Transportation is the movement of people, animals and goods between any two locations in the world, or even outside of it. Types of transportation includes air, sea, land, underground and space, with differing methods on achieving the task for each type of medium.

The transportation sector requires a lot of energy to operate. The fuel usage of vehicles contributes to approximately 31% of Canada's total energy use.[5] Most vehicles require secondary fuels like gasoline, diesel or jet fuel in order to run smoothly and efficiently. These fuels are derived from primary fuels like crude oil or natural gas, which requires effort and therefore more energy.

Brief History

Early transportation in human history could only be achieved by walking or swimming, but animals were eventually domesticated in order to make this task easier. Horses are thought to be domesticated between 4000 - 3000 BC, and camels between 3000 - 2000 BC.[6] Wheels and canoes were developed shortly after, which progressed the movement of goods throughout the world.

As society advanced, the exchange of goods, exploration to foreign countries, and eventually migration became a more practical and less expensive task, which further advanced economies and quality of life. Until the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution, transportation remained fairly slow and costly. With the Industrial Revolution came advancements in the study of thermodynamics, in which people realized that heat can be made to produce useful work (see mechanical equivalent of heat).[7] This led to the use of steam in order to power the first heat engines, which were extremely inefficient external combustion engines, but the use of them allowed for vast progression in material goods and rapidly growing economies. Canada relied on the railway system for the majority of its early transportation, and it was a key factor in growth of the nation.[8]

With the development of the internal combustion engine in the early 20th century, road transportation became much more feasible, and eventually by the 1970s a good portion of families owned a motor vehicle. The world currently relies tremendously on transportation, and it consumes a large portion of the world's primary energy.

Components of Transportation

The transportation sector relies on three separate elements that are all connected and rely on each other.

  • Infrastructure: Infrastructure is the fixed installation where vehicles operate on including roads, rails, pipelines, and terminals such as airports and sea ports. Proper supply for a changing demand in infrastructure allows the increasing amount of vehicles that use them to do so with ease. This is why road construction is seen so often, in order to meet this demand (Canada is often said to have two seasons: Winter and Construction). In developing countries especially, this demand cannot be met and poor infrastructure leads to increased congestion, air pollution, and fatalities.[9]
  • Vehicles: These are what allow the actual transportation to take place, and carry the people and goods with the aid of infrastructure. The vehicle must provide its own means for propulsion, most commonly by use of an engine, electric motor, propeller, or rocket.
  • Operation: This refers to public or private running of transportation. Most cars on the road are owned privately, and the operation of the vehicle is subject to the owner. However a large portion of the transport sector is run publicly, through private enterprise or government run operations. Transport methods such as buses, aircraft, trains, and large ships all fall into this category.

Transportation energy use

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The transportation sector is the primary user of the world's petroleum, as it relies on various secondary fuels like gasoline and diesel.

This visualization shows how much of the world's total final consumption is used by each industry. Transportation makes up close to a third of this. Specific countries may also be searched for by use of the search bar. Click on the black bar beside "Transport" below to see how the use of this energy is split up within the sector.


The fact that transportation uses so much energy is concerning for the environment, as most types of transport burn fossil fuels which create pollution and contribute to global warming. The transportation sector has the fastest growing carbon emissions of any sector, with some 67 million new cars being produced each year.[10] Improving fuel economy and the use of "greener" vehicles such as hybrid cars and electric vehicles can reduce CO2 emissions, however these vehicles still have associated emissions due to those from their production and the electricity they must use (see Long tail-pipe problem).


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  4. Wikimedia Commons [Online], Available:
  5. NRCAN, Transportation [Online]. (June 8, 2015). Available:
  6. Local Histories, A History of Transportation [Online], Available:
  7. Hyperphysics, Mechanical equivalence of heat [Online], Available:
  8. The Canadian Encyclopedia, Transportation [Online], Available:
  9. IPCC, Transport and its infrastructure [Online], Available:
  10. World Watch, Vehicle Production Rises, But Few Cars are "Green" [Online], Available:

Authors and Editors

Jordan Hanania, Ellen Lloyd, Kailyn Stenhouse, Jasdeep Toor, Jason Donev
Last updated: September 3, 2018
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