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Weirdos on the train and other influencing factors in urban mobility

Trends in urban mobility

Last week I visited Design Agency Fjord to learn more about their Fjord Trends 2019. These are a look ahead at trends in business and technology that will shape the next 1-3 years. My favorite trend was “Ahead of the Curb”, describing the future of (urban) mobility.

Fjord Trend “Ahead of the curb”

With an ever-growing number of people moving from rural to urban areas, more and more mobility players are entering the game and expanding their services.  Since centralized mobility systems are missing, cities are easily overwhelmed.

It’s only two weeks that e-scooters are allowed on Germany’s roads and they already won over a lot of customers. One of them even made headlines by riding his scooter onto the highway. 

In a gallery like environment they presented some very interesting human-centered research insights on different mobility preferences. Through interviews in different countries they wanted to truly understand “what moves people”, what drives their choices when it comes to mobility.

Personas on Urban Mobility by Fjord

Risk Evaders

Most of all, I liked the persona “Risk Evaders”. Due to Fjord’s research people base their decisions on minimizing risk during their travel. Risk may range from uncomfortable encounters with strangers to high crime rates or dangerous roads.

One of their interviewees, a woman from Brazil, reported that she owns a bulletproof car to travel safely. Another woman from the US stated that the prefers not to talk to strangers at night when using public transportation.

I wondered if I can find supporting Human Factors research on the topic and started to search the online libraries.

Accidents and Unpleasant Incidents

One study I came across was conducted in Norway in 2009. Through a survey with 853 participants, the researchers found out that various forms of worry about mobility exist.

Their factor analysis proposes a division between worries about accidents (e.g. due to unsafe roads) and unpleasant incidents (e.g. being threatened or exposed to violence).

Moreover, the scientists found out that people tend to worry more about accidents on private transport modes such as cars or motorcycles. At the same time, people tend to worry more about unpleasant incidents on public transport such as trains, buns, trams, … .

Thinking through the whole journey

An early but nevertheless interesting finding stems from 2000. From a user centered perspective, it’s important to take in mind the whole journey.

Instead of only assessing feelings of being unsafe during the use of different transport modes, they explicitly asked participants about worry on travel-related places such as stations or parking lots.

Their findings show that people feel unsafe when walking to the transport mode (which could make a point for various last mile mobility providers).

Weirdos on the train

Next to that, I found evidence from the other side of the globe in the form of ethnographic research conducted in Australia in 2010.

Through qualitative fieldwork and focus groups with 179 Australian rail passengers, the scientists gained insights into commuter’s experience of crowdedness and their reactions to being in close proximity to other passengers.

The researchers concluded from their interviews, that the daily commute is highly overstimulating and most of the passengers try to retreat into their personal bubble to feel psychologically comfortable and safe.

Interactions with other passengers easily lead to irritation and annoyance. Next, daily commuters often apply a wide range of techniques to ensure disengagement with their fellow passengers such as using a mobile phone, pretending to sleep or reading a book.

“At night there are a lot of weirdos on the trains. Sometimes I just pretend to be on the phone, so I don’t have to talk to other people …”

– Participant of Hirsch & Thompson’s ethnographic research in Australia (2010)

With those scientific insights in mind, I’m super curious how urban mobility will change in the near future and what transport modes I’ll use to get around in the city.

Alm, C. & Lindberg, E. 2000, Perceived risk, feelings of safety and worry associated with different travel modes: pilot study, Kommunikationsforskningberedningen, Stockholm, 2000:7.
Backer‐Grøndahl, A., Fyhri, A., Ulleberg, P., & Amundsen, A. H. (2009). Accidents and unpleasant incidents: worry in transport and prediction of travel behavior. Risk Analysis: An International Journal29(9), 1217-1226.
Hirsch, L., and K. Thompson. “I can sit but I’d rather stand: commuter’s experience of crowdedness and fellow passenger behaviour in carriages on Australian metropolitan trains.” Australasian Transport Research Forum (ATRF), 34th, 2011, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia. Vol. 34. No. 0245. 2011.