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Sustainable Mobility, Affordable Cities: How do workplace sustainability plans shape transport affordability in Brussels and Sofia?

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What do we really know about the impact of workplace sustainable mobility planning?

There is a growing gap between research focusing on the environmental impact of urban mobility and studies on transport’s role in social inclusion. An EU-funded project is bringing together these two rarely combined dimensions of transport research.

Transport and Mobility
Society

Introducing the SuMAC (Sustainable Mobility, Affordable Cities) project, Dr Anna Plyushteva, Marie Skłodowska-Curie postdoctoral fellow and principal investigator, explains: “The project was designed to examine workplace mobility planning in small and medium-sized companies whose activities are not office-based.” This included tourism, hospitality and catering workplaces in Brussels, Belgium and Sofia, Bulgaria. Workplace mobility plans are usually formal, written strategies that employers put in place to reduce the environmental and economic costs of their employees’ journey to work. “Such plans have received a lot of attention, as it is hoped that they will contribute towards more sustainable mobility in cities,” notes Dr Plyushteva. However, research to date has primarily examined processes of implementing sustainable mobility plans in large white-collar organisations, such as universities, local government and large private sector companies. “With the SuMAC project, I wanted to understand a different kind of workplace mobility planning – the one that happens in an ad hoc and informal manner in smaller companies, which simply don’t have the financial and organisational resources to put in place formal strategies,” reports Dr Plyushteva. The focus of the project was therefore on how employees in the tourism and hospitality sector organise their commutes, and the ways in which employers play a role in this process. “I was especially interested in the fact that most people who work in tourism and hospitality don’t have ‘typical’ 9-to-5 commutes, and I also wanted to find out whether employers’ mobility-related measures affect the affordability of the commute for the employees.”

Changing how we view sustainable mobility planning

The project has made an important contribution to the way sustainable mobility planning is conceived, both in the scholarly debate and in policymaking. A key part of the project has been drawing attention to the huge diversity of commuting experiences, in the two case study cities, Brussels and Sofia, but also more broadly. “More often than not, decision-makers, transport planners and other stakeholders, when discussing the journey to work, picture the morning rush hour and lots of people in suits crammed into a metro train carriage,” says Dr Plyushteva. The SuMAC project opened up the sustainable commuting conversation to other kinds of experiences, particularly those of people who commute at night, and also of employees who face difficulties meeting the cost of commuting. Another result of the project was to collect data on the kind of workplace mobility planning that is generally overlooked, as researchers tend to focus on written corporate strategies and formal measures. “The data I collected paints a more nuanced picture of how workplaces organise commutes through occasional and informal measures,” the fellow notes. This includes co-workers giving each other lifts even when no formal carpooling system is in place, and other examples of efforts to make the commute safer, more affordable, or simply easier and more enjoyable. Dr Plyushteva adds: “I am communicating the results of the project in different forms, through academic journal papers, conference presentations and collaborations with local stakeholders in Sofia. I am moving to a new role at the Transport Studies Unit at the University of Oxford, where, among others, I will to continue researching the links between workplace relations and commuting practices.”

Keywords

SuMAC, sustainable mobility, affordable mobility, workplace mobility planning, tourism, hospitality, commuting, Brussels, Sofia, urban mobility, social inclusion

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