International Transport Forum - 2014 annual summit Transport for a Changing World | 21-23 may 2014 - Leipsig, Germany | France presidency

Welcome to the Transport for a Changing World Blog!

25 March 2014
José Viegas, ITF Secretary-General

Welcome to the Transport for a Changing World Blog! We have created this space as the place to share thoughts, observations and ideas about how the megatrends the world faces today impact on transport. Change is everywhere; rarely has it been as deep and pervasive as in our era, and to understand complex trends by shining a strong light on them from different angles is the prerequisite for shaping responses that will stand the test of time.

Demographic change is one important trend. Notably the globe’s rapid urbanisation poses enormous challenges to organising mobility for all. U.N. projections see 80% of the world’s population living in cities by 2050. New urbanites could find opportunity –  or squalor: where urban growth is coupled with systematic provision of good access conditions for all citizens – through adequate land use and mobility solutions, cities are drivers of economic growth. Where cities lack the underpinnings, the result is pollution, congestion and poverty. China, in announcing plans to systematically raise the share of city dwellers from 54% to 60% by 2020, recognised this and has made investment in transport a key element of its “National New-type Urbanisation Plan”. Other countries experiencing migration into new megacities should take heed.

Technology is obviously another area of major change. Rapid-fire innovation, mostly digitally driven, is rendering old ways obsolete. The profession of driver – be it truck, train or taxi – may well be on the way to extinction if advances in automated driving continue, and we should not close our eyes to the disruptive potential of technological change. Yet neither should this keep us from exploring the incredible new, ever-increasing possibilities technology puts into our hands, possibly leading to the creation of new types of jobs, based on different skills. We are clearly moving towards a scenario of convergence where advances reinforce each other. Improved data mining (“Big Data”), smarter sensors (in vehicles and infrastructure) and mobile, to take only these three, unleash their full transformational power when brought together. In such a world of “connected intelligence” transport could be the backbone of the oft-invoked “Internet of Things”.

Similarly dramatic, though perhaps not at first sight, is the impact changing lifestyles will have on demand for mobility. The global middle class is growing by an estimated 3 billion people as incomes rise in emerging economies, and new entrants tend to document their new status by buying a car – with the result of rapid and potentially unsustainable motorisation.  China today has about 80 million cars on its already often congested roads – but to reach the United States’ ratio of cars to inhabitants, it would have to have 1 billion. In some rich countries, lifestyle choices point into the opposite direction: a 2013 survey in the U.S. found that 30% of 18-34 year-olds would rather give up their car than their mobile phone. In 1983, eight in 10 Americans aged 17-19 had a driver’s license, in 2012 it was only six in 10. There is some evidence that in the developed world, the iron link between GDP growth and growth in car ownership is at least loosening.

There are yet more drivers of large-scale change. The continuing shift in the global economic balance towards Asia has huge implications for transport as well – not only because of shifting trade flows (and hence infrastructure investments, for instance), but also because globalised production is more reliant on protecting ever more complex logistics chains from disruptions. And last but not least, the reality of climate change forces transport to do more to reduce its current 97% dependency on carbon fuels and become more environmentally sustainable. But can the mainstreaming of low-carbon fuels be jump-started, how, and which one(s) will it be?

Please think of this blog as a standing invitation to a conversation on these issues. I will be sharing my thoughts with readers here in the coming weeks, and I invite you to do the same. The contributions will feed into the upcoming Summit of Transport Ministers (21-23 May) in Germany. To have your own say in this debate, post a contribution (600 words max.) by sending it to the Transport for a Changing World Blog moderator here.

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