(Not) Getting There: Visions for Future Mobility and the Lack of Clear Transformation Pathways


  • Stefanie Ruf TU Munich, Germany
  • Franziska X. Meinherz TU Munich, Germany




Mobility and transport are the only sectors in which GHG emissions are still increasing, despite considerable efforts to decarbonise them. At the urban level, this failure has been attributed to mobility policies and transition strategies firmly grounded in the car-centric and hypermobile status quo, with policymakers being reluctant to push for transformative, restrictive measures because they expect them to be unpopular (EEA, 2019; Marsden & Docherty, 2013). These assumptions are contrasted by the observation that people’s mobility practices constantly change over the life course and in response to contextual changes, and that many people increasingly demand greener and more livable cities. 

We analyse this seeming contradiction by investigating the visions and notions of change that underpin urban mobility strategies and plans and compare them to the discourses and visions upheld by the population. Our study focusses on the case of Munich, Germany, and is based on a mixed-methods approach. We analysed municipal policy documents through a qualitative content analysis and conducted a survey with N = 1,722 residents on mobility of the future. 

Our findings indicate that both the policy documents and residents described future urban mobility in overarchingly positive terms. The policy documents stressed the need for a mobility transition, but motivated it with demographic and economic growth, not with the climate catastrophe. They framed decarbonisation as a positive externality of measures that aim to improve urban quality of life. Thereby, the imminent need for transition was implicitly downplayed, portraying the decarbonisation of urban mobility as desirable but not as inevitable. Residents also barely mentioned the climate catastrophe.  

Both in policymakers’ and residents’ vision for the future of mobility, individual cars played a subordinate role compared to active mobility and public transportation. In policy documents, technocentric visions around shared and automated mobility played an important part, whereas residents barely mentioned technological solutions. Mirroring existing literature, policy documents largely refrained from explicitly mentioning restrictions, insisting instead that residents would abandon driving on their own account if cycling and public transport infrastructure were improved. Nonetheless, policy documents as well as residents’ visions emphasised the need to reallocate road space, which can be read as a restrictive measure. Policy documents assumed that such interventions would be supported unanimously by residents because they would improve their quality of life.  

Both policymakers’ and residents’ visions were sufficiently vague and general for them to be largely shared. However, we argue that they may fail to induce the desired transformation because they are not "clear enough to be able to provide the necessary guidance for the transition process” (Schippl & Arnold, 2020, p. 13). Local resistances may emerge not because residents do not share the vision of a mobility transition, but because the conflictuality and details of local steps of implementation are not anticipated and managed. Therefore, we conclude that the reason for standstill is not residents’ aversity to change, but instead a lack of visions for transformation that are detailed enough to be workable. In addition, municipal policymakers tended to deflect responsibility for the transition by pointing to regional and federal actors. 


EEA (2019) Sustainability transitions: Policy and practice. Luxemburg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Marsden, G. and Docherty, I. (2013) ‘Insights on disruptions as opportunities for transport policy change’, Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 51, pp. 46–55.

Schippl, J. and Arnold, A. (2020) ‘Stakeholders’ views on multimodal urban mobility futures: A matter of policy interventions or just the logical result of digitalization?’, Energies, 13(7), 1788.