Source: adapted from ICF International (2008) Long Range Strategic Issues Facing the Transportation Industry, Final Future-focused Research Framework, National Cooperative Highway Research Program, Project 20-80, Task 2.
Each driver of change for the transportation system plays a role individually and in conjunction. It is therefore virtually impossible to establish outcomes accurately as there are too many interrelationships and uncertainties, particularly if a longer time frame is considered. It is however possible to identify trends that may impact each driver individually and try to assess how these trends will shape different components of the transport system:
- Policy. The inherent scale and complexity of transportation systems, particularly when they span multiple jurisdictions, will require novel approaches to governance. The role and impact of government policy are commonly subject to cycles of increasing commitments followed by different forms of retrenchment (e.g. privatization) as regulations lead to unproductive practices and unintended consequences. In spite of deregulation, transportation is subject to many forms of regulations pertaining to safety, security, and the environment. These regulations as well as the taxation of transport activities, add to the management complexity and the cost burden.
- Demography and society. Population growth is expected to endure in many parts of the world until the mid-21st century, a process that will be linked with demands in mobility and increased consumption. Yet, in other parts of the world, such as in Western Europe, North America, and Japan, the rapid aging of the population and more people in retirement age will be associated with changes in mobility and lower levels of consumption per capita. Urbanization is expected to continue in many developing economies, underlining issues linked with the urban mobility of passengers and freight. As a greater share of the global population lives in urban areas, additional pressures are felt on terminal facilities, such as airports, rail yards, and ports, that find themselves with limited room for expansion. New sites are therefore located further away from existing activity centers. It also remains to be seen how changes in work patterns, such as a greater share of the population in the service sector, will be reflected in mobility.
- Energy and environment. Issues related to the availability of energy and raw materials, particularly fossil fuels, are likely to endure. Since each mode has a different elasticity, the comparative advantages of modal options will change toward the most energy-efficient transport chains. A whole range of alternative fuels will be brought forward and transportation activities will increasingly be considered within a sustainability framework. Climate change is also an issue that may add to the sustainability of transport systems, particularly in terms of a more stringent regulatory framework and changes in consumer preferences. There is a convergence toward removing the carbon footprint of transportation modes and terminals.
- Technology. Technological innovation is a very difficult process to anticipate and its impacts are even more complex to assess. For transportation, technological innovations either concern the management, the mode (or infrastructure), or the motion (engine). It is expected that information technologies (IT) are likely to transform mobility with an improved command of flows and supply chain management practices. This is commonly linked with better utilization of existing assets and derived productivity gains. IT also has a high potential to contribute to trade facilitation through more efficient customs procedures as cargo information is standardized and exchangeable. Improvements in materials and engines are also highly possible with the expected benefits on modes and terminals, namely in terms of performance.
- Economics. Economic development and global trade have been significant vectors for the growth of mobility. Yet this process is subject to cycles of growth and recession and limits in credit-based consumption. The level of activity and the structure of national economies, as well as their trade patterns, are an important influence on national and global transport systems. Economic integration is likely to endure, which will favor more comprehensive and seamless regional transport systems. The relative price of transportation is also linked with the viability of several supply chains and the comparative advantages they extract value from. As transportation costs are expected to rise in the medium term, namely due to fossil fuels, transport demand, from commuting to global supply chains, will be readjusted accordingly in volume but also in the locations they concern.
- Finance. Transportation projects, due to their size and technological complexity, are getting increasingly capital-intensive. In several cases, only the largest financial institutions, often in partnership with the public sector, can provide an adequate level of capitalization. The value of transportation assets and the revenue they generate are likely to be important factors behind their financing. Thus, a transport innovation cannot be adopted effectively if financing cannot be secured. Financial considerations are also linked with demographic issues, namely aging. An aging population tends to be more wealth-consuming as opposed to wealth-producing, which may undermine the availability of capital.