Planes, trains and status symbols

car_hood_upMobility. A word that conjures up movement, that implies freedom, access and opportunity. In many ways, it is our mobility that defines us, that influences our relationships and determines the image people have of us. We talk about the level of our mobility – where we’ve been and where we’re going – to assert our status and begin a conversation. Mobility in the modern age traverses both the physical world and the virtual one. Not only do we document our physical mobility in virtual spaces by posting our locations and pictures on Facebook (among other things), but we also create virtual networks, virtual spaces, virtual worlds on social networks that are then reinforced through physical, face-to-face contact – we text walking in the street and we navigate on our computers. The appetite for mobility in all of its dimensions seems to be endless.

New travel patterns

For better or worse, richer or poorer, in today’s Europe, mobility dominates lifestyle. While local trips are more prevalent than long-distance ones, people are traveling further than they used to. Migration continues from both outside the EU and within the EU, with an increase in migration from the south to the north, because of the economic crisis. There is also migration from north to south, for tourism and retirement. The growth in car ownership that has dominated mobility for the last half century is now reversing in many EU countries. An increasing number of cities in Europe are seeing car use decline; although in post-communist countries, it continues to increase. Particularly among younger generations, there is a new appetite for renting and sharing mobility as the status of the car is replaced by the latest iPhone or tablet. For longer journeys, more Europeans show an increasing preference for high speed, inter-city rail travel between the major urban centres and for cheaper air travel on ‘low cost’ airlines; serving a denser network of airports across the continent. People’s thirst for more mobility is unrelenting, be it a trip across the city to a trip across the continent; a text message to a friend while walking down the street or an international conference call. While car ownership is no longer the mark of social status, the social status of mobility is stronger than ever.

Conclusion: The four arcs of the behavioural rainbow

There are different schools of thought on how people make decisions regarding their mobility. Traditionalists see decision-making as a rational process, a series of trade-offs between time and costs: However, it is increasingly clear that there is more going on. Understanding this deeper process holds the key to unlock the reasons why people make seemingly irrational mobility decisions, and why some new mobility services succeed and others fail.


Each ring of the rainbow represents a series of factors that define the role of mobility in people’s lives and how this dynamic is changing with the generations (read more about generational differences).

The outer ring describes the decision making itself – the trading-off of different factors. The next ring describes the perceptual filter of attitudes that shape our perceptions, preferences and levels of importance that we attach to elements of the decision-making process. Much work has been undertaken to understand these two rings. However, less has been achieved in trying to understand how these more translucent factors that influence our mobility relate to deeper values and beliefs that we have. These deeper factors drive our lifestyle and the role mobility takes within it. It involves the strong social forces that impact on all of us in shaping how we live our lives – defining our identity and the personality we project, the fashions that attract us, trends, social attachment and social exclusion. Understanding these deeper values leads to the centre of the rainbow and to our real personality – the behavioural DNA with which we interact with our environment; and with which we decide and we learn from experience.

It is when we take all of these elements together that we are able to develop a more holistic vision of mobility and the influences that shape the mobility decisions we make, a vision that we call the MIND-SETS approach.

For more information, contact Laurie Pickup of VECTOS