The influence of transportation

Transportation is most succinctly defined as a catalyst for progress. The opposite is also true, as lack of transportation is regarded as a major cause of poverty in many isolated areas around the world. This basic fact infers that increased access to safe and economic means of transportation will, inevitably, lead to a more equitable and prosperous global community.

As described in The Geography of Transport Systems, transport represents one of the most important human activities in the world. It is multidimensional and its importance is historical, social, political, environmental and economic. In summary,

  • transport has aided the development and defence of many civilisations;
  • transport supports and shapes social structures;
  • through government, transport is invested in and regulated;
  • transport pollutes;
  • transport both shapes and is shaped by economic activity.

Interestingly, a wide range of evidence points to the fact that transportation’s influence is not simply significant, but increasing. As both developed and developing nations advance, their demand for transportation is increasing. This demand is further compounded by economies of scale and gains in efficiency which have led, at the same time, to a significant reduction in transport costs over the last several decades. Finally, transportation infrastructure continues to gain significance across all industries, which is resulting in increased government and private sector investment.

The European Union’s white paper titled European transport policy for 2010: time to decide attempts to address this increasing influence of transportation. The document, similar to those being produced by governments all around the world, acknowledges the wide ranging implications of the transport sector:

Total expenditure runs to some EUR1,000 billion, which is more than 10% of gross domestic product. The sector employs more than 10 million people. (European Commission 2001)

In other words, policy decisions surrounding the transportation sector should not be taken lightly; their influence is set to be wide ranging and long lasting.

Linked to this enormous influence on global economics is transportation’s dependence on a continuous supply of energy. In Australia, the transportation sector accounts for 39% of final energy use (or, in real terms, a staggering 1,308PJ of energy). Road transport is by far the most significant energy consumer in the sector (see below). Within this category, the majority of energy use is taken up by passenger vehicles and light commercial vehicles (see below).

Australian transport energy use (ABARE 2005)

Road vehicle transport energy use (ABARE 2005)

Despite the monumental influence of transportation, in many instances the various transportation systems being used around the world are far from ideal. For example, when considering the objective of transportation to move something or someone from origin to destination, a typical passenger vehicle has an energy efficiency of about 1%. This represents enormous scope for improvement which, if achieved, will foster progress not simply in the transportation sector, but in nearly every aspect of our lives.

This is an edited excerpt from Opportunities for Vehicle Integrated Photovoltaics.

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