Dr Agnieszka Szmelter - Jarosz from the Faculty of Economics: We still find it hard to part with the car. On the mobility patterns of Poles in the series 'Young scientists of UG'

Fot. Pixabay.

In Poland, the so-called car culture is very strong. What is more, the level of our habituation to the car is constantly growing. And although we are increasingly willing to use alternative means of transport, micromobility in our country is only in its infancy. I talk with dr Agnieszka Szmelter-Jarosz from the Faculty of Economics about what we most like to travel with on a daily basis and why.

Elżbieta Michalak-Witkowska: - You are researching the mobility patterns of Poles. Are we talking about the whole of Poland or a selected region?

Dr Agnieszka Szmelter - Jarosz: - So far I have mainly focused on Poland, now that I am doing the NCN Sonata research project I am focusing more on Europe, especially Central and Eastern Europe. Very little research in this region relates to the formation of mobility patterns.

- How did you conduct your research?

- Mainly in the form of surveys and interviews, less often my own observations. I tried to investigate the extent to which Poles are willing to give up their car. I also investigated Poles' perceptions of the quality of life, attitudes towards sustainable development, including ecology, and the propensity to use micromobility means of transport in relation to their objectives.

Dr Agnieszka Szmelter-Jarosz. Fot. Alan Stocki/UG.

- What are the first findings? How do Poles travel to work, shopping, holidays, social gatherings, etc. daily?

- We are still most likely to choose a car. Car culture is very strong with us, and the habit of the car is still growing - partly due to the increasing purchasing power of consumers and the familiarity with this mode of transport.

We also walk a lot, although significantly less each year. On the other hand, the popularity of micromobility is growing - we use scooters and electric bicycles most frequently in Poland.

As I am mainly researching the way Poles move around on a daily basis, some branches of transport are obviously less important, such as air transport. In the case of rail transport, it is a little different - the study of its popularity depends on whether a given agglomeration has a high-speed urban railway or a metropolitan railway. The same is true for trolleybuses and trams.

- When going to meet friends, we are probably more likely to choose public transport than the car. Does your research bear this out?

- If someone only uses their car on a daily basis, they rarely choose to use public transport. When they go to meet friends or, for example, to the cinema, they aim to satisfy the need for the comfort of a car, so they choose either a taxi, a para-taxi or a so-called car-for-minutes. Much also depends on the age of the traveller and whether they have children. Gender, on the other hand, is not significant.

- Why do we prefer one type of transport over another? Is it just about comfort?

- It is mainly about travel time and comfort. Comfort is a straightforward matter - it is more comfortable to travel door-to-door, i.e. without having to get to a stop and then from a stop to your final destination. What's more, each successive change during a public transport journey reduces the propensity to use it, which also involves waiting time for the next means of transport and a longer journey. However, we can say that, after all, the infrastructure is developing, kiss-and-ride and park-and-ride places are being created to encourage the use of public transport on the main route, but this is too slow an increment and does not result in a significant increase in passenger numbers.

- Journey times? It's not always quicker by car. Just look at our roads during rush hour.

- Although we complain about traffic jams, congestion (road congestion) in our country is not as high as in Western Europe. Of course, we have rush hours where it is sometimes difficult to get to work (in the morning) and home (in the afternoon), but it is not so high as to discourage travellers from switching to another mode of transport.

Interestingly, despite drivers' constant complaints about the lack of parking spaces, it turns out that things are not so bad in Poland. In this respect, in relation to the number of cars circulating within cities, we rank quite high in the rankings for European countries.

Photo by Alan Stocki/UG.

- I have the impression that while we are more and more inclined to give up the car if only in favour of the bicycle, we are not very good at using shared vehicles. The pattern "one car - one person" is quite often repeated.

- This is true - but a lot depends on the age of the passenger.

My research has shown that it is mainly a question of inexperience and some kind of vague and unspecific fear - either we are simply afraid of something new, which is natural, or we are afraid that we will not be able to handle some solution, especially if we have to install some application on our phone (we are not talking here about younger representatives of generation Y and the whole Z generation - no problem here), or that money will strangely disappear from our account, or that we will pay too much, or we will click on something wrong and the amount charged to our account will be too high. We are also often afraid that something will break just as we are about to use a particular means of transport and we will be charged for it.

Of course, we are also afraid of losing our comfort level - we have to try something new, something might not work out the first time, and we don't even want to admit to ourselves that we don't know how to do something. This is probably even more of a field for psychologists than for economists.

- How about micromobility in our country? Scooters, regular and electric bicycles, various hybrids of two-wheelers - these are probably the most popular ones we use, at least in the Tricity? Skateboards, mopeds - we tend to lack enthusiasm for these.

- In fact, in terms of micromobility, we mostly use traditional and electric bicycles and scooters. Something didn't work out with scooters, they didn't catch on in Poland (we're talking about shared ones). The same is true of mopeds, although there are not many of these on the market. Segways are slowly spreading in Poland. Skateboards - only if we have our own, similarly, rollerblades. They are popular in the USA - there in the southern states, they actually dominate in some cities.

We could also talk about microcars, which I see as an opportunity to reconcile the needs of passengers or drivers with the objectives of local authorities, but we have not yet seen any interest in such solutions. Their use is noticeable, for example, in Brussels - the unavailability of parking spaces has for years made it necessary for drivers there to adapt to the realities.

- Does your research tell you anything about the users of micromobility?

Yes, if only that representatives of different generations present different approaches to mobility. One of the most interesting findings is that the oldest (retired people) and the youngest transport users (I mean people over 16) have very similar attitudes to mobility, i.e. they like and want to travel by public transport for environmental reasons, which are very important to them. However, only the youngest, which is probably also related to health, want to use micromobility.

My research also shows that there is no so-called gender gap, i.e. no significant differences between the mobility of men and women, one way or the other. Women and men have similar habits, although it is apparent that women are moving more and more around the city, indeed more often than even 15-20 years ago. What's more, the daily mobility cycle of men and women is different - women travel much more between 6 and 7 am, while men travel between 7 and 9 am. Similarly, in the afternoons, women are more likely to be found on public or private transport between 1 and 3 pm, men after 3 pm. This is the general trend - of course, it can vary from city to city.

- Does the development of micromobility help to improve the quality of life in the city and suburban areas?

- I think that if micromobility could be rolled out in our country, there would be several effects. Perhaps let's focus on the positives. Firstly, less congestion. Secondly, cleaner air. Thirdly, better health for the user especially if he or she has to put some effort into getting the vehicle moving himself or herself. Fourthly, more efficient use of transport. Fifthly, less noise from traffic. The result will be a higher quality of life.

- It seems to me that we are increasingly feeling the dangers of reaching for alternative means of transport. This is particularly evident in the case of scooters. The speed and inconsideration of drivers pose a danger to other road or pavement users. On top of that the chaos in urban space - connected with leaving scooters anywhere, also in the middle of cycle lanes - evokes negative connotations. Is it not the case that we are beginning to associate micromobility with dangerous, out-of-control traffic?

- Of course - only recently has a speed limit been introduced for scooters. The law is adapting too late to changes in the market when it should be the other way around.

There are several reasons for accidents or other negative incidents in the use of micromobility solutions - firstly, we are not experienced users as a society - these solutions are relatively new and we have become enthralled by them. Secondly, the mentality of society has to change - people of all ages. Please note that the users of micromobility are young people, inexperienced in life. This matters a lot, just as in the case of car accidents the young age of the driver - these are the same mechanisms. Besides, car drivers should also get used to more traffic on cycle routes and pavements, especially from April to October.

- I guess the poorly adapted infrastructure also 'does' its job?

- It is definitely not adapted to the heavy traffic of this type of vehicles - there are no regular cycle lanes, let alone ones wide enough for a bicycle and a scooter to pass each other.

The mentioned model of free-floating, i.e. the possibility to leave the means of transport at any place, should also be verified. It is known, that at a given time of the day they disappear from specific places, in some they arrive (for example, in the morning they disappear in the vicinity of residential areas, they arrive in the city centre, industrial zones, business zones). This so-called “free-for-all" will not suddenly make all users behave appropriately towards a mode of transport that is not theirs - after all, they will be using a different one when travelling again. In addition, care should be taken to deploy vehicles so as to respond to actual demand, rather than leaving everything in the hands of users. Proposals should come from both local authorities and mobility service providers on how to change this.

- Supply chain management is also in your research area. Tell us something about that.

- This is a completely different subfield from where I started my adventure in city logistics. As part of writing my PhD thesis on logistics strategies in the automotive industry, I came across the fact that car manufacturers are gradually shifting their traditional activities (sales and service) towards subscriptions and offering mobility services due to changes in customer behaviour, including mobility patterns. This is where it all started. However, I have not abandoned supply chain management, although I certainly spend less time studying current trends. Something that links the two areas in my research is the Internet of Things, or communication between objects, which are referred to as cyber-physical objects. They communicate mainly through wireless networks and this makes it easier to coordinate the functioning of either a supply chain (suppliers, manufacturers, customers, clients) or a city. In fact, we use this daily, such as managing the operation of an oven or washing machine via a smartphone app or renting a scooter via an app, or even checking the optimal route on Google Maps.

- Would you tell us the direction of your next science projects?

- Recently, we researched with a colleague from the Faculty of Economics on the topic of micromobility for tourists - we chose cities that are very popular in Europe when it comes to holidays and checked whether these solutions are used differently in different cities. I hope to continue this research.

- Thank you for the interview.


In the series 'Young scientists of UG', we write about people with passion, researchers who are changing the world for the better. We reveal what they are working on and what benefits the fruits of their research can bring to society. Find out how talented, passionate and committed scientists from the University of Gdansk are.
Elżbieta Michalak-Witkowska / Press Office UG