Unpacking Promises: Dominant Smart Mobility Narratives in the Netherlands

Unpacking Promises: Dominant Smart Mobility Narratives in the Netherlands


Tanja N. Manders, Eindhoven University of Technology


By analyzing dominant smart mobility narratives, this paper aims to unpack and critically reflect on its promises in the Netherlands, since smart mobility receives increasing attention as a solution for greater mobility challenges.


Smart mobility, the convergence of the mobility sector with information and communication technologies, is recently seen as the big promise for (auto)mobility challenges. Also in the Netherlands there exists a strong believe in the benefits of smart mobility as the Minister of Transport claims she wishes to be “frontrunner in the field of smart mobility”. Various scholars however warn about the short-sighted character of smart mobility as its pragmatic and technological focus mainly leads to optimizations and immediate fixes. More comprehensive goals, such as sustainability and quality of life are therefore often being downplayed.

These warnings underline the importance of circumspection about the great promises of smart mobility, since some problems receive less attention or proposed solutions might on the long-term not suffice. This paper aims to provide this circumspection by unpacking smart mobility promises for the case of the Netherlands. It thereby focuses on practice-based experiments since these form potential solutions for (auto)mobility challenges. We draw on theory of Transition Studies to understand when such changes take place and complement this with theory of narratives to understand why certain problems are articulated and coupled with certain solutions.

Five narratives were found which focus on the informed traveller, efficient traffic flows, the value of data, optimal use of existing transport, and re-conceptualization of the role of the car. When considering all narratives new insights evolve. They all propose ICT solutions for (auto)mobility challenges as it is expected these can contribute to optimal use of respectively, travel information, available road capacity, data, existing fleet and available modes, and the new form of the car itself. The narratives give insight in the intimate coupling of articulated problems and the proposed solutions. Most narratives, especially on smart traveller, smart traffic and smart data focus on congestion problems, traffic safety and inefficiencies that mostly form functional problems within the dominant socio- technical system. The narratives on smart use and smart concepts try to re-conceptualize the role of the car.

However, looking at the number of experiments, smart mobility presents in majority narratives leading to better use of existing infrastructures and existing cars. Smart Mobility looks new, and sounds cost-effective and business-friendly. Governments like these narratives, but no clarification is offered on magnitudes of the contributions of smart mobility to the greater societal challenges, framed in the routes towards sustainable mobility. Moreover, although per car better resource consumption and less energy use could be created, growth in the number of cars could still lead to growing burdens on the environment. Smart Mobility practices and theory do not seem to offer many narratives (only some marginal) in this respect. Unpacking smart mobility’s promises reveals its limited scope and orientations which supports the call for careful evaluation on smart mobility developments.


Association for European Transport