Life in the last mile – Design ethnographic investigation into MAAS and automated mobility in suburban spaces

Publication Type:

Conference Paper

Source:

Gerpisa colloquium, Detroit (2022)

Abstract:

Gerpisa Abstract 2

LIFE IN THE LAST MILE – DESIGN ETHNOGRAPHIC INVESTIGATION INTO MAAS AND AUTOMATED MOBILITY IN SUBURBAN SPACES

Both Mobility as a Service and (Shared) Automated Vehicle Systems have been proposed as technological solutions to promote more sustainable mobility practice, reduce private car use and ownership and improve transit access. The present paper questions the underlying assumptions with regards to mobility practices and perceptions in Last Mile Spaces.

We draw on ethnographic fieldwork into the spatial and temporal circumstances of the beginnings and ends of people’s journeys in two distinct suburban neighbourhoods in Sweden. On the basis of our analysis, we contest the notion of the first/last mile challenge and the proposal that shared AVs or micromobility platforms will solve it. Instead, we recommend that technological mobility solutions are designed with attention to the everyday mobilities of diverse groups of real people and the spatialities and temporalities of their situated localities.

To undertake our research, we developed a design ethnography (Pink et al 2022; Fors et al 2021) methodology with residents from a semi-rural neighbourhood in the proximity of a larger city in Sweden.  A total of 22 participants were recruited using a snowball method, working through local neighbourhood organisations, and holding recruitment events outside the local supermarket. Participants were aged 14 to 77 and lived in variable household compositions; 11 were parents of school aged children.

The results are based on a multi-method design ethnographic research approach that combined online interviews with local stakeholders and residents two-car on site drive-alongs consisting of participants using their personal vehicles to guide researchers, following in a second car, through relevant routes and places in their area. Finally, the approach featured online workshops with groups of residents that focused on the conditions under which the implementation of shared automated vehicles and MaaS technologies would be possible, pertinent and acceptable to their respective social networks, spaces and practices.

Results question the relevance of the first and last mile question and revealed that attitudes towards MaaS technologies and automation are significantly more complex beyond the dimensions of access and trust. Mobility as a Service is not only contradicted by the symbolic importance of vehicle ownership but also by the importance of agency in everyday mobility organisation and practice which is interwoven with identity, social status, life cycles and a sense of local belonging. Moreover, mobility and infrastructure changes brought pre-existing divisions within the local community to the fore, most notably conflicts around land use, social class and rural gentrification.

Differential access to digital technologies and micromobilities (for the eldest and youngest residents but also residents with reduced mobility) raised important issues with regards to the accessibility of technology forward solutions. Visions of Future Mobility were more complex, localised, collective and low-tech than the proposed ideas of automated and integrates mobility systems tend to account for.

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