Human factors of digitalized mobility forms and services

As transportation changes in the 21st century to become both more digital and more sustainable, a new article collection explores the impact of human behavior on the adoption of novel mobility systems.

The negative consequences of car use, such as air and noise pollution, congestion, and road crashes reduce the liveability of our cities and contribute to climate change.

New digitalized mobility forms and services promise to support more sustainable transport, but rebound effects due to unanticipated human behaviour offset a large share of the gains.

In a Topical Collection in the European Transport Research Review, Alexandra Millonig and Sonja Haustein bring together five studies that cover a wide range of approaches to grasp the Human Factors affecting the use and impact of new mobility forms and services.

The insights gained can help in shaping sustainable mobility futures that avoid dead ends and sunk costs.

Visions of new mobility futures range from increasing the energy efficiency of vehicles as well as their usage through pooling and sharing options, the introduction of a growing variety of micro vehicles for bridging last mile gaps (e.g. electric scooters, monowheels), or multimodal information and ticketing services to encourage the switch from monomodal car use.

These solutions are based on a high-tech vision of future mobility, composed of highly efficient automated vehicles running on green and renewable energy, where people take responsibility and make informed transport decisions, and where all road users share public space equitably and in harmony.

Needless to say, in this vision every individual is provided with at least the same or even higher “anywhere, anytime” transport guarantee as well as more personal comfort, all at a reasonable price.

Unfortunately, experience shows that technologies and digitalized services achieve significantly less impact than assumed, and it becomes more and more apparent that technological development will not suffice in reaching a sustainable and fair mobility system.

One of the main reasons is that users of new technologies and services do not necessarily behave as expected, which results in rebound effects (Walnum et al., 2014). For example, increased energy efficiency in cars is compensated by consumers buying larger cars, or automated cars that promise positive environmental effects may actually increase travel demand.

Also, Mobility-as-a-Service does not seem to live up to expectations with regard to car use reduction.

Examples like these suggest that it is worth taking a closer look at seemingly irrational mobility behaviours to avoid fallacies in the assumed effect of new services.

In particular, the increasing digitalization and incremental automation of vehicles and services, bearing highly promising opportunities to pave the way for a more sustainable and equitable mobility future, should be thoroughly reconsidered from the perspective of behavioural phenomena.

Such an approach, where product and service development complement each other, is vital for minimizing undesirable effects of innovations that jeopardize the vision for the overall mobility system, and it should not be limited to mere questions of “user acceptance”.

The papers in the related Topical Collection provide valuable knowledge for an improved consideration of the Human Factor perspective in digitalized mobility developments. Several conclusions can be drawn from the contributions, which can help to achieve the originally intended impact of digitalized services.

One important insight is that individuals have to deal with a lot of insecurities when using a new or unfamiliar system, which can limit or even hinder the success of the service. In the case of sharing solutions, many of these insecurities concern the appropriate interaction with other users.

Providing simple guidelines suggesting social rules could facilitate both use and interaction. In addition, increased transparency of the system could avoid misunderstandings.

In many cases, the potential success of a service is measured by its ability to help users in comparing different mobility options based on factual attributes like travel time, costs, potential incentives, and other measurable attributes.

However, findings within the Topical Collection show that personal motives and subconscious values people attribute to a specific mode or a trip purpose can easily override a “rational” decision.

For future developments, it might therefore be advisable to pay more attention to symbolic and effective motives of mode choice than focusing solely on functional aspects.

Approaches to decipher the emotional meaning behind reported preferences can help to shape a sustainable mobility alternative along such subconscious qualities and raise its acceptability.

Finally, we should also be aware of the fact that Human Factor phenomena are not limited to users.

Humans operate at every level of the mobility system – researchers, developers, providers, decision makers – and although they may have more factual insights into the complex nature of mobility than the average citizen, no one is safe from interfering misperceptions and personal motives.

But by widening our horizon beyond technological progress through understanding ourselves and others, we are likely to achieve more power in shaping the mobility future instead of having to deal with dead ends and sunk costs.

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