Transportation systems develop to interact at different scales and through the influence of a variety of factors:
- Environmental. At the local scale existing hydrographical and geomorphological characteristics are strong factors in transport development, particularly in terms of the technical challenges (bridge, gradients) they present to construct and maintain infrastructure. Climate, which is more a regional attribute, also conditions transportation construction and operations. At the national level, distance underlines the geographical scale to be serviced, influencing transport infrastructure development since servicing the nation becomes imperative. At the global level, the contour of oceanic masses such as choke points becomes the defining factor shaping the structure and development orientation of transport systems.
- Historical. Settlement patterns, which are influenced by cultural attributes, strongly influence local transport development, such as street grids. At the regional level, the structure of an urban system, the result of historical processes of accumulation, coordinates the development of transport systems by connecting them. It is also a historical process such as colonialism and forms of imperialism that have shaped aspects of national transport developments, particularly in areas of the world that were colonized. However, it is the process of globalization that had one of the most enduring influences in recent decades in shaping global transport systems.
- Technological. Each transportation technology has a matching scale of development. Roads, despite their ubiquity, are strongly associated with local (short distance) mobility. At the regional level, this mobility becomes more the realm of railways (or canals when present), although air transportation also has a strong regional component. Corridors, which are mainly long-distance rail and highway networks, are transport constructs built to connect at the national or continental level. The technologies that have supported the most transport development at the global level are mainly air transportation and telecommunications. Paradoxically, these technologies are mostly used at the regional (air) and local (telecommunications) levels.
- Political. Transportation development is a process that is managed and regulated. At the local level, zoning is the regulatory framework that influences the most transport development since it dictates what is allowed to be built, including the function of what is being built. Forms of taxation and regulations such as safety and operating conditions are political aspects that play at the regional (most transport regulations are at the state / provincial level) and the national levels. Trade agreements have an important transnational implication, linking neighboring economic entities, which has influenced transportation development with an attempt to coordinate physical and trade networks. Multilateral agreements, particularly over trade have shaped the development of transportation systems by favoring specific transnational connectivity.
- Economic. Economic processes shape transportation development since its core purpose is to support economic activities and their interactions. The more advanced an economy is, the more intensive and efficient transportation systems are. At the local level, employment and distribution are key drivers focusing on transit systems as well as the freight distribution of final goods. Transportation modes compete to service markets, a process that mainly takes place at the regional level. The outcome of this competition is a distribution of modal preferences and usage levels of specific transport systems. Markets are increasingly perceived as transnational, requiring coordinated supply strategies. The competition of major economic actors at the global level, often the outcome of comparative advantages, influences major freight flows and the transport systems supporting them.