Austrian Mobility Labs: Sustainable Urban Mobility? Go for it!
What is a mobility lab?
Austrian Mobility Labs build on ideas and methods associated with the concepts of "living labs" and "real-world laboratories". Both living labs and real-world laboratories came into being because in the past, numerous promising solutions - not only in the field of mobility - were developed, but in too many cases disappeared into drawers. Thus, many innovations never met people and their actual needs. Uwe Schneidewind, a sustainability researcher who coined the term "real-world laboratory", puts it this way:
A real-world laboratory refers to a social context in which researchers conduct interventions in the sense of ‘real experiments’ in order to learn about social dynamics and processes. The idea of the real-world laboratory transfers the concept of laboratory in the natural sciences to the analysis of social and political processes.
Accordingly, Austrian Mobility Labs support research & development to maximize their potential in a real-world setting. How is this done? With science and practice working together at eye level. Sometimes just brainstorming. Sometimes, people with different backgrounds improve innovations together and finally test if their solution can pass the practical test in everyday situations. At its core, they are a platform for people to work together to let a more transport mobility system become a reality.
What kind of service do Austrian Mobility Labs provide?
Bringing together people from different backgrounds - from technology developers and urban planners to residents of a city – requires serious preparation. It takes time and resources to establish a common ground so people can work on a shared target. The key services of Austrian Mobility Labs are:
- They provide a cooperative setting that enables exchange between different actors.
- They provide a dedicated research infrastructure to develop the mobility of the future.
- They are test environments, in which piloting and optimization can take place under real-world conditions.
- They bring innovations in contact with future users and decision-makers.
How does Austria benefit from mobility labs?
The Austrian Federal Ministry for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology (BMK) supports mobility labs in order to increase the effectiveness and acceptance of research and innovation projects. The foundation was laid in 2014, when six mobility labs went operational.
The challenges in mobility require a change in our mobility behaviour to enable sustainability and climate protection. The scope of research increases, and it is a precondition for successful implementation that solutions are the result of diverse perspectives. Mobility labs are platforms where this can happen at eye level.
The diversity of Austrian Mobility Labs
Currently, there are four "Urban Mobility Labs" (UML) located in three regions - Vienna, Salzburg and the central region of Upper Austria. They have on-site expertise and know about local or regional challenges. Like laboratories in the natural sciences, they thrive on the creativity and inspiration that arise when many people work together on a goal.
The aspern.mobil LAB is located in Vienna's Seestadt and develops sustainable mobility solutions together with the residents of one of Europe's largest urban development areas. The thinkport VIENNA is part of Hafen Wien and close to the hot topics in the field of logistics. Mobi.Lab works in the central region of Upper Austria (Linz-Steyr-Wels). Its focus lies on traffic problems induced by commercial transport. The special topography and location of Salzburg on the border to Germany leads to traffic problems, the mobility lab zukunftswege.at addresses.
Since 2018, the Centre for Mobility Change is part of the Austrian Mobility Lab initiative. Its focus lies on the sustainable change of mobility behaviour in the digital age. It has no specific location and thus aims at cities and municipalities throughout Austria, especially in rural areas and Alpine regions with a focus on tourism mobility.
Emergence of the Mobility Lab Initiative
With the Mobility Lab Initiative, the Austrian Federal Ministry for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology (BMK) has launched a new initiative within the framework of the Mobilität der Zukunft (MdZ) program and initiated the establishment and operation of mobility labs. The exploratory phase, launched in 2014, marked the start and created a comprehensive knowledge pool. In a second phase, from 2017 to 2021, six mobility labs were funded.
The tenure of the mobility labs in the second phase ended in 2021. Building on the external impact assessment of the mobility labs conducted in 2020, the third phase of mobility labs was tendered in spring 2021. Four urban mobility labs have been continued and developed since then.
From 2020 on, the "Cooperation and Exchange Platform of Mobility Labs Austria", fosters learning and exchange between the Mobility Labs Austria, realized with the support of AustriaTech. Through this process, synergies between the mobility labs are utilized and competencies on experimental environments in the mobility context are continuously expanded.