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Constructing Legitimacy for Automated Goods Mobility


Increasing energy efficiency and reducing energy demand represent fast, cheap and safe opportunities to mitigate climate change. Transport has been identified as an important sector due to its significant contributions to global emissions, as well as local environmental impacts including air pollution. However, to date, research has focused on reducing the energy intensity of passenger transport resulting in large uncertainties on the global potential for greenhouse gas emission reductions for freight transport. As centres of production and consumption, cities rely heavily on the mobility of freight for the provision of goods and services to residents, visitors, firms and organisations. Volumes of freight mobility are increasing and courier, express and parcel (CEP) services growing rapidly with ongoing urbanisation and changes in consumption and shopping habits and delivery structures. A range of innovations have emerged to increase efficiency and decrease energy demand for the urban freight sector. These include urban consolidation centres, GPS tracking and driver training. Automated (self-driving, driverless, autonomous) vehicles have also been identified as an opportunity to decrease the energy intensity of the industry.

In this seminar, which is based on research conducted by Dr. Debbie Hopkins and Dr Tim Schwanen, Dr Hopkins will present preliminary findings from an analysis of freight industry magazines and mass media articles sourced from four online databases (n=117). While energy/fuel efficiencies and carbon emission reductions are used to legitimise automated technologies, and associated practices (e.g. platooning), we find evidence of widely diverging perspectives on technological capabilities, implications for freight drivers, and timeframes to diffusion. Technology and government actors’ attention to the development, testing and demonstration of the various automated technologies is clear; however there is little sign of societal embedding and legitimacy building which may result in unmet expectations.


Dr Debbie Hopkins is a Research Fellow in Low Carbon Mobility and Energy Demand at the Transport Studies Unit, and a Junior Research Fellow in Geography at Mansfield College, University of Oxford. Debbie has a master’s degree (with distinction) in geography from King’s College London,  Prior to joining TSU, Debbie was a Research Fellow on the Energy Cultures II research programme at the Centre for Sustainability (Otago). She also completed postdoctoral training at the Centre for Sustainability and the Otago Climate Change Network (OCCNet). Debbie is an environmental social scientist and human geographer, with research expertise in socio-spatial interpretations and experiences of environmental issues. Her research is broadly concerned with the social dimensions of climate change, the social practice of mobilities, and low-carbon mobility transitions. Her empirical research includes investigations of urban freight, adolescent mobility trends, virtual mobilities, collaborative consumption, and academic mobilities.