Transportation is the movement of people, animals and goods from one location to another 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 technology to convert to something usable for a specific vehicle.

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 societies advanced, the exchange of goods, exploration to foreign countries, and eventually migration became a more practical and less expensive—which advanced economies and improved 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. However, using them allowed vast progression in material goods and rapidly growing economies. For example, Canada relied on the railway system for the majority of its early transportation, and it was a key factor in the growth of the nation.[8]

With the development of the internal combustion engine in the early 20th century, road transportation became much more feasible. By the 1970s a good portion of families owned a motor vehicle. The world currently relies tremendously on transportation, which 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. Infrastructure is continuously being upgraded and improved to meet transportation demands. 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). When infrastructure is not kept up (like in developing countries) this can lead to increased congestion, air pollution, and fatalities.[9]
  • Vehicles: These are what allow the actual transportation to take place, and carry 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 the 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, so it can make derivatives such as 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.

Use the search bar to look up a specific country. Click on the black bar beside "Transport" below to see how the use of this energy is split up within the sector.


A large portion of fuel used for transportation comes from fossil fuels. This is concerning due to its contribution to pollution and global warming from using them. The transportation sector has the fastest growing carbon emissions of any sector, with approx 67 million new cars being produced each year.[10] Although improving fuel economy and the use of "greener" vehicles (ex. hybrid cars and electric vehicles) can reduce CO2 emissions, these vehicles still have associated emissions due their production and the electricity used to fuel them (see Long tail-pipe problem).

For Further Reading


  1. Wikimedia Commons [Online], Available:
  2. Wikimedia Commons [Online], Available:
  3. Wikimedia Commons [Online], Available:
  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: