ICT will define future mobility

Will physical travel be replaced with virtual contacts? Will smartphones and computers replace travel?  Maybe there is no more need for so much travel. Will congestion disappear and will parking places in city centres be easily available?
How can we adjust our travel decision models to reflect these changes?
What are the implications for the substitution (or complementarity) of physical trips by virtual trips?

• The expectations of reducing travel through the use of virtual mechanisms were not met. Aggregate travel is increasing due to stimulation of travel by ICT use.

• If shared modes are utilities, then they should be subject to Public Service Requirements.

• The division between the two is becoming increasingly blurred and we need to understand the whole picture if we are to assess mobility futures.

• Mobility visions can no longer be separated into ‘physical trips’ and ‘virtual trips through the internet and other communication media’.

The past decade has witnessed rapid communication developments which have had major social impacts. Telecommunication technologies represent alternative mechanisms to physical travel. A popular media scenario describes how people will work from home in ‘tele-offices’, linked by computer and telecommunications, where they ‘telecommute’ and do their ‘teleshopping,’ etc. Teleconferencing, teleworking, e-health and e-learning were researched while trying to discover how they affect travel behaviour. But research showed that the prospect of a (partial) demise of transportation was premature. A complementarity relationship has emerged where increasing importance of telecommunications contacts may in fact mean that transportation needs and services will grow in importance as well.  People who use telecommunication services have more contacts and they do travel more and for more distant destinations to convert those contacts into face-to-face socialising.

The use of the new Information and Communication Technologies accelerated the shift from social groups that were defined through a specific location (e.g. residential neighbourhoods or work places) to individually-based social networks.

 This shift, coined by Wellman (2002) the “Networked Individualism”, is a stage in which mobile, high-speed telecoms allow for personalised networks and “person-to-person” social ties. These new social networks are associated with several changes, when comparing to the past 50 years, such as (Ling, 2004; Sheller and Urry, 2006):

  • Wider spatial distribution of social networks members than in the past;
  • Typical social networks are less coherent, i.e. fewer people share multiple affiliations today than in the past;
  • The memberships overlap less in spatial terms, i.e. vis-à-vis their residential locations and activity spaces;
  • People have a larger set of active contacts today than in the past;
  • The contacts are spread across more social networks than in the past.

At the same time, rapid transport network systems enable long-distance mobility and multi-locality to develop. These mobility practices depend on residential biographies, social and familial anchorages and appear to concern more and more people. The appearance of virtual social networks, such as Facebook, and the changes of working patterns (home/ hub based, shorter working week days) have resulted in the intertwining of leisure activities with other daily routines. 

All of the above have an impact on travel behaviour and mobility within the urban space.  The building and maintenance of social capital (in the sense of human interaction in daily life) involves physical travel but also technology-mediated contact (Axhausen, 2008).

Travel behaviour has traditionally dealt with the physical movement of persons outside their reference location (usually home) to perform diverse activities. However, following the developments in telecommunication technologies, travel behaviour in the last decades reflects a wider definition, conforming to a new notion of mobility, which includes not only the physical mobility of persons but also the physical movement of objects, and the imaginative and virtual travel of persons using various telecommunication means (Urry, 2000).


  • Axhausen, K. W. 2008. Social networks, mobility biographies, and travel: Survey challenges. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 35: 981-996.
  • Ling, R. 2004. The Mobile Connection: The Cell Phone’s Impact on Society, New York: Morgan Kaufmann.
  • Sheller, M.& Urry, J. 2006. The new mobilities paradigm. Environment and Planning A 38: 207-226.
  • Urry, J. (2000). Sociology beyond societies: Mobilities for the 21st century. Roudedge, London.
  • Wellman B., (2002) Little Boxes, Glocalization, and Networked Individualism, pp.10-25, in: Revised Papers from the Second Kyoto Workshop on Digital Cities II, Computational and Sociological Approaches, ed. M. Tanabe, P.Van den Besselaar, T. Ishida, Springer-Verlag, London

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