Category Archives: Write-ups

Write-up of past events or experiences related to transport geography.

Write up of the RGS-IBG 2017 session, ‘Current and emerging research in transport (1): Understanding Mobility and its Implications’

Sponsored by the Transport Geography Research Group

Wednesday 31st August 2017, 09:00-10:40

Session Organisers: Deborah Mifsud (University of Malta) & Clare Woroniuk (Newcastle University)

This session was organised in conjunction with current and emerging research in transport (2). Both sessions provided a relaxed atmosphere for postgraduate students at any stage of their research to present their work in progress, encouraging the discussion and providing suggestions for future research. The presenters were at different stages of their research.

The main themes of this session were aviation and cycling. Four papers were presented. The first speaker presented a systematic literature review that helped in the understanding of the relationship between urban environments and cycling. This was followed by a study that tackled the flight paths as layers of the three-dimensional urban fabric in terms of urbanisation of airspace above London and the South-East. The third paper focused on the viability of a novel compensation scheme for those people affected by airport operations in order to help the facilitation of aviation growth. The case study for this research was Manchester Airport. Finally, the last paper tackled auto-ethnography, with regard to making London Heathrow Airport a “home” for the presenter. Although there were two main themes, the topics were discussed from various perspectives. All of the papers generated useful discussion with the audience and constructive suggestions were also presented.

Understanding the relationship between local urban environments and cycling: what are the limitations of current academic thinking?

Samuel Nello-Deakin (University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
Marco Brommelstroet (University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

A substantial avenue of recent cycling research has focused on unpacking the role of physical environment, socio-economic and psychological factors in determining the choice to cycle (e.g. Fishman, 2016; Harms, Bertolini, & te Brömmelstroet, 2014). However, some have argued that the challenge is not so much to isolate the effect of each individual factor, but rather to holistically examine “how combinations of different sets of variables work together in different neighbourhoods” (Guinn & Stangl, 2014, p. 121). In this article, we are interested in how two largely different strands of research on urban cycling are meeting this challenge. The first strand comes from the field of transport studies and applies mostly positivist, empirical, and analytical research methods to examine cycling as a largely rational choice of transport mode (e.g. Buehler & Pucher, 2012; Fishman, 2016; Heinen, van Wee, & Maat, 2010). By contrast, the second strand of literature is predominantly qualitative and discursive, and examines cycling as an embodied/social practice (Jungnickel & Aldred, 2014; Latham & Wood, 2015; Spinney, 2009). Building upon the concept of “mobility environments” (Bertolini & Dijst, 2003), we propose to understand cycling (mobility) environments as a complex entity formed by the interplay between the physical environment, the living environment and the imagined environment. This theoretical framework informs a systematic literature review of existing studies with a focus on mapping how the relationship between local urban environments and cycling is assessed, analysed and reported in the two aforementioned strands of literature. The resulting overview of gaps and potential bridges between these two strands can help advance a more holistic understanding of cycling environments. Although this article is focused on cycling, its concern for how we might achieve a more holistic understanding of mobility environments also seems relevant for other transport modes.

Flight paths as layers of the three-dimensional urban fabric: global-local transport flows and the urbanisation of airspace above London and the South East

Evan McDonough (University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg)

While often taken for granted, transport flows, airspace and the urban fabric at ground level are deeply intertwined. Despite recent technological improvements (such as quieter engines and satellite-directed navigation), disturbance from the aircraft noise pollution remains a persistent local spatial conflict. This paper situates the current controversy regarding aircraft noise and the expansion of airport infrastructure in London and the South East within debates in urban geography concerning our conceptualisation of the urban realm, and also links flight paths to an emerging body of research exploring relations between layers of the urban realm. Drawing from empirical evidence related to existing noise issues and the current over concerning pending airport expansion, the extension and concentration of flight paths and airport infrastructure above the built environment is interpreted here as part of the transformation and extension of the urban realm itself, comparable to periurbanisation and the horizontal dispersal of the city, in that aircraft noise pollution is not limited to an airport’s perimeter fence and airport-adjacent communities, but extends across and over the region, and into the global network of flight paths. This paper advocates for a greater understanding of the three-dimensional relationship between increased airspace activity and extended patterns of urbanisation below.

Sustainable Aviation; Assessing the viability of a novel compensation scheme for those worst affected by airport operations to help facilitate aviation growth

Jonathan Keen (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK)
Callum Thomas (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK)

The future growth of the aviation industry is threatened by its environmental impacts at a global and local level. Disturbance caused by aircraft noise is the number one environmental constraint to airport growth and threatens their ability to respond to demand and support sustainable development. There is a general acceptance of the principle of carbon offsets to compensate for CO2 emissions, however, no schemes exist to compensate for the immediate impacts of noise. Following the Airports Commission recommendation, and thereafter, the UK Government’s choice of Heathrow, environmental constraints need to be addressed to allow for sustainable expansion.

This research proposes a novel compensation scheme to provide renewable energy for those households worst affected by aircraft noise. This will be paid for by the polluter; the passengers. Manchester Airport and London Heathrow are used as case studies with a mixture of qualitative and quantitative methodologies applied to ascertain the willingness of the travelling public to pay. Initials results suggest that 76% are willing to pay at Manchester Airport and a survey of industry bodies suggest that the scheme is unlikely to work on a voluntary basis. Further research is being undertaken to ascertain the viability of such a proposed scheme at Heathrow.

Airport as a home. Autoethnography of “home-making” at London Heathrow airport

Veronika Zuskacova (Masaryk University, Czech Republic)

Airports, similarly to malls and motels, are often referred to as a typical example of non-places (Augé 1995) or placeless places (Relph 1979), where “no one is at home, everyone just passes” (Bosteels 2003:223). The uniformity of airports and absence of authentic connections to their surroundings seems to make it impossible for the visitors to identify with them as with full-fledged places. This paper offers a different perspective of an airport inhabitant and reflects author’s personal experience of making London Heathrow Airport her home during the realization of an ethnographic research of arriving passengers. Putting the ethnographic dimension aside, we focus here on the simultaneously happening autoethnography. While sleeping on the benches, moving around with suitcases and trying to have a “normal” life in the airport halls, the author has recorded her own reactions, feelings, and strategies in the form of a personal diary, and photographed the places she temporarily occupied. Nearly uninterrupted stay at Heathrow for a period of 31 days provided a rich empirical material that not only depicts the process of “home-making”, but at the same time sets this process into a specific and in many respects unique environment of an airport as a dynamic, heavily monitored, metastable urban form. In the paper we discuss home as an intensely experienced and intricately negotiated need for privacy and (at least an illusion of) control, a need for belonging to particular inhabited places, and finding one’s own meaning in them. Reaching this level of intimate familiarity with semi-public spaces of Heathrow airport and its everyday life can, we believe, enrich the long-standing interest of transport geography to study airports with a wholly new perspective.


Write up of the RGS-IBG 2017 session: ‘Current and emerging research in transport (2): Travel Behaviour, Accessibility, Equity & Planning’

Sponsored by the Transport Geography Research Group

Wednesday 31st August 2017, 11:10-12:50

Session Organisers: Clare Woroniuk (Newcastle University) & Deborah Mifsud (University of Malta)

Following the first session, which had generated much discussion on the topics of aviation and cycling, in the second session on ‘Current and Emerging Research in Transport’ five highly varied papers were well received. To begin with, a study on the determinants of travel behaviour for older people in Malta was discussed, this included the findings from telephone interviews, with a focus on travel behaviour and travel determinants, analysing how these can contribute to future policy changes in Malta. Secondly an investigation into transport investment and social justice in Beijing was offered, the study aimed to understand the lesser-explored relationship between transport and social justice and determine the influence of transport on social inequity through case studies of the Beijing subway. The third paper in this session focussed on the use of spatial microsimulation to profile rail passengers. Spatial microsimulation can be used to harness the power of big data sets and in this paper, results were presented demonstrating proximity of the customer to a railway station and travel by modal share.  Following this, ‘Fare free public transport’ was presented, this paper explored the different forms of FFPT and discussed three different perspectives to understanding FFPT; neoclassical, sustainable and critical. The final paper in the session discussed airport driven development with a focus on the aerotropolis concept. The study investigated the transferability of the aerotropolis concept between the global north and south, using a case study of Belo Horizonte in the global south and provided an extensive overview of the literature of the topic.

Determinants of Travel Behaviour for Older People in Malta

Deborah Mifsud (University of Malta, Malta)
Maria Attard (University of Malta, Malta)
Stephen Ison (Loughborough University, UK)

Several countries around the world are facing demographic changes which have implications on various sectors of society. One such example is the effect of ageing societies on the transport sector. Transport is essential for people to remain independent and to maintain a good quality of life as they age. Mobility in later life improved significantly with time and this is causing changes in the travel behaviour of older people. Given this, it is essential for transport planners and policy-makers to understand the travel behaviour determinants of older people so as to provide the necessary resources for an independent way of living.

The case study of this research is Malta, a small island state (316km2) in the Mediterranean Sea, where by the end of 2014 people over the age of 60 years represented 25 per cent of the total population (429,344 people). This showed a significant increase from the previous census in 2005 where the older population represented just 19 per cent of the population.
Despite such increase, mobility in later life is not yet included in transport policy in Malta. Thus, the aim of this study is to analyse the travel behaviour of Maltese older people and understand the main determinants for such behaviour. This will help to make recommendations for more independent mobility in later life. Travel behaviour is primarily analysed from four main perspectives: travel purposes and patterns, modal choice, travel frequency and travel time. The determinants of travel behaviour are eventually discussed through personal, social and environmental factors. Personal factors relate to socio-demographic and health characteristics as well as access to transport services. Social factors refer primarily to the participation of older people in different social activities, whilst environmental factors refer to the district where older people live and the distance to the nearest bus stop.
Transport planners and policy-makers need to consider the demographic dynamics in Malta in their decisions. So, this study will be an essential guide to help them understand the underlying motivations for how older people move and travel.

Transport Investment and Social Justice in Beijing, China

Mengqiu Cao (University College London, UK)
Robin Hickman (University College London, UK)

In the transport context, social justice has not previously been treated as a significant issue by most researchers, partly because the relationship between transport and social justice has not been fully understood. Social justice in itself is a difficult term to define; less still quantifying the contribution that transport investment might make to improving social justice.

From a starting point of interest in social justice issues related to transport and mobility, researchers have investigated the relationship between transport and social exclusion issues, focusing on aspects such as access to opportunities, income, reduced mobility, class, age, ethnicity, gender, social exclusion, travel poverty, and unequal accessibility. The wider social and economic impacts of social exclusion in the transport context have primarily centred on addressing the imbalance in the distributional effects of transport accessibility. This research investigates and explores the relation between transport and social inequity, and its wider impacts on neighbourhoods, in relation to large transport infrastructure investment projects. Three stations have been selected as the case study on the Beijing subway line 1 and its extension to the Batong line, namely Guomao, Sihui and Tuqiao. Nussbaum’s ten central human capabilities approach is adapted as a theoretical framework and applied within the case study, assessing how functionings, capabilities, freedoms and choices might differ according to geographical context.

The Use of Spatial Microsimulation to Profile Railways Passengers

Eusebio Odiari (University of Leeds, UK)
Mark Birkin (University of Leeds, UK)
Susan Grant-Muller (University of Leeds, UK)
Nick Malleson (University of Leeds, UK)

Novel consumer datasets called ‘big data’ tend have comprehensive specific coverage, but are not representative of the entire population. The detailed heterogeneity in these datasets can be better harnessed by integrating with other relevant datasets from measured stated surveys which are designed to be random samples representative of the population. Spatial micro-simulation is an established strategy that can be used to adjust ‘big data’ for consistency with survey data and established theory. Here we present the spatial microsimulation methodology concisely and in an accessible way, highlighting precautions in practical application, advantages associated with the different strategies, and demonstrate application in simulating a representative population of railway passengers, by combining information on all rail tickets sold in the UK, with the 2011 Census commute to work data and a National Rail Travel Survey. This process is particularly useful in creating a representative population of railways passengers that can be fed through the rail network to construct a space-time picture of passenger demand and its sensitivity to endogenous and exogenous drivers of mobility. It is hoped that the policy implication would be more equitable strategies for revenue sharing among network operators, and the creation of a framework for validating ticketing data as a reference dataset for the rail industry.

More than just riding without a ticket? Defining, mapping and exploring the policy of fare-free public transport

Wojciech Kębłowski (Université libre de Bruxelles, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium)

While the policy and practice of abolishing fares in public transport (PT)—dubbed “fare-free public transport” (FFPT)—exists in nearly 100 cities and towns worldwide, it appears to be disregarded by a large share of mobility scholars and practitioners alike. Looking at FFPT primarily through the lens of utility, efficiency and economic growth, most transport engineers argue it is an instrument that may financially destabilise PT networks and induce ‘irrational’ travel behaviour. Sustainable transport scholars further claim that FFPT has limited capacity in terms of increasing the quality of PT, and hence its appeal to car users. Outside the discipline of transport, researchers and activists have attempted to decolonise the largely de-politicised and technocratic discourse about FFPT by highlighting its social and political dimension.

However, a comprehensive overview of FFPT policies and practices is still lacking. This paper intends to provide such a review. Its first objective is to enhance conceptual clarity, exploring what FFPT is by providing its definition and discussing its different forms. The paper further examines where FFPT exists by studying its diffusion and mapping the geography of ticket-free practices. The paper then discusses why according to main arguments and positions regarding FFPT it may—or may not—be considered as a feasible transport policy. Furthermore—drawing on multi-site fieldwork on FFPT practices in Aubagne (France), Chengdu (China), Tallinn (Estonia), and Żory (Poland), the paper proposes that albeit anchored in the field of transport, FFPT should be examined in the context of its relationship with urban development writ large. This entail looking beyond the potential of FFPT to alter mobility patterns, and engaging in a fundamental, critical inquiry about its relationship with processes and actors of the social production of urban space, as well as its capacity to transform local power relations.

Aerotropolis concept: transferability from the Global North to the Global South

Anna Carolina Correa Pereira (University of Leeds, UK)
Paul Timms (University of Leeds, UK)
David Milne (University of Leeds, UK)

According to Kasarda (2011), the term Aerotropolis has spread all over the world as an example of a new planning framework to promote a modern urban design which impacts on land use and transport planning. However, there is a gap in the literature as to the exact characteristics of an aerotropolis and how transferable this concept is from the Global North (GN) to the Global South (GS) airports (e.g. from North America and Europe to South America). This research therefore aims to examine this issue with a focus on land use and transport planning by analysing airport planning documents to identify whether and how the aerotropolis concept is integrated. The content of the planning documents will be coded using NVivo Software to understand how the aerotropolis concept is presented and whether there are similarities in transport and urban policies from GN to GS airports. By analysing the similarities and differences in the aerotropolis concept in different airports as well as in transport and urban planning in terms of their visions for the future, sustainable development and economic growth it is hoped that this concept can be transferred to other airports globally. By gaining a better understanding of the aerotropolis concept and its transferability it is hoped that planners and policy makers will be better able to formulate and elaborate their own plans.

‘On demand: Cultural economies of access and ownership’ (RGS-IBG Session write up)

This write up by Brendan Doody (University of Cambridge) and Lizzie Richardson (Durham University) is about the TGRG sponsored session ‘On demand: Cultural economies of access and ownership’ which took place at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2016.

The session ‘On demand: Cultural economies of access and ownership’ was organised by Brendan Doody (University of Cambridge) and Lizzie Richardson (Durham University). This theoretically and empirically diverse session was well attended and attracted an equally varied audience which included social, cultural, environmental, economic and transport geographers. This diversity is reflective of the way in which the ‘sharing’, ‘collaborative’, ‘gig’ or ‘access’ economy is challenging, renegotiating and reworking the ways in which resources are consumed and used across various sectors. In this ‘post-ownership’ story, citizen-consumers are increasingly paying to access goods and services ‘on-demand’, which may be ‘shared’ with other users.

The original call for papers encouraged participants to question and complicate the narrative of ‘post-ownership’ to describe trends associated with the sharing economy. More specifically, it encouraged participants to reflect on three related concerns:

  1. To what extent does access query normative understandings of, and practices associated with, ownership?
  2. What are the implications for access for the qualities and/or quantities of resource usage?
  3. How are emotional and ethical attachments realised through everyday negotiations of access and flexibilities of demand?

Each of the five speakers explored one or more of these concerns drawing on different empirical and conceptual resources.

Brendan Doody and Lizzie Richardson’s paper ‘The urban life of demand’ employed the notion of demand as a way of thinking about the changing nature and intensities of life in the city. Drawing on a range of examples they examined four aspects of experience associated with the city ‘on-demand’: 1) circulation; 2) logistics; 3) authenticity; and 4) familiarity. In the case of familiarity, they noted how as many of these platforms become part of the mundane urban landscape they are creating both senses of connection and disconnection in the city. For example, the growth of and universality of platforms such as Uber provide users with familiar senses and experiences of movement even in cities they have only just arrived in. Meanwhile platforms such as Airbnb and Vrumi where individuals hire rooms or people’s houses either for accommodation or workspaces are rendering once private havens somewhat unfamiliar as users co-occupy these spaces. Overall, the aim of the paper was to provide a preliminary sketch of the city ‘on-demand’ as a way of opening up more debate and discussion.

Robyn Dowling (University of Sydney) and Jennifer Kent’s (University of Sydney) paper explored ‘What does it mean to share a car?’ Drawing on interviews conducted in Sydney, Australia and their earlier work they used a social practice lens to examine meanings, materialities and skills involved in private car-sharing. Interestingly, they noted that a significant attraction of these services for some participants is that a number of parking spaces in central Sydney have been allocated exclusively for these vehicles. Thus using these schemes reflects an unwillingness to share public parking infrastructure. Moreover, these shared vehicles become users own personal spaces and reflecting this people do not want to know who has been in the car before them. Previous users often leave, however, various material traces (i.e., radio station, seat position, rubbish) and thus Dowling and Kent stressed the skills or ‘work’ involved in dealing with these issues. Their paper in this way questioned whether private car-sharing enterprises should be understood simply as forms of collaborative consumption as they also entail varying degrees of exclusivity.

Benedikt Schmid’s (University of Luxembourg) paper ‘Diverse economic organizations: Logics, access and ownership’ drew on ethnographic fieldwork conducted at Hobbyhimmel, an open workshop based in Stuttgart, Germany. For a small fee this non-profit organisation offers participants interested in crafts, art, repair, recycling and upcycling the opportunity to access different work spaces which are set-up with a range of equipment, appliance and tools and other forms of support (e.g., instructions, courses and encouragement). Drawing on theories of practice and institutional logics, Schmid explored the diverse materials, meanings, skills and logics underpinning these alternative economic practices highlighting the ways in which they both challenge and reproduce more traditional economic practices.

Gareth Powells  (Newcastle University) paper interrogated: ‘The shared grid: Materially connected demands and the new deals for energy’. He drew particular attention to the challenge that managing the late afternoon/evening peak (1600-2000) in electricity use presents for energy suppliers in the UK. In the past this peak has been managed on the supply side by reinforcing electricity network. More recently there has been growing political and commercial interest in managing demand as the increased range and diversity of sources of electricity generation will make it less predictable and controllable. Drawing on preliminary research in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK, Powells explored customers’ views on shifting from unit to service-based agreements with their energy company. Under this model, customers would potentially pay for services such as comfort (i.e., a home heated to 18-22 degrees) rather than the amount of energy they use and could be rewarded for flexibility when there is load limited supply. The paper is illustrative accordingly of how the UK energy sector is gradually moving away from its traditional logic of efficiency to one of sufficiency.

Lizzie Richardson’s (Durham University) paper ‘Consuming the workplace: Demand and work representation’ considered some of the connections between demand and work that are opened up by practices of ‘mobile working’ afforded by digital technologies. Drawing on ongoing research funded by the RGS-IBG and now the Leverhulme Trust, the paper outlined the apparently contradictory trend in which the form of work – its organisational structure- tends towards increased labour market flexibility/insecurity (e.g., ‘gig economy’ jobs), whilst the substance of work – individual working activity – can tend towards a greater depth and breadth of skills (e.g., the individual flexibility seen in co-working offices).

The session as a whole demonstrated the ways in which geographers can help to question and interrogate extent to which access-based models help to challenge normative understandings of, and practices associated with, ownership, the qualities and/or quantities of resource usage and the emotional and ethical attachments realised through everyday negotiations of access and flexibilities of demand.

GIS for Transport Applications workshop

The TGRG-sponsored ‘GIS for Transport Applications’ workshop took place in Leeds earlier this month. It was was the most popular of all workshops put on as part of the GIS Research UK (#GISRUK) conference. The aim was simple: to showcase and develop the growing expertise of Geographical Information Systems within the Transport Community.

Read below to hear about this event and see links to the free online tutorials developed for it.

Winning map from the ‘GIS4TA’ workshop

Continue reading GIS for Transport Applications workshop

‘Urban and suburban geographies of ageing’

This write up by  Debbie Lager (University of Groningen) and Chiara Negrini (Kingston University) is about the ‘Urban and suburban geographies of ageing’ at the recent conference. The session was sponsored by the Urban Geography Research Group (UGRG) and the Geographies of Health Research Group (GHRG) but many of the presentations and areas of discussion are of particular interest to transport geographers interested in mobility and ageing.

The ‘Urban and suburban geographies of ageing’ double session was sponsored by the Urban Geography Research Group and the Geographies of Health Research Group. It was organised by Debbie Lager, Bettina van Hoven (both University of Groningen), Chiara Negrini (Kingston University) and Tim Schwanen (Oxford University). Both slots were well attended and marked a renewed engagement among geographers with the different socio-spatial configurations and inequalities of later life. The session covered a wide range of topics. The first slot brought together geographers engaged with mobilities and immobilities in old age. In particular, it looked at the transport dimension and the experiences of older people in navigating the outdoor environment. The papers in this slot discussed the meaning and accessibility of suburban and retail environments for older people, conflicting discourses around mobility scooters, urban design and older people’s engagement in cycling activities, the experiences of going outdoors after a recent fall and the challenges of suburban ageing. The second slot discussed a variety of issues around (minority) older adults (i.e., ethnicity and sexual orientation) and urban design, in particular housing and spatial distributions of older populations. Through different theoretical and methodological approaches, the papers in this slot highlighted the diversity in the ageing population’s social and spatial practices.


The TGRG and Developing Areas Research Group (DARG) jointly hosted a three-part session at the RGS-IBG annual conference on mobilities and livelihoods in low income country urban contexts. While this is the first collaborative session between these two research groups, at least in recent years, the wide-ranging discussion generated by the 13 papers presented indicates the value of bringing together researchers whose approach and prime focus may differ, but whose common concern is to understand and contribute towards improving the lives of marginalised residents of rapidly developing urban areas. This write-up, by TGRG chair Karen Lucas, provides detail on each of the 13 talks.