Traditional urban planning approaches towards public transport are based on economic and mathematical calculations that predict mobility patterns in order to calculate transport demands and the profitability of operation. However, those quantitative methods neglect the fact that public transport also has a social dimension. Public transport is a distinct feature of the city that provides individual mobility experiences which importantly shape the everyday life and the urban identity of the cities' inhabitants. Furthermore, public transport schemes feature transit spaces – places of unavoidable encounters in a tense environment. Often described as non-places without any meaning, the researcher argues that those places are socially produced by the daily social interactions that urban citizens perform in the transport vehicle. Therefore, the public transit space is subjected to ongoing processes of collective place-making that are embedded in negotiations of social norms and reflected by societal power hierarchies. In that regard, public transport is a very public space.
Philipp Zimmermann is a student of Urban Studies at Bauhaus University Weimar in Germany. He is interested in urban sociology, urban politics and qualitative research. His fascination for urbanism is focused on Eastern Europe. After participating in projects in Bulgaria, Serbia, Albania and Georgia he decided to move to Kyiv to start an internship at CANactions School. The research he will present was conducted during an internship at the Leipzig Institute for Regional Geography (IfL) where the research project "Public transport as a public space in European cities: Narrating, experiencing, contesting" was started in May 2019 as joint research project of research institutions in Tallinn, Turku, Brussels and Leipzig.
The researcher conducted qualitative interviews with Arab migrants about their personal experiences of using public transport in the German city of Leipzig. For them, public transport is indeed heavily charged with social meaning. Their multi-layered perceptions, reflections, reactions and coping strategies reveal that public transport is a social arena, where they are actively engaging with other protagonists in negotiating the legitimacy of their presence, their rights to the city, and their position in German society. Furthermore, the research uncovers a new dimension of transport inequality that goes beyond the scope of urban planning policies for mobility justice.