resilient & inclusive public transport

The role of Living Labs in participatory transport planning

Reflections from our sessions at the 2023 RGS-IBG Conference

The RGS-IBG Conference is an annual highlight for many members of the CARIN-PT project. This year, four of our members (Tauri Tuvikene, Freke Caset, Fitwi Wolday and Tanu Priya Uteng) teamed up and organised a double session on ‘Citizen participation and transport planning’, in which a particular appeal was made for contributions focusing on living lab approaches from a strong social justice perspective.

We ultimately hosted ten presentations, both online and onsite in the Royal Geographical Society building (28 – 30 August 2023):  

  • Co-creating accessible futures through New Mobility Services (Nikolas Thomopoulos)
  • Embedding Engagement in Maastricht Mobility ULLs (Denver Vale Nixon) 
  • Equitable urban living labs: including vulnerable groups in co-creation processes (Lluis Martinez)
  • Navigating citizen participation in policy labs: public actor views on the role of citizens in the planning of a sustainable and just mobility future (Malin Henriksson)
  • Virtual Urban Living Labs as a practical tool for citizen and stakeholder engagement in urban mobility intervention (Karyn Scerri)
  • Exploring Approaches to Include Diverse Voices in Transportation Planning in Texas (Anne Elizabeth Nordberg)
  • Citizen involvement and sustainable mobility hubs: transferring urban planning and design citizen involvement experiences in the context of traffic and mobility planning and design (Andrea Victoria Hernandez Buen)
  • Co-producing urban transport policy with communities, a route to decarbonise transport (Sara Hassan)
  • Complaint as Method: The Blocked Feedback Loop in UK Bus Services? (Ka-Hin Tsang)
  • Assembling diverse viewpoints in defining and designing inclusive solutions for public transport (Fitwi Wolday)

While each presentation had a particular scope, many presenters critically questioned how to achieve a meaningful involvement of social groups in vulnerable conditions in the participatory approach. Inclusion is a way to provide equity in access, but it too often remains an open question how to ensure that participation also finds its way in actual planning practices. ‘Success’ often involves interference of public authorities and should avoid top-down agenda setting but it is critical to consider who actually initiates the discussion. 

 

Living labs are about experimentation, moving thus beyond – if not disrupt – the day to day workings of government. Living labs could be virtual but are still best if they have some activities in actual physical space. One of the ways could be the development of short-term experiments which themselves are potential research tools. 

 

Various open questions remained. For instance, how to integrate qualitative aspects into modelling, prevalent in transport planning approaches. Another open question revolved around the best ways to describe those who are actually participating in living labs. Should they be referred to as users, citizens, residents or the public? Or are they rather co-creators? Who constitutes “the public” is a central question to any project working with living labs or intending to use participatory formats.