Over the last five months, we have interviewed 13 policy-makers and others involved in the policy-making process in Bristol, the West of England, UK.
We have heard about the ideas, evolution and implementation of policies for not only electric vehicles and charging infrastructure, but also the e-scooter trial, e-car clubs, the Clean Air Zone and accompanying grants and incentives, and to a lesser extent the integration of electric modes into public realm and neighbourhood improvements, e-bicycles, e-freight options, and the electrification of public transport.
We have coded, analysed and summarised the interviews, identifying not only the extensive consideration given to distributional justice issues such as accessibility and affordability, but also the greater recognition of diverse needs spatially and socio-demographically. Compared to the policy documents analysed last summer, the increased prominence of recognition justice may be attributed to more participatory approaches in procedural justice terms than was apparent in the published narratives. Our interviewees could and did describe their in-depth engagement with local residents and the establishment of diverse working groups that could inform policy.
All of them, however, local and national policy-makers, shared mobility operators, civic society representatives and experts, still raised concerns about the inclusivity and fairness of electric mobility policies. They asked what policymakers could realistically do to make electric vehicles more affordable to purchase; whether the necessities of commercial viability limited their ability to provide services to certain groups in certain neighbourhoods; and whether limited local government resources and capabilities could be allocated fairly given external constraints.
However, there were clear indications that local capabilities (even if not resources) had grown over the years through learning from both other places and from local people, tapping into national and academic expertise, and gaining professional experience.
On the other hand, our interviewees who were involved in public electric vehicle charging knew little about the e-scooter trial, and those involved in administering the Clean Air Zone did not work directly with operators implementing e-car clubs or expanding other shared mobility. This siloed approach may be limiting the potential for policymakers and operators to make the transition to electric mobility more socially just. Our research suggests it is already limiting their understanding of how just (or not) the transition is in Bristol at the moment and in what ways.
By jointly considering multiple major electric mobility policies and policy processes, the ITEM project is developing a more holistic understanding of how these policies and processes involve different groups, meet diverse needs and variably affect experiences of mobility and public space in and around Bristol. In other words, the research assesses the implications of a plurality of electric mobility processes for the multiple dimensions of social justice in our pluralist perspective.
By comparing the policy approaches and the dynamics of the transition to electric mobility across our four, medium-sized, case study cities in Europe, each at different stages in that transition, the ITEM project is also investigating how real and perceived constraints to accelerating a more inclusive transition can change and be addressed over time. That, however, is a topic for another blog.