The Future of Transportation in India and China

Submitted by: Andrew Welborn

I am excited as we travel to two very different countries to compare the many cultural differences. I thought a quick comparison of transit systems would be in order, as we will have the chance to experience some that outshine American systems and some that are downright scary. The U.S. is rapidly falling behind other countries in regards to a transit system and this has impacted our competitiveness in the manufacturing industry. The U.S. as a whole is a rather poor example of mass transit with the exception of a few localized areas around the country. China and India still require leaps and bounds to achieve effective transportation, but the decisions that they make now will affect the world in the near future. They have the opportunity to create truly efficient transport systems to connect the billions of people that make up each country. Here are two links for a quick rundown of the overall transportation systems in both China and India.

”China’s Transportation System”

“India’s Transportation System”

By now we should all know how involved the government in China is with infrastructure and growth. They have been building on a simply massive scale with little regard for the environment, but are now facing congestion in major cities due to the massive growth. They are continually implementing new projects for mass transportation that rival the technological prowess of the most advanced countries, but is this really what China needs to go forth as more and more people are increasing their disposable income and want the status symbol a car brings?

As Cece Reyes posted previously, India has a rapidly growing market in ultra low-priced cars. These vehicles would be a major upgrade to the scooters families use, but does India have the infrastructure necessary to accommodate another 500,000 vehicles per year from one manufacturer? Thomas Friedman doesn’t think so. Read link for his views on where India should be heading.

Other links about the future of India’s transportation system:

“A Smoother Passage Through India”

“Making Mass Transit a Priority in India”

“Video on Train Safety in India”

As both countries modernize their systems, a big question is where the capital will come from. In China the obvious answer will be from the government. However, in India that question is currently up for debate, and who pays for the system will have a big impact on what the system will be and how well it will function in the interest of the public.

Both countries are using a diverse mix of transportation systems, and both are seeing a growth in the ownership of cars. This may be all good and fine now, but in five years will this begin to stifle growth in urban areas as more and more cars travel in an already congested city? Not to mention the increased pollution and use of resources. On the flip side if the countries firmly embrace mass transit as they grow, will the populace begin to demand more personal vehicles and leave the mass transit systems unused? There is no easy answer, and a mix of systems would do the trick, but what mix would be best for each country?

My questions for you are: What are the complications that will need to be addressed in both countries to continue to progress their transit systems? What are the business implications of following the U.S. model versus mass transit? How do these major decisions on transportation systems affect the rest of the world from a resource view? There is the ideal solution from an environmental and conservationist perspective, but which direction do you see each country progressing in the near future and what role will business play?

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10 Responses to The Future of Transportation in India and China

  1. Chris Carr says:

    See this blog post by Jesse Dundon from last year’s trip on China’s and India’s civil aviation infrastructure. Click HERE.

    See also this blog post by Chris White from last’s years trip on China’s and India’s road and freeway infrastructure. Click HERE.

    See also my related blog post on the topic from a year or two ago. Click HERE.

  2. Morgan O'Hara says:

    I’m a native New Yorker, and the subway system holds a special place in my heart. I can’t wait to hop on the rails once in China and India, and I’m impressed to see how much money both countries (especially the former) are pouring into public transport projects. A really interesting article on subways and China:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/27/business/worldbusiness/27transit.html?scp=1&sq=china%20subway&st=cse

    Regardless of the rise in private car ownership – the sheer size of these cities makes effective mass transit systems a must. We’ve all experienced the LA traffic – can you imagine if its population were doubled? I won’t venture to estimate the environmental impact, but I do know that it would be unlivable.

    The government has a role to play – in my opinion, it’s fare game to subsidize mass transit by taxing private transportation, by tolling cars that travel within city limits, etc.

    The holy grail seems to be whether a city can set up an efficient and profitable mass transit system. After a bit of research, it seems Japan is the only country that has managed over time. As one of blogs mentioned, moral hazard is a huge issue. Government will bail out losses incurred by mass transit systems, and taxpayers will shoulder the burden – but then again, isn’t all the infrastructure necessary to keep our car culture running subsidized by public funds?

    Maybe China has the solution. Here’s an article on how to make mass transit work by promoting population density and property development around subway lines:

    http://www.financialsense.com/fsu/editorials/2008/1203b.html

  3. Jamie Hastings says:

    I think this is one of the most interesting topics in China and India and I am really fascinated with infrastructure and particularly aviation and how it fits into a country’s ability to move people and goods. I have followed the topic of general aviation slightly in regards to China and have heard that the Chinese government is beginning to support general aviation. Within the last few years they have placed large orders for single engine piston aircraft. Here is an article that mentions not only one of their recent purchases, but also their interest in producing aircraft. http://www.avbuyer.com/articles/Article.asp?Id=1016

    Aviation is one of the most interesting modes of transportation that is really not that dependent on infrastructure. Some of the least developed countries rely heavily on aviation due to a lack of infrastructure. Africa, Alaska, and other remote regions of the world completely depend on general aviation as it is so much easier to build small airstrips than to build roads in many cases. I can see China and India being possibly the largest markets for general aviation in the near future. I constantly wonder if China and India could be possible places of opportunity to fly people and goods into and out of remote places that lack road and rail systems.

    Once again, the success of general aviation in China is probably dependent on the governments ability to build airstrips. To put it in perspective, the U.S. has over 5000 airfields and most of them, you can fly into and out of free of charge.

  4. Friedman’s editorial is predicated on the belief that phone technology and transportation technology are analogous.

    Cell phones are arguably strictly better than land lines. Each person has their own phone (individual freedom), cell phones can be taken with a person nearly wherever he or she goes (mobility), and they have other functions like texting, internet, and photo capabilities (options).

    In contrast, the alternative transportation Friedman supports over the use of cars is not a perfect upgrade. It is true that buses and trains create less pollution than cars. However, cars offer greater freedom and mobility than public transportation can ever give. “Leapfrogging” from cheap cars to mass transportation is not as clear cut as skipping ahead to cell phones.

  5. If you look at the top five largest cities in the U.S., mass transportation systems are a must have. It is nearly impossible to move the masses of people about the city without public transportation. Yes, the majority of U.S citizens own at least one car, but many find it the most convenient, cost effective, and efficient to utilize public transportation. Thought the U.S model predominately focuses on transportation via car, we are quickly learning that it is not the most economically and environmentally viable option. There is a shift in the U.S. moving towards more “green” forms of transportation, such as walking, commuting by bike, and utililizing mass transportation. China and India can learn from the U.S. mistakes by designing city transportation infrastructures around alternative means of transportation. The only way people will not use cars is if they find it more difficult and expensive than using other forms of transportation, which can be done by designing transportation systems and planning city infrastructures that discourage the use of cars.

  6. Matthew Perez says:

    Despite not being the best form of transportation in term of the environment or efficiency, the automobile is still the preferred transportation of people who can afford. The fact that Chinese automotive sales have surpassed those of the United States in 2009 despite the average Chinese individual earning a fraction of what an American earns demonstrates how strong demand is for this form of transportation. Although not quite as massive, India’s auto industry has also experienced a tremendous of growth as well. As Alex has said earlier, the automobile offers the most freedom of any form of transportation. This is a luxury most people would pay dearly for, in spite of the consequences.

  7. Yuxiang Gao says:

    Speaking of transportation system, I have to mention the public transportation in China. I didn’t feel so pround of our public transportation until I arrive here.
    When I was in college, the college is 30 miles away from the downtown and as you know most people don’t have cars. But if i want go to downtown, i just need to buy 2 RMB (30Cents) ticket, the best thing you do need to remreber the schedule of the bus, the interval between every two buses is 5-10 mins, the subway and bus system reach every corner of the city
    In every big cities the USA, I was surprised the waste of public transportation resource. In LA, at least 30% metro train are empty!
    China and India can learn from the U.S. mistakes by designing city transportation infrastructures around alternative means of transportation.

  8. Stephen Allison says:

    I believe China is doing a better job with mass transit than India at he moment, evidenced by its successful maglev train as one example. India needs to invest in infrastructure if it is to supply a decent transit system. Right now Indian trains are overfilled to the point where some people can hop right on without paying and no one would notice. Also, Indian roads for private transportation are heavily congested. It’s more than inefficient, it’s dangerous.

  9. Austen Diliberto says:

    The United States is the lagging country on this issue. There are much poorer countries in the world which have smarter, faster, and more usable rail transportation. It is unfortunate that the whole issue of public transit has become so politically charged. If it can bring people to work and keep them from worrying about gas prices, it sounds like a good idea to me. Not to mention the environmental benefits and the additional comfort and usable time compared with being stuck in traffic. China is already ahead of us after building a train that runs the same distance as between Seattle and San Diego in a fraction of the time. It wouldn’t take much for India to overdo our progress in mass transit. With its large population and extra dense cities, mass transit seems like the only viable option besides creating ten lane city streets. Based on one of the referenced articles, it seems like India is on top of it with many projects requiring a lot of capital investment on the board. It’s good India is planning ahead by starting mass transit projects now. It will only be a matter of time before wages increase to a point where car ownership is even more prevalent. When that time comes Indians will have a clean and quick way to avoid traffic.

  10. AliyaZ. says:

    The role of transportation plays a huge role in economic growth. Both countries China and India depend a lot on transportation and do everything to improve their infrastructure. Both countries are on the right track and are improving they transportation system. I believe that with new technology both countries will reach the point where they will be way ahead many developed countries. It is a paradox. How, for example, the United States is being a lagging country on this issue. Most Americans prefer a car to any other transportation methods. Many families have more than one car per household. That is what public transportation is not as effective as it is in other countries. Well, the situation in the US is not that bad. People are becoming more environment-conscious and choose alternative ways of getting from point A to B.

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