Due to China’s well connected and efficient network of motorways, most people travel by road. Cargo too is transported to a great extent via national roads and highways. As of 2018, nearly 40 billion metric tons of cargo were transported by road freight. The average daily traffic volume on national highways also peaked in 2018. However, over time, the number of public road transports and the number of passengers using this service has seen a decline. While the number of passengers fell by around 28 percent, the volume of public transport traffic simultaneously decreased by 23 percent between the years 2014 and 2018.
On the other hand, figures for China’s railway witnessed an escalation both in terms of the volume of traffic as well as the number of goods and people being transported. The steady increase in the number of rail passengers coincided with an 86 percent increment in the volume of rail passenger transport traffic within a span of ten years from 2009 to 2019. A similar correlation was noted between the volume of cargo transported by rail and the volume of railway freight traffic during the same time span.
China’s economic development also made frequent air travel a possibility for a majority of the public. The Beijing Capital International Airport, China’s leading airport, had a footfall that grossed over 100 million passengers in 2019. With regards to cargo transportation, the volume of air freight traffic spiked to about 26 billion ton-kilometers in 2019.
The number of water transport vessels although having decreased since 2013, continue to make up for a sizeable volume of waterway traffic while transporting both passengers and freight. Yet, while the volume of waterway cargo went up to over 7.4 billion metric tons in 2019, the number of passengers travelling by ships reduced.
Although China’s rapid development on this front has been commended by its peers, the ramifications of such progress on the environment cannot be overlooked. An increase in the frequency and volume of all four modes of transportation contribute significantly to air pollution, water pollution, depletion of non-renewable resources and global warming. Thus, China has begun to take steps towards enhancing its transportation system in ways that make it sustainable.