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Produce Scenario Narratives

Drawing on the reasoning and assumptions that surfaced during the expert workshops, we fleshed out the two scenarios into written narratives. We called them the Great Reset and Slowing but Growing. To further validate the scenarios, we asked several RAND experts, several of the U.S. experts who attended the economic workshop, and several Chinese experts from both workshops to comment on whether they found the scenario frameworks plausible, understandable, and internally consistent. Although their ratings of the scenarios were generally positive, we used the critical feedback to ensure the relevance and sharpen the content of the scenarios.

Draw Consequences for Future Mobility

In this six-step framework, this step generally consists of developing future estimates of mobility based on empirical past trends and ratings of directional influence (that is, whether a projection would encourage higher or lower use of a mode), as well as the strength of the influence in each scenario on travel. However, the lack of reliable Chinese data on personal travel at a national level made it difficult to conduct this type of exercise, because it cannot be based on past trends. We instead discuss changes in travel demand in a more qualitative manner (e.g., strong increase versus moderate increase). We also wove in more broadly some thoughts about the prevalence of new technologies (such as advanced driver-assistance systems) and new access models (such as car-sharing) based on other drivers in each scenario.

Create a Wild-Card Scenario

The research team also developed one wild-card or low-probability scenario. Wild cards assume that certain events have broken with otherwise-foreseeable trends to move the world in an unanticipated direction. They constitute paths that differ from the projections that underpin the formally developed scenarios. The underlying assumption of this wild card originated from comments made at the four expert workshops, in which we asked the experts what events might confound the projections they had just made, as well as from internal discussions between RAND and ifmo staff.

Although multiple possible ideas for wild cards were put forward, we selected one in which China experiences a fairly severe financial crisis with long-reaching implications. The economic experts were in agreement that some type of crisis is likely but that the course of the economy following such a crisis would depend on the policy actions taken in response.

Why the Scenarios Matter

Because the two scenarios, the Great Reset and Slowing but Growing, were developed from a systematic, empirical process to identify past trends and prospective projections, they represent plausible futures in which transportation policy and planning might be conducted. These future conditions might be more or less likely and more or less desired. Still, the scenarios provide the opportunity for officials at varying levels of government, as well as stakeholders, such as transit operators and private firms in the transportation field, to assess and understand how today's decisions might play out in the future.

At one level, the scenarios can provide a valuable reality check on current strategic options and plans. Because the future is uncertain, we do not know whether one, the other, or neither scenario will actually come to be. But, to determine whether or not they will be well positioned to address associated challenges and risks, organizations can review their strategic plans or policies over the range of futures that the scenarios illustrate. The organizations' focus should be on the robustness of each strategic option (i.e., can it be delivered in a particular scenario?) and on its importance (i.e., how important is it in influencing a particular scenario outcome?).

Related to this, the scenarios facilitate out-of-the-box thinking. Multiple scenarios encourage people to consider a wider range of futures than in typical day-to-day planning, which is often based on a single set or narrow range of projections about future transportation and the factors that affect travel demand (e.g., population growth, per capita driving). They enable officials to consider atypical opportunities and risks and, by doing so, to identify a more robust set of strategic options.

One of the fundamental uses of the scenarios is to help policymakers and other decisionmakers prepare for change. We encourage officials and agencies to identify leading indicators of the changes that the scenario narratives capture and to monitor these over time. A leading indicator is typically thought of as an economic indicator that changes before the economy as a whole changes. This concept can and should be transferred to the transportation context. By monitoring leading indicators of directions in trends related to each scenario, an agency or organization can explore the questions, "Toward which scenario are we moving, and what are the implications for our policies or planning?"

Our analysis revealed three key drivers that could lead to one scenario versus the other: economic growth, constraints on cars and driving, and environmental concerns. Economic growth and environmental concerns depend on various determinants outside transportation. In addition, how our scenarios play out will depend on whether and how well transportation policymakers and other decisionmakers anticipate and address upcoming challenges related to rapid motorization.

Report Organization

We have organized the remainder of this report into seven chapters. Chapter Two provides a short description of past trends in the descriptors in each influencing area. Chapter Three discusses the key drivers that differentiate the two scenarios, as well as common projections both scenarios share. Chapter Four contains the two scenarios. Note that these are written as though we are already in 2030, looking back on developments of roughly the past two decades. For ease of comparing prices, all dollar figures are expressed in constant 2012 dollars so as to avoid making projections about inflation levels. Chapter Five contains the wild-card scenario. Chapter Six discusses the potential implications of the scenarios on different levels of government, industry, and private citizens. Finally, Chapter Seven contains our conclusions.

This report also contains two appendixes. Appendix A describes our methodology in more detail. Appendix B lists the experts who participated in each of the workshops.

 
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