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One Introduction

China has grown at an astonishingly rapid pace since undertaking economic reforms in the late 1970s. That growth ushered in major changes that affect both local and long-distance travel: urbanization, higher incomes, and a building boom in transportation infrastructure across all modes. China is now the world's largest producer and consumer of passenger vehicles. Vehicle ownership remains low by the standards of developed economies, yet congestion and parking problems are so severe in most municipalities that many cities have already introduced policies to constrain vehicle ownership. The increase in travel has also contributed to the country's serious air-pollution problems, yet the government's stated plans to increase the use of electric vehicles (EVs) have fallen far short of expectations.

How these varying trends will play out over the next 15 years is of great interest to decisionmakers not only in China but all over the world. Chinese demand for oil is large enough to influence world market prices, Chinese demand and preferences for vehicles drive the plans of global auto manufacturers, and Chinese responses to climate change could measurably reduce global emissions, as well as affect the actions of other countries. However, given the rapid changes of the past few decades, past trends might not be sustainable.

This is where scenario planning becomes useful. We use the term scenario to refer to a plausible combination of possible long-term future developments. Scenario planning is the development of one or more scenarios via a methodology that incorporates multiple possible future outcomes. The contribution of scenario planning is to help us consider a wider range of potential futures than those that would be predicted from extrapolating from past trends or from a single set of projections. Either of these methods would produce a single future scenario, whereas scenario planning generally produces multiple scenarios.

The advantage to using scenarios in designing transportation policy is to foster discussion and analysis of possible outcomes that might not be obvious when using more-conventional tools, such as forecasting and travel demand modeling. Scenarios encourage transportation planners and policymakers to consider a wide range of possible, plausible futures and the paths leading to those futures. Decisions made in the short term can affect whether one scenario becomes more plausible than another, and scenarios can help identify leading indicators that can indicate which scenario has become more likely.

Study Objectives

This study applied scenario planning to answer this question: What might we expect for the future of mobility in China in 2030? We define mobility as the ability to travel from one location to another, regardless of mode or purpose. Instead of using trend analysis or quantitative forecasts to answer this question, we used scenario planning because it provides a structured method to explore the many ways in which mobility could evolve and then to examine what those possible alternative paths might imply about future mobility.

Our goal is not to predict the future—obviously, an impossible task—but to look at how various factors might affect mobility when combined in different ways. Our focus is largely on Chinese passenger travel (that is, personal travel via driving, transit, domestic air, and intercity rail). The goal is to better understand how a combination of factors can affect total mobility. For example, oil prices have a substantial effect on the amount of driving because drivers are sensitive to the price of gasoline. However, other factors that are taking place simultaneously, such as investments in public transit systems or an economic downturn, might also influence the choice to drive.

To answer this question, RAND collaborated with the Institute for Mobility Research (ifmo) to apply a methodology that distills experts' projections in a variety of areas into scenarios that form plausible and consistent stories about the future. The use of scenarios to evaluate multiple potential futures is a technique first developed by RAND researchers in the 1960s (Kahn and Wiener, 1967) and has been considerably modified and expanded in the ensuing years. Borjeson et al. (2006) provides a simple typology of the many uses for which scenarios have been developed over the years. The technique we use here would be classified as an external explorative scenario. External means that it focuses on external factors, rather than what can happen if a particular actor takes a certain action. Explorative means that it seeks to understand what can happen in the future, rather than what will happen or how can a certain target be reached.

Many methodologies are available to develop scenarios (as discussed in Amer, Daim, and Jetter, 2013). Cross-impact analysis is one means of developing the links between various factors, and consistency analysis is a means of ensuring that the many individual predictions that make up a scenario are internally consistent. Both of these tools can be used in qualitative, as well as quantitative, inputs.

The scenario methodology used in this project was originally developed by ifmo using a scenario framework presented in Gausemeier, Fink, and Schlake (1998). The online Risk Assessment and Horizon Scanning (RAHS) tool operationalizes the steps of the process shown in Figure 1.1. (Appendix A contains more information about RAHS.)

This study built on prior ifmo research that developed scenarios for Germany for 2020, 2025, and 2030, as well as a previous scenario report for the United States in 2030 (Zmud, Ecola, et al., 2013). In the German research, periodic updates every five years have allowed the projections in each influencing area to be confirmed or adapted based on current contexts. Long-term planning horizons for national and regional transportation planning, as well as for industry, are typically several decades. For this report, we selected 2030 as the forecast year, in part for consistency with the earlier German and U.S. work. Ideally, this report will become one of a series of reports that can be likewise updated or that use similar methodologies for other countries.

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