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Futures of Personal Mobility

What assumptions are made about the future uptake and use of electric vehicles and car sharing clubs in the UK? Implications for future energy demand and a transition to sustainable transport are identified by this project.

Urban Transport theme icon
Start date: 1 October, 2015 - End date: 1 January, 2018

The future of personal mobility, including the role of the car in a sustainable transport future, is an important and topical debate, which ties into discussions about greenhouse gas emissions, technological innovation, economic growth and energy security. Global trends are currently of increasing car use, which many consider unsustainable in the longer run. In the UK, cars have become the dominant mode of travel in most people’s lives, and the car is seen a major asset in most households. Car use per person increased during the second half of the twentieth century, but seems to have stabilised and even declined slightly in the early twenty-first century.

This project will look at imagined futures of sustainable transport in the UK, considering a variety of techniques for predicting, anticipating, preparing for and potentially shaping the future, such as forecasts, visions, scenarios and roadmaps. We call these future explorations collectively. The focus is on two relevant innovations: electric vehicles (EVs), which offer technological reduction in greenhouse gas emissions whilst potentially continuing the dominant personal vehicle paradigm; and car clubs (car sharing), which offer a cultural and behavioural shift that potentially forms part of an emerging mobility services paradigm. We will investigate how explorations of transport futures are constructed, including how demand for (auto)mobility is framed and what assumptions are made.


(1) to analyse how future explorations frame and portray changes in mobility, including the speed of change and the drivers and barriers to change, all in the context of UK automobility and socio-technical innovation

(2) to analyse what assumptions are made about energy demand, and how this varies between different imagined futures.

Research questions:

  1. What are the forecast extent and speed of change in different explorations? I.e., what is the projected uptake of the innovation(s) and how fast does it happen? What infrastructural and regulatory changes are predicted? Are behavioural or cultural changes considered?
  2. What assumptions are made about demand for (auto)mobility and transport?
  3. What are the drivers and barriers of change in these explorations? How are the challenges and opportunities framed? What recommendations or actions are proposed, and whose responsibility are they?
  4. How do the answers for 1-3 differ for EVs and Car Clubs? What do the differences tell us about perceptions of technological innovation and other innovation?


The project will be literature based, looking at a selection of relevant future transport forecasts which focus on the UK. We will explore parameters and qualities relevant to the research questions, and search for patterns among the different forecasts. This will be used to create a simple typology based on clusters of explorations with similar parameters; we will specifically check for typological differences between explorations of Car Clubs and those of EVs.

A second level of analysis will consider themes in the explorations, how they frame the future, and what narratives or storylines they use. Coding of the texts will be used to identify and classify frames. This will complement the analysis of assumptions, drivers and barriers in the forecasts to better understand how the future of mobility is imagined and portrayed.

Project publications