Editorial: Troubling road signs for transportation

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The transportation road map ahead demands far more than navigation skills.

It will require bold investment and gambles on infrastructure and operations. The recent tentative settlement in B.C.’s port workers contract negotiations is only one piece of a puzzle that gets more complex by the day.

Consider the findings in a recent International Transport Forum (ITF) report. The 59-member intergovernmental organization, whose mantra is applying transportation to improve people’s lives, estimates that global demand for transport is set to increase significantly over the next 30 years.

At the passenger end of the transportation network: an increase to 122 trillion passenger kilometresfrom 44 trillion by 2050. That tripling in demand will also apply to freight.

The ITF lists 11 major developments it predicts will significantly disrupt transportation as we know it today, including widespread use of autonomous vehicles and high-capacity trucks, a spike in shared mobility, more teleworking, a rapid rise in e-commerce and 3D printing’s potential to regionalize manufacturing and shorten traditional trade routes.

But the flood of new transportation technology will do more than increase efficiency; it will reduce carbon dioxide emissions from a sector that is a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. The reductions, however, will not be enough to offset the growth in transportation demand. The ITF report estimates that new technologies such as autonomous vehicles and shared mobility services will cut urban transport carbon dioxide emissions by 73%. However, those emissions would still increase 60% by 2050. The challenge then is to accelerate innovation ahead of transportation demand at every level.

Transportation is fundamental to the global economy. But it is also a major contributor to the pollution that is changing the world’s climate, and profit here will not necessarily fall in favour of reducing that pollution.

It will be up to government and consumers to tip the balance in favour of sustainability. The question is: are they up to the task?