Effects Of Population Growth On Transport Systems

As the population of the globe continues to grow at an alarming rate, governments and other stakeholders are coming under increasing pressure to grow the transport networks. The question that needs to be asked is how far can we expand, and how many more people can we possible fit into our already overcrowded cities? Whilst many European and Asian cities have adopted urban solutions such as transit oriented development and similar strategies, the United States and Australia have seen many of their cities subjected to urban sprawl. This has been manageable until recent times, however increases in fuel costs and increased demand coupled with reduction in supply of oil has caused many planners and local governments to rethink their strategies going into the future. This article will discuss the possible future effects of population growth on local transport systems and what the possible future implications and adaptation strategies may be.

Road Networks

Road networks are an essential part of the day to day function of cities and urban areas. The road network is used by a myriad of different vehicles and people. From the transport of freight and food from city to city or elsewhere, or just jumping in the car to go to the shops, the network is a critical part of everyday life. Many cities are currently trying to deal with issues of traffic congestion and air pollution 1). There have been several different strategies which have been attempted with mixed results.

In London authorities have implemented a congestion tax, where motorists are charged tolls to enter the city centre, which vary in price depending on the time of day. In the peak hours, the charges are extremely high which is a deterrent for vehicles and drivers who want to enter at this time. Stockholm has a similar congestion tax, but vehicles that are driven by tourists and motorcycles are exempt. Singapore is probably the first nation to have adopted a user pays scheme, which initially started as a city entry toll, and has now evolved into a automated toll system. Singapore is renowned for being the most expensive city in which to own a car. In San Diego, a slightly different approach has been tried. Initially there were transit lanes which required car pooling of three or four people in each vehicle, but this unfortunately proved extremely hard to police. So the authorities have now implemented a different scheme which is a user pays system for the faster transit lane. Motorists who wish to use the fast lane must pay a toll, which helps to balance out the traffic and ease congestion on the other lanes. Milan in Italy has a unique system, which charges motorists according to their vehicles emissions. Cars with bigger engines pay a bigger toll and in contrast completely electric cars don't pay at all 2).


Traffic Congestion

There have also been other types of solutions to congestion. As mentioned above, transit lanes can sometimes be moderately successful depending on the city, but as was seen in San Diego such programs are hard to police without the use of lots of manpower. One way streets have also been tried, but are not favoured by business owners due to the inconvenience. Other methods include traffic light synchronisation, travel reduction ordinances such as tax breaks for companies to relocate out of high congestion areas, high parking fees designed to discourage motor vehicle use and other planning implementations 3).

Traffic congestion and management continues to be a growing issue as time passes. The increase in human populations as we become increasingly urbanised is only going to place extra pressure on already congested roads. It is extremely costly to build new road infrastructure, and most cities simply do not have the room. Many cities in Europe and Asia have adopted transit oriented development which involves building medium to heavy density housing and mixed use businesses being built on and near the transport corridor. This is one facet of a possible solution, however it requires large investments in infrastructure and public transport systems. Congestion taxes and user pays systems can be a band aid solution at best, with such charges being unfair on people with lower incomes. Some argue that a possible solution is to have better education systems for motorists to make informed choices along with an increase in fuel taxes and the scrapping of vehicle subsidies. This, whilst good in theory, again leaves a disparity between the rich and the poor. The only possible way to reduce traffic congestion would be better investment in public transport and the encouragement of people to use it regularly, plan bicycle friendly cities and to try and counter urban sprawl. All of these solutions require long range planning and investment, however most governments are reluctant to take long term high cost measures.

Rail Networks

Rail networks play an extremely crucial part of the economies of various nations, especially those that are larger in size. The rail network can be used to move freight, goods and foodstuffs around the country, along with commuters. Whilst freight train can be affected by population growth, most of the pressure will be placed on the metropolitan commuter trains. Most metropolitan networks are already running at near capacity and there are only so many trains that can run on the network on any one occasion 4). This provides challenges to planners and authorities, however some cities have found some interesting solutions to these problems.


Double decker train in Finland 5)

High speed rail networks have been implemented in some areas in Asia, including China and Japan. These super fast trains are a very successful solution for regional and longer distance travel, this is not a viable option for metropolitan trains. Perhaps one of the better solutions has been the advent of double and triple decker trains, such as the ones used in parts of India. This ensures that the network has the capacity to carry more people whilst still covering the same amount of track space. Other operators have also had moderate success with the removal of seats on short distance metropolitan trains which enables more people to fit onto a carriage. Whilst this is a good solution in theory, it is inherently difficult to generate the proper heating and cooling for such large capacities 6). The best option appears to be a mixture of the above solutions. A combination of faster trains that are multi levelled may be one way to adapt to the growing population. This train would perhaps have no seats at the lower level, with seats on the upper level for people travelling further distances or those who wish to pay extra for the privilege. Most trains lose time slowing down for stations, at stations and taking off from the station. Better braking and acceleration will be the best option for trains that travel at higher speeds thus reducing the amount of time lost at these critical moments.

Air Travel Networks

The use of air transport is important for all countries in these modern times. Airports are used for the carrying of cargo, parcels, letters and most importantly people. The increase in population in a city or region can put extra pressure on what is an already busy network. The economies of many countries are heavily reliant on tourism and most of this tourism comes from air travel, both domestic and international. Most cities have their airports within city limits, and it is inherently difficult to expand runways or infrastructure without the acquisition of extra land, which in some cases can be extremely difficult or impossible. This also places restrictions on plane travel at certain hours of the day, especially at airports which are located in urban areas. Extra plane services and flights can also contribute to climate change and pollution, and the combination of these factors can have a profound negative impact on local and greater environments 7).


Tokyo Airport 8)

Airports and airport authorities around the world have used several different techniques in order to cope with extra flights. Some of the solutions have been to simply expand the airport and install extra runways where possible, however as discussed earlier this is not possible in many instances. This expansion also requires extra infrastructure, such as traffic control towers and extra staff, not to mention the monetary costs. The next solution that has been used it to expand the operating hours of the airport. Due to many airports being located in urban areas, there are restrictions in the hours that they can operate to avoid disrupting the local population. Unfortunately these concerns have been disregarded by authorities and governments and gone ahead anyway, despite intense opposition by local communities. The other option that has been explored is the creation of smaller airports on the outskirts of these cities. This provides opportunities due to the extra amounts of land available, and also does not have the problem of residential communities being affected by noise 9).

Perhaps the best way to alleviate pressure on air transport networks is to have a multi faceted approach. Each airport and city needs to make economic and environmental decisions about what it's priorities are, and in conjunction with local governments and communities find solutions that best fit, such as expansion, extending of hours and extra airports. On the environmental perspective however we should look at reducing flights, but this may impact the economies of most countries in negative ways. Expanding and improving aeroplane technology may also play a role with the advent of cleaner and more efficient jet engines combined with models that can carry more people per litre of fuel burnt will also help to alleviate not only environmental problems but also overpopulation problems.


As discussed in this article, overpopulation is a problem currently and will continue to grow as a problem into the future. Transport systems are critical for communities and economies, not only on a monetary level but also socially and environmentally. Perhaps the most simple and effective solution to combat this problem is to simply stop expanding the global population. This unfortunately is almost impossible and whilst being inherently difficult to achieve, opens up many moral and ethical concerns. Despite these concerns we must remember that the earth only has a finite amount of resources and the line will be drawn for us if we don't draw it first. So if we assume we cannot simply stop population growth, we need to adapt our transport systems to it. Depending on which country you are addressing, there are different ways in which you can tackle this problem.

The first way is to stop urban sprawl and start to embrace sustainable medium to high density residential and business districts along public transport corridors. This will reduce the reliance on the motor vehicle, thus alleviating road congestion whilst also reducing pollution and emissions, so it is the old kill two birds with one stone approach. This will have a positive net effect on economies as it will reduce infrastructure costs, improve health outcomes by reducing pollution, encouraging activity and reducing the numbers of people killed or injured in road accidents. It will also boost the productivity of workplaces and businesses by reducing travel and transit times, and also by having less amounts of time lost to illness. Another way in which this problem can be tackled is by designing efficient transport systems, such as the double decker train that was discussed in the rail travel section.

Governments can also help to reduce the impacts of overpopulation by investing in infrastructure and creating satellite cities so that all of the population is not concentrated in one area. This will also reduce the pressure on local resources such as water and power. This approach can only work however if the current governments are willing to make long range financial investments, and this unfortunately does not occur in many instances. In many ways adaptation to a problem is also a way in which it can be mitigated, as the two are not mutually exclusive.


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Double Decker Train Finland by Ralf Roloschek licence CC 3.0, Available: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:11-07-31-helsinki-by-RalfR-033.jpg
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