Technological frames and the politics of automated electric Light Rail Rapid Transit in Poland and the United Kingdom
Light Rapid Transit (LRT) systems are often backed not only because they satisfy basic mobility functions, but because they can revitalize urban centers, affirm the legitimacy of state planners, support innovation and even cultivate an image of a city or region as progressive and modern. In this study, we argue that electrified, automated LRT systems can fulfill private functional frames, private symbolic frames, societal functional frames, and societal symbolic frames. In particular, we argue that light rail can fulfill private functional frames (making passengers feel safe, offering a cheap and efficient mode of transport), private symbolic frames (signifying political identity or exclusionary planning), societal functional frames (environmental stewardship), and societal symbolic frames (such as modernism or innovativeness, or the lack of it). Essentially, these frames encompass not only what light rail is and does, but what it means and represents, and even some of its failures and challenges. The article then identifies ten specific frames associated with two case studies of automated light rail systems, the established Docklands Light Rail (DLR) in the United Kingdom, and the emerging Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) in Poland. We find that the DLR is not only a vital part of meeting (functional) demand for mobility, it is innovative and exciting to ride, legitimation of a conservative approach to project development, a social injustice (to some), an environmentally friendly alternative to cars, and a perceived magnet for global investment into the greater Docklands area. Similarly, the PRT is not only a reliable and safe mode of transit, but also a technical marvel, a monopoly breaking symbol, a clean and sustainable form of mobility, and a reflection of either progressive Polish innovation and entrepreneurship, or enduring failure.
Written by Benjamin K. Sovacool and Asieh Haieri Yazdi