What is Transportation?
Transportation refers to systems which are designed to move people and goods. It is a central part of how people live their lives, build economies, and interact with the environment. Transportation provides us with access to what people value and need to live their lives: work, education, food, recreation and other essentials.
Transportation is the backbone of a global network that trades over $18 trillion worth of goods and moves the world’s population over 81 trillion kilometers every year. The system also impacts the climate, as of 2015, transportation accounted for 23% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
One way to understand this complex system is by breaking it down into three different components: mode, fuel type, and technology.
Modes of transportation allow people and goods to move across air, land and sea. People often move by human power, cars, and planes while goods are shipped by truck, rail, or ship.
Fuel is the crucial element that propels the transportation system. The primary fuels types are derived from human power, renewable fuels, and fossil fuels.
Different fuels, and how they are consumed, have distinct impacts on the climate and our air quality.
When petroleum products are burned in vehicle engines, they release energy, but they also release greenhouse gases and other pollutants.
Currently, 95% of transportation is fueled by petroleum. However, other fuels like electricity and biofuels are becoming increasingly prevalent as we adopt new technologies. Technology refers to the type of propulsion mechanism used in a mode of transportation – like an electric motor or an internal combustion engine.
Technologies vary greatly in efficiency. Efficiency determines how much of the fuel is actually used to propel a vehicle versus energy lost in the process. For instance, an average gasoline-fueled car is 25% efficient meaning that 75% of the fuel used does not go into propelling the vehicle but, instead, is lost as heat and other energy expenditures.
When analyzing transportation options, it’s important to consider what’s possible with different combinations of modes, fuels, and technologies.
One way to think about the climate impact of transportation is to calculate the amount of emissions per person or goods being transported. There is great potential for reducing our environmental impact by changing the mode of transport we use, or, when possible, by choosing options that require little to no transportation at all, like eating local food or telecommuting.
Since transportation is such an important factor in global carbon emissions, governments and companies around the world are increasingly looking to innovate with new modes, fuels and technologies.
On the rise at the moment are biofuels, electric vehicles, mass transportation, and even new types of freight ships.
Infrastructure such as roads, railways, airports and fueling stations is essential to supporting transportation systems. Ensuring that these systems are also safe, clean, affordable, comfortable, efficient and reliable is also critical in determining how they take shape in different parts of the world.