Autonomy and relational mobility

-by Dhan Zunino Singh, CONICET, National University of Quilmes, Argentina

In Buenos Aires, a metropolitan area of 12 million people, due to the coronavirus the use of public transport has been discouraged and limited (only seated passengers) while private transport has been encouraged -all of this, of course, for those who cannot work from home. The rate of car use has increased. Streets are congested, but drivers in private vehicles feel safer and the public policy of reducing mass transport use seems to be successful.

The cocoon effect of the car increases the feeling of safety. Cars provide mobile form of isolation. Drivers are able to engage in social distancing while in motion, neither others infecting nor being infected. Yet automobility is a system -more than the car. Every car moves the driver and passengers inside, but others outside are also mobilized in the process. People who work maintaining and repairing traffic signals and infrastructure, at car parks, gas stations or car washes, make automobility possible. Indeed, car washing is crucial for (avoiding) infection! As a driver, should I clean my vehicle myself instead of exposing others to a possible infection? Washing, after all, is probably one of the few moments when others, total strangers, enter your car.

Those who make automobility possible are workers, mostly public transport commuters, whose mobility has been restricted. Car drivers’ safety, in other words, is based on other people’s risks. The coronavirus thus highlights what we already know but tend to overlook: mobility, even in its most seemingly autonomous form, is relational.    

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