What went wrong with "Old Mobility"

In order what needs to be done to create a healthier and better performing set of transportation arrangements, World Streets make a consistent distinction between what we call “old mobility” and “new mobility.” The difference between the two is quite simple. And substantial.

Old mobility was the form of transportation policy, practice and thinking that took its full shape and momentum starting in the mid twentieth century, at a time when we all lived in a universe that was, or at least seemed to be, boundless and  free of constraints. It served us well in many ways at the time, albeit with exceptions, though we were blind to most of them most of the time. It was a very different world back them. But that world is over. And it will never come back.

The planet was enormous, the spaces great and open, energy abundant and cheap, resources endless. The “environment” was not a consideration, “climate” was the weather, technology was able to come up with a constant stream of solutions, builders were able to solve the problems that arose from bottlenecks by endlessly expanding capacity at the trouble points, and fast growth and the thrill of continuing innovations masked much of what was not all that good.

Fifty things that were wrong with Old Mobility

Old Mobility policy and practice  does not work well in the realities that constitute the 21st century, because it is . . .

  1. Destructive
  2. Inefficient
  3. Unfair
  4. Murderous
  5. Unhealthy
  6. Noisy
  7. Profligate
  8. Unneighborly
  9. Socially destructive
  10. Unimaginative
  11. Unquestioning
  12. Inertial
  13. Based on essentially closed system thinking  (i.e., looking at “transport” in isolation from the rest)
  14. Hierarchical
  15. Top-down
  16. Centralized
  17. Statistics based (i.e., bound by the past)
  18. Bounded
  19. Reductive
  20. End-state solution oriented
  21. Authoritarian
  22. Supply oriented
  23. Oriented to maximizing vehicle throughput and speeds
  24. Expert based
  25. Engineering-based (i.e., working “within the box”, albeit often with high technical competence)
  26. Binary: i.e., either “private” (i.e., car-based) or “public” transport (and nothing of importance in between)
  27. De facto car-based
  28. Costly to the community (unnecessarily)
  29. Costly to individuals (unnecessarily)
  30. Costly to the planet
  31. Resource intensive (unnecessarily)
  32. Total dependence on costly imported fossil fuels (unnecessarily)
  33. Highly polluting
  34. Massive public health menace
  35. Destroys urban fabric
  36. Hardware and build solutions, technology oriented
  37. Treats ex-car solutions as (very!) poor cousins
  38. Offers poor service/economic package to elderly, handicapped, poor and young
  39. Sharp divide between planning, policy and operations
  40. Obscure (to the public) decision making processes
  41. Focuses on bottlenecks impeding traffic flows (i.e., builds for increasing traffic)
  42. Attempts to anticipate them and build to forestall
  43. Searches for large projects to “solve” the problems
  44. These large projects and the substantial amounts involved often lead to corruption and waste of public moneys
  45. Still too much separation from underlying land use realities.
  46. Inadequate attention to transportation substitutes or complements
  47. Increasingly technical and tool oriented (this to the good)
  48. Anachronistic,
  49. Not doing the job that we need in 2005 and beyond!, and finally and worst of all. . .
  50. Creates a climate of passive citizenry and thus undermines participatory democracy and collective involvement and problem solving

But this does not reflect the priorities and the reality of transport, our needs, and our potential in the 21st century, and above all in our cities which are increasingly poorly served by not only our present mobility arrangements; but also the thinking and values that underlie them. Our rural areas are likewise suffering and without a coherent game plan. We now live in an entirely different kind of universe, and the constraints which were never felt before, or ignored, are now emerging as the fundamental building blocks for transportation policy and practice in this new century.

It’s time for a change. And the change has to start with us. You see, WE are the problem.


But we can also be part of the solution. Let’s see what it could look like if we started with the theme of equity.


# # #

Some World Streets references to help dig in on this:

Sustainable transportation’s Dirty Secret

We badly need a new American transportation model (because the one you sent us is broke)

Why transport planners need to think small to tackle climate change

The Old Mobility impasse (PDF)

Honey, you got to slow down

What/who keeps holding back New Mobility reform?

# # #

Eric Britton
13, rue Pasteur. Courbevoie 92400 France

Bio: Founding editor of World Streets (1988), Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher, occasional consultant, and sustainability activist who has observed, learned, taught and worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. In the autumn of 2019, he committed his remaining life work to the challenges of aggressively countering climate change and specifically greenhouse gas emissions emanating from the mobility sector. He is not worried about running out of work. Further background and updates: @ericbritton | http://bit.ly/2Ti8LsX | #fekbritton | https://twitter.com/ericbritton | and | https://www.linkedin.com/in/ericbritton/ Contact: climate@newmobility.org) | +336 508 80787 (Also WhatApp) | Skype: newmobility.)

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2 thoughts on “What went wrong with "Old Mobility"

  1. I would like to develop the idea of taking “old” and “new” mobility in a literal

    When did the key concepts of public transport develop ? These can be taken as

    1. Passengers travel on a vehicle that they neither own nor hire for exclusive

    2. The vehicle plies on a route without prior indication of specific demand.

    3. The vehicle is open for anyone to use.

    4. The vehicle (or other vehicles in the system) serves a variety of places so
    that it can cater for most of people’s end to end journey. (The antithesis of
    this is a ferry service that just covers the river crossing component of a
    journey the rest of which would be walked, ridden or travelled by private

    My question therefore is when and where did a transport system incorporating
    these elements first develop ? Is there any source for information about the
    origins of public transport ?

    Modern demand responsive systems dispense with 2 above. I think that the
    requirement to prebook can be an inconvenience for travellers but it is not
    fatal to the concept of public transport (and it can bring benefits in terms of
    better services). However some modern substitutes for public transport, e.g.
    dial a ride buses for disabled people in areas where every “normal” person is
    assumed to have access to a car, also dispense with 3 and 4, and I regard them
    as abdicating from the responsibility to provide for people’s transport needs.

    Simon Norton

  2. Simon,
    A point that strikes me, that you didn’t mention in your list, is what happens after this “public transport” is codified. Suddenly the “vehicle that they neither own nor hire for exclusive use” must be owned and used exclusively for the purpose of public transport. I can’t pick you up and give you a ride in exchange for money. I can’t use my small car for personal use as well as public transport use. My insurance requirements change. The government gets involved.

    If we really want to enable better, low cost, and distributed public transport, we have to re-allow the non-distinction between personal and commercial use, and personal and commercial vehicles. I write about this idea here http://networkmusings.blogspot.com/2010/05/inevitability-of-choosing-cars.html

    Robin Chase


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