic, all at the same time, and which conditions what is possible to envisage,”, avance Isabelle Lambert.

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