Mobility is more than getting from A to B?

Modern definitions of mobility are choosing to break historic constraints which limited mobility as the ability to travel from A to B. Our modern understanding of mobility as a fundamental freedom which can affect life chances has extended our insight into mobility as more far reaching than just physical movement. Where environments are accessible, individuals can use their agency and choose whether to fully express their mobility potential.

• Mobility is a fundamental freedom, whether we choose to express it or not.

• There is a difference between mobility potential and mobility use and therefore, mobility does not have to be fully expressed, particularly in accessible environments.

• Mobility is about freedom; accessibility is about meeting needs.

• Historic definitions of mobility as the ability of individuals to travel between A and B has understated its strength and importance.

The strength and importance of mobility has been understated in the past due to its restricted definition purely as the ability of individuals to travel from A to B. This myopic view of mobility clouds the important ways in which mobility contributes to physical and mental well-being, to personality and to social identity. Let us therefore extend the scope to a ‘Mind-sets’ conception of mobility.

Mobility is a fundamental freedom – it is one of the most fundamental freedoms we have; whether we choose to use it or not. As a result, mobility plays an important role in defining social status and power relationships between individuals, communities and countries. It defines the ability people have to move about in time and space to satisfy their activity needs; and thus plays an important role in influencing their life chances. It influences the possibility and course of personal relationships and social interaction. It dominates conversation; as people reflect on the wider experiences they have had from increased mobility and of the travel experience itself. It is usual when two people meet for the first time that some comments are made to establish the relative mobility level (and thus expected respect) of each person. It is an important defining element in a person’s self-esteem and self-achievement through the course of their lives; and an important factor defining their projected personality to others.

In summary, mobility is a central feature, not only of our revealed behaviour, but of our identity; both as we feel it and how others see it. It also explains why measures from whatever source, to restrict mobility freedoms meet with the strongest opposition.

Mobility is about freedom. Accessibility is about meeting needs. The two factors are frequently mixed and misinterpreted. In highly mobile dependent societies such as in Europe, mobility has a large influence on access. However, it is perfectly possible to have highly mobile people living, for the most part, local accessible lives. Also to have people with low mobility suffering the disadvantages of the need to access distant activities with limited means. In this way, mobility can have diverse impacts within society. People’s identities, and the growing gap between those who have high mobility, and those who have little, are becoming threatened by the power of the mobility explosion: leading to defensive actions in the form of xenophobic types of behaviour and increasing community tension in the neighbourhoods of many European cities.

While mobility freedoms bring to individuals greater feelings of control and social advantage, it is important to underline that, as stated above, mobility does not have to be fully expressed; particularly in accessible environments – there is a difference between mobility potential and mobility use. In this context, it is important to remember that most societies do not support the unlimited expression of freedoms; but the practice of moderation and self-control – relegating freedom to the background. This feature underpins most of current mobility policy. Psycho-analysts have found that levels of ‘excessive freedom’ can be identified where freedom leads to boredom, in its most positive form; and to disorders and addiction in its worst form. Sigmund Freud underlined the importance of social norms in placing ‘an innate internal break on pleasure’ (Freud, 1920).

Mobility is increasingly becoming a fundamental aspect defining the character and lifestyles of Europeans, changing the diversity of European culture


To better understand the value of mobility in people’s lives, you need to delve deeper than an examination of the trips they make. This insight has underlined that the freedom, level and type of mobility have important influences in both the physical and mental well-being of individuals and communities, not solely reflected in their trip patterns.

  • Freud, S (1920). Beyond the pleasure principle (1975 edition). Norton, New York

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