In Latin, transportation means "across-carry," whereas mobility means "capable of movement."
In Latin, transportation means "across-carry," whereas mobility means "capable of movement."
( Source: gemeinfrei / Unsplash)

Transportation vs. Mobility Transportation or mobility: What's the difference?

Editor: Erika Granath

Recently, the word 'mobility' has started to replace 'transportation.' This shift in language is a direct result of the changing ways in which we move around.

The terms 'transportation' and 'mobility' are both well known, but their exact meaning and difference can be unclear.

Transportation is basic: moving things from A to B.

Mobility is more than that. It's our ability to move around freely and easily.

What's transportation?

Transportation is the act of moving people, animals, or goods from one location to another. The act of transport is moving something from A to B. Modes of transport include air, railway, road, and of-road transport.

What's mobility?

Mobility is the ability to move all people safely and affordably between where they live, work, and spend their leisure time. It includes walking, cycling, vehicle sharing, public transportation, and much more. Mobility is the ability to move or be moved freely. The keyword is ability.

Transportation vs. mobility

In Latin, transportation means "across-carry," whereas mobility means "capable of movement." It's not a coincidence that athletes sometimes use 'mobility' and 'flexibility' synonymously.

To live by a bus that comes once an hour isn't mobility. Neither is having a car in a congested city. Mobility isn't having access to one mode of transportation. It's having access to an array of quality transport options.

<blockquote class="inf-blockquote">In a nutshell, transportation is something you do, and mobility is something you have.</blockquote>

What someone associates with the terms 'mobility' and 'transportation' can have to do with their age, where they live, and their occupation. In the U.S., people are likely to use the word transportation to describe people and goods moving around and mobility to describe electric scooters for the elderly or social aspiration.

The secret sauce to mobility

Quality transport can mean many different things to different people. However, there are six main necessary ingredients in the mobility secret sauce:

  • Accessibility: Everyone, everywhere, should have access to multi-modal transportation options that take them where they want to go at all times. Sophisticated mobility ecosystems can't be something exclusive to urban and metropolitan areas. Transportation systems must be easy to navigate and access for people of all mobility levels, education levels, and ages.
  • Affordability: Transportation options need to be affordable for everyone. If the only way to get to where you want to go is by car and you can't afford to drive, you don't have mobility.
  • Efficiency: If it takes forever to go there, you don't have access to it. Transportation ecosystems need to be efficient.
  • Safety: Already 1990, Sweden implemented Vision Zero, a national strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all. The strategy is no less relevant now, thirty years after first implemented. Today's complex transportation grid requires a great deal of planning to ensure public safety. However, it's absolutely necessary. If it isn't safe to walk, bike, or drive, you don't have mobility.
  • Sustainability: Transportation is the only major sector in which emissions have grown since 1990. In Europe, transport represents 27 percent of the bloc's greenhouse gas emissions. To reach the UN's Suitable Development Goals and combat climate change and its impacts, the transportation systems we use need to become increasingly more environmentally friendly.

The language used to describe the movement of people is shifting

Recently, the word transportation has started to get replaced by mobility when talking about people moving. To understand the whys and wherefores of this shift in language, we have to understand our changing economy.

In 2019, many of the world's most profitable companies don't sell things. They provide access to them. Airbnb is an often-used example of this shift in the economy. Despite being the world's largest accommodation provider, Airbnb doesn't own any properties.

The digital revolution is allowing the rise of mobility-as-a-service (MaaS), the shift away from personally-owned modes of transportation towards mobility provided as a service. Did you catch that? There it was again, the reason why 'mobility' is winning ground.

Now, mobility is neither a complete phenomenon or a new term. However, as the digital revolution matures and the adoption of technology continue to increase, the public is beginning to use the word 'mobility' more frequently as it reflects how they're moving around. Denoting "access to" rather than "ownership" of, 'mobility' eases itself into both sentences and our daily lives.