In recent times, the word transportation is often substituted for mobility. This has created a noticeable shift in the language used to describe the movement of people. Depending on your age, where you live, and in what industry you work in, mobility will most likely hold a different meaning for you. But what exactly is the difference between Transportation and Mobility and why is it important for us individually and collectively? Let’s take a look at the changing landscape of transportation and mobility and how the relationship between the two is reshaping and evolving the way we transport people and goods.
What is Transportation?
Transportation has been around for many centuries and although nowadays it looks different its purpose remains pretty much the same – connecting people, cultures, cities, countries, and continents. It’s considered one of the main pillars of modern societies and their economies, allowing producers to sell their products across the globe and making sure that travelers can reach and discover new places. Furthermore, transport networks ensure access to key public services required for societies, such as health, education, and work that contribute to a better quality of life. Being connected to various forms of transport helps boost economies in remote areas, creating jobs, and distributing wealth among the local population.
At its core, transportation integrates physical and organizational elements to produce means of travel (displacement) based on a particular need for something. Demand for transportation is essentially driven by a variety of social and economic activities in a particular area. The inner workings of transportation systems are based on the careful engineering of Infrastructure, services, control settings, pricing, vehicles, and performances, combined. There is a downside to our current and traditional transport models, however, with the primary one being the substantial negative impact it has on the environment and human health. The transportation sector is currently accountable for about a quarter of the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the EU, while GDP data for greenhouse gas emissions for 2022 are estimated to have grown by 1.3 percent in the U.S., further contributing to air pollution, noise pollution, and degradation of our natural habitat.
As the demand for global transportation increases, so does the availability of new energy-efficient vehicles that incorporate more eco-friendly ways of traveling. The word transportation has a slightly different meaning depending on where we come from, however, it implies the universal act of moving goods or people, from one place to another. Mobility, on the other hand, is more likely to be used in relation to more efficient forms of moving things with the help of new technologies such as electric cars or scooters and with regard to social aspiration and the environment in mind.
What is Mobility?
Mobility is often defined by the potential for movement and the ability to get from one place to another, through a single or multiple modes of transportation. In some instances, it can differ slightly from accessibility, which refers to the ability to access or reach a desired service or activity. To illustrate this better, let’s say it’s possible to have quality mobility but with poor accessibility. For example, a community that has a great highway network and low levels of congestion, but relatively low levels of employment, shopping centers, and leisure facilities, is considered to have good mobility but poor accessibility. Regardless, modern policies that increase mobility typically increase accessibility too as they make it easier to reach destinations that are further away, in a more efficient manner.
Mobility is essentially the ability and level of ease of moving people, goods, and services. Examples of mobility include Interstate highways with designated truck lanes that increase the number of goods transported. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems with bus-only lanes, for example, increase the efficiency of moving people from one place to another, reducing the need for more cars on the roads. Intelligent Traffic Management Systems are also currently in trend as they provide a variety of mobility solutions to urban issues such as congestion. Not only do they improve traffic flow and manage it better, but they also make better use of land and parking spaces, coordinating public transit vehicles and those used for delivery and transportation of goods. These types of systems manage travel demand through innovative solutions and technologies in the form of monitoring through connected CCTV cameras, computer vision capabilities for image detection and recognition, and processing, along with cloud connectivity + GPS-based communication. This makes roads safer and increases volume, capacity, and efficiency.
Transportation vs. Mobility: What is the difference?
You can think of infrastructure as the foundation upon which different modes of mobility operate, in relation to the transportation sector. While transportation can be described as the act of moving goods or people, mobility underlines the act or the ability of a person to be moved. Mobility isn’t just about having access to one mode of transportation but having the ability to access these services and the quality of those options. In short, the difference between transportation and mobility comes down to equity and access.
The difference between transportation and mobility comes down to equity and access.
Accessibility & Equity
Mobility focuses on meeting specific transport needs, while transportation incorporates the reliance on vehicles, infrastructure, and various traffic rules and regulations as means for achieving this. Consequently, mobility is a direct result of social activities such as living, working, relaxing or production, trade, and consumption of goods. The variety of activities required for living and the social complexities involved increase the demand for transport services, particularly in densely populated areas so demand for transportation naturally increases.
Accessibility refers to the quality of travel that takes place in communities, serving individuals through various access management techniques to allow the usage of land. It emphasizes travel time, cost, travel options, comfort, and risk while addressing the needs of citizens. In transportation, mobility and accessibility are considered two opposite but interconnected forces. They share the same goal of increasing the overall capability of a transit system while not compromising efficiency and ease of access.
Convenience & Connectivity
Mobility is a vital component for the well-functioning of any society as it provides access to places needed for maintaining a healthy lifestyle for the citizens of a place. It’s what makes getting to important places possible such as workplaces, education, healthcare, government facilities, community centers, parks, and leisure-related destinations. Living near a bus that comes once every hour isn’t considered mobility. Owning a car, for example, in a city with congested streets or highways isn’t mobility, either. Mobility is not defined as just having access to one mode of transportation but rather having transportation options and the quality of those options.
Quality transportation options can be defined by experts based on several elements and criteria. Time is among the most crucial factors since the duration for which an individual makes a trip largely determines the quality of that transportation option. If it takes too long to reach a destination that is not considered accessible and favorable for the citizens of a city. If public transport is always stuck in traffic in a heavily congested area for example, you might not take the bus to go shopping for quality food and instead, you might opt for the convenience store across the road even though the food is not great there.
Affordability & Safety
Affordability is another important component to making sure that transport is accessible by individuals. Transportation options need to be affordable to be accessed by people, regardless of their income and social status. If a person’s only option is to drive but they can’t afford to own one, then they don’t have mobility, therefore transportation becomes useless to them. Safety is another equally important component since if a transportation method is not safe to walk, bike, or drive, then we don’t have mobility. Citizens won’t use dangerous modes. Mobility is meant to provide access to various reliable transportation options so residents of a city can count on them to get them to their destinations when they need to.
A Broader Perspective of Mobility
To understand the changing landscape of mobility and the reasons behind this shift in language we have to look at developments in our economy. Business analysts and economists agree that value creation has shifted from vertically integrated value chains to laterally scaled digital platform models where subscription and access models dominate. Nowadays many of the world’s most profitable companies don’t sell things they produce, they provide access to them.
Take Mobility as a Service (MaaS) for example. The shift from personal ownership of vehicles to the use of “mobility solutions” as services is one of the reasons why people are looking towards mobility and demanding more. While these are by no means new concepts, the digital revolution is maturing and more people are drawn towards the technology as it reflects how they are moving around. MaaS essentially integrates different forms of transport and transport-related services into one, comprehensive, and on-demand mobility service. It has the potential to fundamentally change the way we travel as it promotes more sustainable travel patterns and behavior. It provides travelers with ease, convenience, and access to transportation modes via a joint digital channel, typically through a mobile application.
People living in cities have more options regarding mobility than ever before. Making the most out of those expanding travel choices for cities and their residents will require integration among different mobility services as well as active participation from governments and city planners. Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is a good example of an organized framework that combines multiple mobility options, determining how they can work together to allow for a more seamless travel experience, supporting broader development outcomes in developing cities.
The digital revolution of transportation has evolved to a point where we can share cars, bikes, and scooters and use them when we need to. This holds tremendous potential when it comes to decreasing environmental impact along with transportation costs while providing much-needed access for those unable to walk or drive. It’s worth considering, however, who is gaining access to mobility and at what cost. What is and will be required to ensure equitable participation in this global shift toward Mobility as a Service? Could mobility become affordable enough to remove financial barriers among different social groups and if so will mobility become an essential human right for everyone? There is still a lot of work to be done in this field in conjunction with researchers and officials, however, experts believe that the outcomes will be worth it and that things will gradually attain a clearer and more universal form so that everyone can benefit and have access to different mobility options.