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Every crisis is an opportunity.

Call for photos: (auto)mobility and Covid-19

As pictures tell thousand stories, we would like to complement our blog reflections with pictures: photos reflecting on how mobilities, personal and social timespace was rearranged the world over due to the virus and the measures taken.

Please send us your personal photos about (auto)mobility life in coronatimes. We will publish them on the blog and later, maybe, create an exhibition at the Institute for Advanced Studies, in Vienna.

Please send them to cas@ihs.ac.at

By sending the photos, you agree to their publication on the CAS website, the potential presentation at a public exhibition at the IHS, and its use for creating scientific reflections on these (publications).

We want to collect your experiences related to the current rearrangement of personal and social perspectives on mobility. Please continue also to send us (personal) reflections, approx. 250 words, in an academic blog fashion (personal reflection, but also some level of learned explanation, maybe reference in literature etc.). You are, of course, invited to write about anything that is of interest to you in this specific situation animated by corona.

Please send your entries to cas@ihs.ac.at and we will notify you once it is online.

Thank you!

The pandemic on wheels

-By Robert Braun, Institute for Advanced Studies, Vienna

The European Union and Austria fell in love in tandem with the electrification and automatization of automobility. This is no surprise.

Among others, the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT), a lobby group of the biggest European companies, CEOs of mostly automobility related companies have met with European Union Commissioners more than 400 hundred times within one year. This means more than two meetings between CEOs and Commissioners each day. Public funds are now poured into electrification: installing new infrastructure, offering subsidies, and building more roads.  Automatically slowing down vehicles to meet speed limits in specific areas that would reduce automobility death and injury, as shown in tons of research papers, is less top on the agenda. After a decade long struggle, the European Commission accepted automatic speed control, the Intelligent Speed Assistance, as mandatory for all cars sold after 2024, but only to be switched-on on a voluntary basis.

The argument that automobility’s benefits outweigh their harms has a long history. Every year approximately 1.3 million people are killed on the road. In the age of automobility, more than 80 million people were killed; this is more than the casualties of all wars combined in the same period. Between 20 and 50 million more people suffer non-fatal injuries. Automobility death and injuries cause considerable economic loss to individuals, their families, and to nations as a whole. Human related cost of automobility violence reaches 3% of gross domestic product in most countries. More than 90% of road traffic deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. Even within high-income countries, people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to be involved. Road injuries are the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged 5-29 years. It is a century long pandemic on wheels.

Negative impacts are often compared to benefits such as freedom, jobs and profit. When industrialists speak of their mission as “driving sustainable growth and prosperity in Europe” their drive (pun intended) is to sustain automobility in the first place. Promises of electric and autonomous automobility fail to deliver even on their own terms. Electric cars, cradle to grave, cause more harm than traditionally propelled vehicles. They push problems elsewhere: to the mines of Africa, to landfills of battery deposition, to places where fossil fuel cars end up in later stages of their life when their users have been nudged into shifting to electric. Electrification of automobility offers the illusion of less environmental harm, but all else can remain the same. 

Driverless cars are a similar promise. Autonomous mobility requires interoperable and seamless data flow, something the European Union is busy creating, called urban dataspace. This hands over decisions to algorithms and black-boxed technologies even their makers think are inscrutable and wrought with socio-political biases. Driverless mobility offers the illusion that people will be out of harm’s way but all else can remain the same.

Automobility as we know it cannot be sustained. The biggest problem with automobility is its often-occluded violence. Automobility is not about cars but about inhumane speed, the illusion of power, and appropriation of publicly accessible space. Violence, the harm done to human and non-human lives, is a devastating consequence.

There are many people and institutions that suggest this is fixable. Just change the propellant, substitute the driver, create better infrastructure, or bring a new safety technology. However, these fixes amount to more of the same. What needs to be done instead is a change in focus. Post-automobility is not about getting from A to B faster or slower, or causing more or less pollution, injuries or death. It is about bringing an end to the pandemic on wheels.

Automobility is a health and climate hazard. Public policy is perfectly equipped to deal with such hazards. Just think of tobacco. The tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced, killing more than 8 million people a year. The economic costs of tobacco use are substantial and include significant health care costs for treating the diseases as well as the lost human capital that results from tobacco-attributable morbidity and mortality.

Tobacco industry has for decades argued that smoking is not lethal, and tried to sell a dream of freedom, power and jobs. When this did not work, they used science to fund research that showed that nothing is settled and there is enough uncertainty in our knowledge about causes to warrant doing more of the same. Until it changed. Through various measures considerable reduction of tobacco use and consequent deaths was made possible – at least in Europe and North America.

Automobility should be addressed as a health hazard and addressed as the tobacco epidemic: control, warn and ban. The public policy discourse should shift from mobility to health – this legitimates policy control of access and use. Warning signs should be made visible on cars, on roads, in cities and highways. Public memorials should be erected to commemorate road deaths. Advertising, points of sale, use should be limited and controlled; in certain places use and purchase should be banned, as in the case of tobacco. Basically, all measures applied to control the tobacco epidemic are applicable to the pandemic on wheels.

Arguments against such a shift are many. “It is a rant against cars, drivers, free men who just enjoy driving. It is detrimental to efficiency, to growth and jobs.” Whoever takes these claims up should know, s/he is denying a pandemic and the effective control of death and injury, including friends and family. Because everyone knows someone who knows someone who has died or has been injured on the road. Doing anything less equals to what the pandemic denials have achieved. Blocking public policy to save lives when a pandemic strikes. The pandemic on wheels has been with us for a century and all what has been offered is doing more of the same. 

Edited German translation published in Der Standard, 5 July: https://www.derstandard.at/story/2000137153247/automobilitaet-die-pandemie-auf-raedern

Source: https://www.ihs.ac.at/publications-hub/blog/pandemic-on-wheels/

PT_Safe @EUvsVirus Hackathon

-By Robert Braun, Institute for Advanced Studies, Vienna

True to the CAS spirit of doing more than academic/research work, over the weekend a team formed around CAS members participated in the biggest ever Hackathon (https://euvsvirus.org/) to bring innovation solutions to challenges presented by COVID-19. Challenges ranged from health to social inclusion issues, more than 20 000 people participated and more than 2200 pitches/solutions/ideas were submitted after three days of collaborative work. 

Thinking beyond automobility we took up the challenge of the future of public transport. With Vangelis Genitsaris from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, our group members at IHS (Matthias, Anna, Johannes, Shauna), and others (designers, computer experts, social entrepreneurs) we created the ‘PT_Safe’ team online and came up with something really cool and important: how to revitalize public transport providers (PTs) during and after the crisis with a database of best practices shared across providers, involving feedback from citizens and other stakeholders. we created the concept, a mock-up of the website, also some design and, most importantly, a video describing what we have in mind.

Please check out our pitch, do keep your fingers crossed for the award ceremony at the end of the week:

Quarantine Map

-By Ondřej Mulíček, Masaryk University, Czech Republic

European countries are currently implementing various measures to manage the COVID-19 epidemic. These include various forms of quarantine and social distanciation, which significantly change the spatial patterns of everyday life. From a geographical point of view, the current situation is a kind of experiment that allows a deeper insight into the ways in which individuals spatially respond to exceptional conditions.

At the Department of Geography of the University of Brno, we developed a simple application Quarantine Map that seeks to capture the basic patterns of individual spatial behavior in the period prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and to compare them with those during the times of emergency measures. So far, we have focused on respondents from the Czech Republic, who provided us with a solid response. Preliminary outputs show that the spatial extent of daily activities during the quarantine is approximately half that of normal situation.

Encouraged by the results so far, we have adapted the application for use by European respondents. It is available at this link:


We will be grateful if you decide to share your experience through the application. We hope that the data collected will allow us to understand at least the basic spatial shifts taking place at the scale-level of daily routines.

The Return of Hitchhikers

-By Michael O’ Regan, Bournemouth University, UK

Whereas motorscapes have come to be associated with automobility, I examine mobility cultures with their own politics, cultures and identities associated with innovative appropriations of existing materialities, to work below the radar, to modify the abstract rhythms of motorways. Hitchhikers see the value of the globalizing system of automobility, but already understand, as we do now, the fragilities on which this mobility is based, since you must set aside personal ambitions and often go with someone else’s flow, travelling on someone else’s time.

As the COVID 19 pandemic plays out, and hitchhiker online forums slow down, hitchhiker blogs[i] have become more reflexive.  Roads and motorways have become material infrastructure again, filtered for the essential circulation of people, goods, and information.  Hitchhikes dream of conversations with drivers and other passengers, potential encounters, and emotional connections. They are using the lessons learnt whilst hitchhiking during the lockdown. They have learnt to continue to enact and perform mobility (and stillness) in their homes. Used to stillness, stopping, and blockages, their homes like cars or service stations are prisms rather than prisons. Their socio-cultural-political readings of infrastructure and automobilities looks at car parks, filling stations and repair garages to service motorways that structure and produce unsustainable urban and regional automobilities as places where hitchhikers can replenish their bodies, interact with other hitchhikers, drivers and service station employees and sleep overnight. MS on an email list (April 15th) says:

A petrol station is prison for many but heaven to a hitchhiker. Lockdown at home is a heavenly prison for anyone who’s slept enough in a trash bag on cardboard. Hitchhiking for me, as well as being about freedom to move, is about developing the patience and gratitude to appreciate when and where you are not moving, as well as the confident belief in the eventual return of future movement, or at least future change.

In looking at the future, hitchhikers worry about decreased trust, automobile and road surveillance systems, police crackdowns, anti-hitchhiking legislation, and a sensationalist media who might turn them into sinister figures. They also hope for increased solidary and the increased demand for human interaction, intimate engagement, connectivity and exchange in a post COVID 19 world. They might also hope that drivers, landowners and service station workers and police officers reading this piece might see the cultural value of the practice and the social, political and environmental values of the participants who coalesce around it.

[i] https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=pl&u=https://za-plotem.pl/korona-stop-jak-wyobrazam-sobie-swiat-bez-autostopu/&prev=search

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