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Mobility is Life-Enhancing

More than 10 years ago, sociologists and others sought to extend the concept of mobility, as a basic freedom for individuals to be able to go anywhere at any time, to one that can also encompass social integration (Flamm and Kaufmann, 2006). Such a concern had arisen from the realization that there are substantial differences in freedoms between individuals, and that these differences relate to the ability to organize everyday life given the spatial and temporal distribution of services and facilities. Motility is operationalized through linking three core concepts:

  1. The access rights for each individual in terms of accessibility to opportunities and what is available;
  2. Their aptitudes for mobilities: these are the competences that cover the individual’s skills, knowledge and general abilities;
  3. The cognitive appropriation of the available services: this is an evaluative element that relates to the functional and symbolic suitability of opportunities.

Together these three concepts link in with an individual’s capacity to be mobile (their motility) and hence their freedoms. One of the few examples that combines different approaches to the analysis of wellbeing in the transport sector is Florencia Rodriguez Touron’s (2016) study which brings together the psychological concepts of flourishing as part of the eudaimonic approach with those of motility, where a more holistic approach to mobility is advocated. Using a survey carried out in different communities in urban Buenos Aires, a motility scale was constructed, where self-reported motility levels were calculated and then related to the Flourishing Scale. From the positive correlations established it can be interpreted that higher levels of mobility are linked positively with flourishing, and this has strong implications for public policy, and the means of improving opportunities for self-development.

In this study motility was broken down into 8 elements, and scored by the 805 respondents in the four communities in Buenos Aires on a 1–5 point scale, with averages being taken across each community and summed to give a ‘general score’. The eight elements of motility used were: transport availability; travel time; access to activities; time poverty; cognition of network; reliability; safety; and cost. A similar process was followed to establish the Flourishing Scale with the same 8 items as identified by Diener et al. (2010) and listed in the previous section. The most interesting results relate to the positive links found between motility and flourishing, as obtained from the self-reported questionnaires. The variables used have mainly concentrated on the issues about access rights rather than appropriation (only one of the 8 measures used), and the competence aspects were only captured indirectly through the socio-economic variables. Here, disability featured strongly with gender3 (male) and age (elderly) as second order variables that limited levels of mobility. The use of the Flourishing Scale is informative as it allowed a greater understanding of the means by which mobility can promote an individual’s capabilities, and how these can in turn be realized. An additional point of interest was that a one point increase in motility resulted in an increase in flourishing of 0.38 (significant at the 99 per cent level). As Rodriguez Touron (2016) concludes:

this study has demonstrated that where people live, taking into account the differences in transport infrastructure and income, affects their motility, which in turn affects their eudaimonic wellbeing. In other words, the unequal distribution of mobility capital has an impact on the people’s possibilities for self-development. (p. 25)

There seem to be two fundamental limitations that relate to the operationalization of both motility and eudaimonic measures of wellbeing when transport is the focus. One is the difficulty of establishing a suitable scale that can be used to cover all three elements of motility, and the second concerns the means by which individual records can be presented so that the richness and variation in the data are not lost through aggregation. However, the limited evidence presented here does suggest that motility and eudaimonic wellbeing are positively correlated.

Taking these debates further, Shliselberg and Givoni (2018) have suggested evaluating mobility as a positive (or life-enhancing) activity that directly contributes to wellbeing through increasing autonomy and freedom of choice. They use the concept of mobility capital that places mobility along with other forms of human, social, economic and cultural capital as contributing to an individual’s overall ability to flourish. In this sense travel has a positive contribution to make to wellbeing and quality of life, through greater freedom, and that increased inequality reduces the potential for enhancing mobility capital. This in turn may impact on the ability of individuals to participate fully in the other forms of capital that contribute to eudaimonic wellbeing.