Cities and Mobilities Seminar Series #4 Mobility transitions with Tim Schwanen

When: 13.15 -17.00, 2 February, 2018

 Where: Roeterseiland Campus, UvA, Building J/K, room B.25


The aim of this seminar series is to develop a conversation on how mobilities shape cities as well as to foster exchange and collaboration between scholars from different disciplines and practitioners working on urban mobilities at UvA and beyond.

In the fourth seminar, we’ll focus on transitions to more sustainable and just mobilities. Guest speaker Tim Schwanen (Director of the Transport Studies Unit, University of Oxford) will provide a talk on:

“Transitions in Urban Mobility Beyond State and Market: Insights from London and São Paulo”

The idea that urban mobility systems are undergoing radical transformations has gained traction over the past decade among policy makers, professionals and academics alike. Given that markets are widely seen as crucial sites where these transformations take place and are configured, private firms and policymakers are often considered as the key actors in transition processes. The role of community or grassroots organisations is often not neither considered nor understood. In this presentation I will concentrate on the initiatives by such organisations by focusing on the provision or improvement of infrastructures for cycling and walking. Adopting a broad and inclusive understanding of infrastructures and drawing on empirical materials from London and Sao Paulo, I will critically examine the contributions to mobility transitions that community initiatives can make. I will argue that, while those initiatives are unlikely to trigger mobility transitions themselves, they fulfill at least two critical  functions in mobility transitions that both revolve around questions of justice. One is that they cater to the mobility — and many other — needs of social groups at risk of marginalisation in most transport policy, private sector activity and wider discourses. The other is that, at a time that most policy and private sector activity is committed to ethical individualism and market logics, community initiatives play a key role in ‘commoning’ — the creation and harnessing of networked and interwoven commons such as physical structures, knowledges and atmospheres that facilitate and encourage walking and cycling. Differences between London and Sao Paulo in how community initiatives regarding walking and cycling infrastructures fulfill these functions will be explored.


Tim Schwanen

 Tim Schwanen is Associate Professor in Transport Studies and Director of the Transport Studies Unit (TSU) in the School of Geography and the Environment as well as a Fellow at St Anne’s College, all at the University of Oxford. Further, he is a co-director of the RCUK funded Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand. In 2013-2015 he was the editor-in-chief of Journal of Transport Geography and he currently serves on the editorial advisory boards of nine academic journals in geography, transport studies and sustainability research. (Source:



13.15 – 13.20    Opening by Anna Nikolaeva (CUS, organizer of the seminar series)

13.20 – 15.10    Presentations

Mode Transition Implications of E-bikes in the Netherlands by SUN Qi, TU/e

Cycling-as-a-Service in the urban Netherlands by Brett Petzer, TU/e

Flexible transport. (Diss)embedded urban mobilities by Wladimir Sgibnev and Lela Rekhviashvili, Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography

15.10-15.30      Coffee break

15.30-17.00    Transitions in Urban Mobility Beyond State and Market: Insights from London and São Paulo by Tim Schwanen

Comments and discussion

Discussant: Danielle Snellen, Netherlands Environmental Assessment  Agency (PBL)

17.00               Reception


Seminar is free and open to anyone. Please let us know if you are coming by sending an e-mail to


Abstracts of presentations


Mode Transition Implications of E-bikes in the Netherlands



There is high hope for e-bikes to play a role in decarbonizing road transport, cutting down air and noise pollution, and reducing traffic congestion. However, these promises of e-bikes are debatable. It is problematic to take the approach of unconditionally embracing e-bikes and promoting the use of it. Life cycle assessment shows that e-bikes sit at the middle of the sustainability pyramid in a spectrum of transport modes. E-bikes emit several times lower pollution per passenger kilometer than cars and motorcycles. Their emission rates are comparable to buses but higher than conventional bikes. Research agrees that the user is a critical parameter in terms of e-bikes’ net environmental benefits, particularly the direction of modal shift. Empirical findings have shown that e-bikes are not only substituting car trips, but also trips made by conventional bikes and public transport. This encourages a critical look towards how e-bikes contribute to or impede sustainability. However, a common limitation in e-bike research is that the results usually suffer from self-selection bias, particularly in cases where respondents are recruited via convenience sampling.  This study aims to paint a nuanced picture about e-cycling and its modal shift implications in the Netherlands based on datasets from the first three waves of the Netherlands Mobility Panel (MPN) in 2013, 2014 and 2015. MPN keeps record of the travel behavior of a fixed group of people over a long period, thus allows direct assessment of modal substitution of e-bike users. Moreover, this study provides some insights into modal shift patterns of e-bike users for various trip purposes.


Cycling-as-a-Service in the urban Netherlands

Brett Petzer


This paper introduces the concept of Cycling-as-a-Service (CaaS) to describe cycling-based mobility services that comprise of various forms of bikeshare, bike hire and leasing. It investigates CaaS as a shared and servitised mobility innovation in the context of the urban Netherlands, which differs from much of the context of existing research in that cycling is a mainstream, mature, and culturally-embedded mode of transport. To better understand CaaS in this context, a typology of CaaS business models is developed by means of interviews with service providers and public sector actors and drawing on recent research into business models for the sharing economy. To understand the specific regulatory backlash against CaaS in some Dutch cities, which has taken place recently, a narrative analysis of press articles and other sources is conducted. Analysis of insights reveals a correlation between features of some models and the targets of regulatory backlash. This suggests that narratives of legitimation may be connected to the success of niche innovations in the case context. In turn, this finding suggests that the link between narrative analysis and socio-technical transitions, via structuration theory, may merit further research as in similar contexts due to its explanatory power in the case of CaaS in the urban Netherlands


Flexible transport (Diss)embedded urban mobilities

Wladimir Sgibnev, Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography

Lela Rekhviashvili, Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography

In this paper, we intend to discuss the concept of social embeddedness and its relevance for rapidly transforming urban mobilities worldwide. In the cities of the Global North, new, digitally powered ride-sharing or ride-sourcing practices proliferate. Their appeal lies not only in offering affordable and demand-responsive urban transport, but also in their discursive emphasis on social embeddedness, reciprocity and personalisation of such mobilities. In the cities of the Global South, the low-fi, informal sharing mobility practices have also relied on personalised networks and mutuality. The literature on informality in post-socialist cities has also insisted on social embeddedness of such exchanges. Socially embedded mobilities, have been portrayed as a phenomenon defying both, markets and states, emphasizing the possibility of horizontal, relatively inclusive mobilities. Empirically drawing, on the one hand, on the examples of informally operating minivans, so called Marshrutkas in post-socialist cities, on the other hand, on sharing mobility practices, such as Uber, Lyft, BlaBla car, we delve into theoretic underpinning of the embeddedness concept.

We suggest that current enactments of embeddedness concept when discussing urban mobilities, is too narrowly focusing on personalisation, intimacy and horizontality of exchange. Such a narrow focus oftentimes conceals, first, how the discourse of embeddedness is utilised to justify profit-seeking economic endeavour and rapid increase in corporate control over urban mobilities; second, how horizontal social embeddedness can have own limits, resulting in worker’s precarity and passenger insecurity. To counter such narrow and abusive deployment of the concept, we draw on Polanyian definition of social embeddedness, as subjection of economic exchanges to social and political needs, to elaborate what embedded mobilities can mean and how they can relate to mobility justice.








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