Transport infrastructure and economic growth are intertwined. A robust transportation system is a catalyst for economic growth and development. Throughout history, major milestones in transportation technology have stimulated economic progress and extensively improved the quality of the life of the people.
For instance, the invention of steamboats in 1785 allowed farmers around the Delaware River to sell their surplus crops to other communities. The establishment of the Metropolitan Railways in London circa 1863 helped commuters, in a short span of time, travel to different parts of the country. The freedom and mobility led to the creation of more jobs and opportunities for locals and residents. In 1914, the first commercial flight taking off of the runways of St. Petersburg in Tampa, Florida ushered in the era of transcontinental commercial flights. Undeniably, there is no shortage of proof supporting the correlation between transport infrastructure and economic growth.
“Roads are the arteries through which the economy pulses. By linking producers to markets, workers to jobs, students to school, and the sick to hospitals, roads are vital to any development agenda.” Claudia Berg, Development Research Group, World Bank.
The Importance of Transportation in Economic Development: Powering Strong Economies
The movement of goods and products were limited and agonizingly slow prior to the invention of powered transportation by the end of the 18th century. The invention of the steam engine in 1760 paved the way to the invention of steamboats and steam-powered train. Soon after, the modern automobile, the airplanes, and jetliners followed. Picturing a modern society without these transportation modes can be difficult.
There is recognition of the US as a country with the largest transportation network in history.
America’s transport infrastructure has a system of four million miles of roads, 2,000 miles of railway tracks, and 5,000 airports. The country’s economic growth is built upon the freedom and mobility of its citizens.
A society that supports its citizens’ need to be mobile is a bedrock of resilient nations. Then and now, transportation has powered the world’s strongest economies.
Beyond Transport Infrastructure and Economic Growth
The importance of transportation in economic development is akin to the significance of fuel to the engine. But more than economic repercussions, the absence of a strong transport system may have extensive and lasting societal impact.
- The seamless transportation system allows easier haul of goods. Accessibility of goods and services improve prices. It is consequently increasing the consumer’s buying power.
- With increased financial capability, citizens can participate in more economic activities. Besides purchases, people can save money, and invest in financial products.
- Economic activities draw in more businesses and investments in the area. More investments and businesses within the region mean more jobs. With more opportunities to earn, residents and locals have better chances for economic mobility.
- It improves the quality of life for citizens through access to social services such as education, legal assistance, and health facilities.
- The accessibility of an area attracts talents from other regions. With quality talent, businesses can bank on quality outputs, better services, and more innovations.
Technological Innovations in Transportation
Innovations in the transportation sector are starting to pick up. While in some parts of the world, transportation infrastructure may be lagging behind, a number of innovative cities are channeling their resources around innovations in transportation.
- The electrification of transportation applies across various modes. We already see electric vehicles in various countries such as China (Shenzhen and Shanghai), Norway, France, and the United Sates. Electrification in ships is also gaining momentum. Rolls-Royce – a British power system company recently launched SAVe Energy, a battery system to electrify ships. With increasing air traffic, aircraft companies are also investing in the electrification of airplanes.
- Transportation is going driverless and autonomous. Cars, planes, and ships are joining the artificial intelligence game. Companies are testing autonomous cars. Autonomous cargo ships are following behind. Similarly, tests flights are being conducted on autonomous passenger aircraft.
- Advanced road paving and maintenance technology are underway. Automated asphalt paving is now being used in Europe, the US, and Asia. Similarly, concrete pavement is being done with modern construction vehicles.
- Solar and Glow in the Dark Roads harness the power of the sun to illuminate roads and highways. The Netherlands is the first country to apply this technology. In China, a 1,080-meter long highway in the province of Jinan was embedded with solar panels. The technology meant to gather solar energy to light the highways and 800 homes.
- Transportation integrates into one system. Singapore’s connected bus stop system has already tapped into this potential. In the future, other different transportation modes will become interconnected. Soon, you can hop into an electric vehicle that will take you to the nearest train stop.
From being nomadic travelers of the savannas to mass transit commuters, we have developed and progressed because of our capacity to travel from one point to another. As humanity has always been on the move, what other groundbreaking developments in transportation can we anticipate in the future?
But more importantly, how will these innovations add to the importance of transportation in economic development?