Toward a New Mobility Paradigm for Transport in Cities

cover - iru thinking exercise workshop

Working notes in support of 23 March IRU Workshop

The objective of this working paper is for me as your consultant in this very innovative collaborative transport policy project to take a blank sheet of paper and step back from our earlier correspondence and notes to see if I can set down my best thoughts on what I propose could be the context for our forthcoming Brussels New Mobility Policy Workshop (a better title may not be a bad idea).

The purpose of this first exploratory workshop is to get peer reviews and critical commentary of the ideas to be set out for the workshop, in order specifically to provide the IRU Secretariat with a proposal and independent guidelines for possible future contributions that they can make in fulfillment of their role as the major international organization responsible for taxis and road transport.

Provisional information on the workshop’s organization are set out in the final page of this working note.

Major Paradigm Change Already in Process

I have been working internationally in the field of transportation and communications advances in applications worldwide for some decades, in enough different places and with sufficient time to be able to appreciate specifically the potential of what I see as the most transformative series of events in the field of transportation in and around cities. [1]

As the IRU’s consultant for this workshop, we will present our findings and ideas about the extraordinary importance of the implications of what is often billed as the “Uber Crisis”, challenge or other.  It is my view that we are looking at not just a series of events play themselves out in different ways in different places, but as the first steps in the creation of an entirely new paradigm for delivering high-quality mobility services to people in their day-to-day lives.  It is the identification and peer testing of this pattern which is the underlying job of this workshop. 


The Building Blocks


The four main building blocks of this new moment for transport in cities and the surrounding lower density areas are advances and interactions in the following areas which are in full and massive evolution:

  1. Big data
  2. Smart phones
  3. Social networks
  4. Innovation and entrepreneurship

(At the time of the workshop I propose we make a presentation is to make sure that all of us present have a shared understanding of these individual building blocks in the manner in which they work together to form the new mobility paradigm.)

If we consider the ongoing events in which the older forms of regulation and procedures defining taxis and other more conventional forms of vehicle use are being challenged by the new players as a threat to society and well-being, this might serve as a useful starting place for us to make sure that we understand the downsides of the issues.  However, if we are to do our job here this primarily defensive approach has to be only the beginning and not the end.

It is my view on all this that this ongoing process which is still in its very early stages is going to prove irreversible in many places and in many ways.  Again, we’re looking at an entirely new mobility paradigm, and once this is understood and accommodated, and in the process clarify its considerable advantages while at the same time tempering its inevitable downsides, there will be no going back to the old ways of doing things.

As a first step in our collaborative work on this it will be a good idea to make sure that we are fully aware of the work that is going on in all these many associated areas so that we have a basically bulletproof understanding of the issues and trends.


Key actors 

Who will be the key actors involved in the transition to this new mobility paradigm? 

Certainly all of those firms and groups who are presently active either in the development stage or in terms of actual implementations of this highly varied array of new mobility services, who at the same time constitute both threats to the traditional ways of doing things in the sector and, if we can only get it right, perhaps the promise of a better future for all involved.

Short list:

  • Those firms, individuals and agencies who feel, rightly or not, that these challenges are neither in their own interest or nor that of the public more generally (most typically including the traditional taxi sector)
  • The competing new mobility providers, including those more traditional firms and services which have adapted by incorporating the new technologies and operating procedures
  • Technology providers
  • International organizations working in this and related areas, including the UN, regional agencies and the European Union
  • National ministries of environment and transport
  • Local government
  • Specialized research groups and consultants
  • Venture capital groups

There is an important information, advisory and mediation function that needs to be considered and if possible contributed to.  Each of these key levels can benefit from better information and perspective from operations as well as policy purposes.  The role of local government is one that needs to be given particularly close attention since often they are the contracting or defining partners for local mobility services.  It is likely that the key international and national agencies will serve as the conduit for information and perspective for local government in the management and authorization of these services.


The New Mobility Paradigm in Brief

Potential threats/problems

Since these are the points of contention which are getting most attention in the media and in public and policy discussions, it seemed like a good idea to start with these.  Our in=process list at this early point includes as follows:

  • Business challenges for the traditional service providers in the field.
  • Economic impacts for drivers and taxi groups related to declining values of their initial investments required to obtain public authorization (Shields).
  • Driver selection, qualification and training
  • Insurance
  • Vehicle maintenance
  • Safety in traffic
  • Passenger safety and respect within the vehicle
  • Privileged access to reserved lanes??
  • Ability and willingness to provide personal attention and support to vulnerable users (elderly, handicapped, child or school transport, medical, etc.)
  • enforcement and policing to ensure good practices
  • tax avoidance on the part of new service providers (and national taxes)

This list is not yet complete but covers legitimate issues which need to be taken into account by policymakers governing business and operations practices in the sector.

Potential Advantages [2]

These purported advantages, which are often cited by promoters and others interested in advancing this new paradigm need to be looked at closely and understood, including with respect to their impacts on externalities which have not traditionally been particularly well understood in the transport sector

  • High-quality apps permit more rapid and accurate service orders
  • Higher levels of service (substantially)
  • More rapid pickup
  • At least competitive pricing
  • Guaranteed trip price (No tipping)
  • improved flexibility to mesh services in peak and slow purposes
  • Reduced levels of public subsidy and support
  • A certain amount of job creation (since we’re talking about manned vehicles). Including the possibility of flexible work for people with other sources of employment
  • Creative use of new technology in the public interest
  • New partnerships with traditional public transport providers
  • Easily adapted for share services, with potential for price reductions for travelers
  • Satisfied customers build support base for both the services and more generally for new thinking about mobility in and around cities.
  • Does an important niche in the global interactive new mobility service package, which can lead to fewer cars and reduce parking requirements


Workshop Organization

Host and place: To be hosted by the taxi and passenger transport branch of the International Road Union (IRU) in their Brussels headquarters at

Convened under the aegis of the European Citizens Mobility Forum (ECMF) –

Address: 32-34 Avenue de Tervuren, 1040 Brussels.

Time and date: 23 March. Workshop opens at 10:00.

Attendance: on invitation only

Organizing contacts: Rémi Lebeda, Head – EU Fiscal & Legal Affairs.

Invited international experts. Contact: Eric Britton, MD Ecoplan Int’l.  Tel: +336 5088 0787


[1] In this regard since this is such an extremely strong statement, let me make the point that in my work I have always been extremely conservative about the potential for transformative new technologies, at least at the systems level.  In chapter 8 of his book entitled “Happy City: Transforming Our Lives through Urban Design”, the Canadian urbanist and author Charles Montgomery provides a balance critique of my work in this respect to can find online at

[2] The IRU and the ECMF have committed to doubling the use of collective passenger land transport in the EU by 2025.

# # #

About the editor:

Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Educated as a development economist, Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher and international sustainability activist who has lived and worked in Paris since 1969. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets: The Politics of Transport - . | Britton online:

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