The corona diaries: the role of change agents in (re)shaping institutions and policies in times of turbulence

The corona diaries: the role of change agents in (re)shaping institutions and policies in times of turbulence

The role of agency in driving institutional evolution and shaping policy solutions is poorly understood in public transport (PT). Research traditionally focuses on the effects that institutional structures and formal policies have in constraining the actions and options available to individuals and organisations.However, politicians, public officials, and staff from operators are not simply intermediaries for other force s (such as external shocks); they engage critically with the existing institutional environment and are important change agents. They interpret, implement, and supervise public policy; they also have a role in framing issues, producing knowledge, setting agendas, and formulating policy. Understandinghow change agents drive institutional evolution and shape policy solutions can be crucial to enable better policy interventions. 1 This project intends to help bridge this knowledge gap. The aim is to understand the way in which change agents shape institutional and policy transformation in PT. To this end, the project analyses the evolving relationship between public transport authorities (PTAs) and operators during turbulent times: the  covid-19 pandemic.

This crisis is a case in point as it puts PT at a crossroads. Trains, metro, and buses are carriers of the deadly virus and are the place of undesired physical proximity, whilst, at the same time, they become more fundamental than ever to users and non-users, as it ensures that essential workers can reach their job location and thus maintain indispensable services to society running. This triggers a range ofchallenges of different nature. The most visible problem is perhaps how to maintain the financial sustainability of PT with declining ridership. Should subsidy and remuneration rules be revised? Can PTAs and operators enhance other sources of funding beyond fares? But in addition to the financial dimension, multiple other complex questions emerge. On an operational level, issues of vehicle occupancy and cleaning procedures come to the fore. Tactical questions regarding changes in routes and frequencies also need attention. Strategic matters like the duration of current concessions and reorganisation of future bidding processes might also be affected. These complex questions amidst significant instability could result in important changes in the relationship between PTAs and operators. Existing regulatory frameworks as well as shared understandings, routinized practices, and accepted ‘ways of doing’, are under pressure; past choices are questioned, possibilities for developing new solutions become more acceptable. Mainly, for the purposes of this project, there is a substantially heightened space for and probability that actors' choices will be highly influential in determining whether new practices are established and eventually set a new path-dependent trajectory that becomes solidified in the sector. Change actors – be it politicians, civil servants, managers and staff in operators – can use this window of opportunity to drive institutional change or instead favour stability, and thus shape policy outcomes in a more voluntaristic manner than in normal circumstances.

Project manager: 
Research areas: 
Parties: 
VTI
Financier: 
K2
Budget: 
350 000 kr
Period: 
2020 to 2021