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Six Implications of the Scenarios

Each scenario represents a hypothetical future in which decisions that affect the transportation system might be made. The scenarios account for both the current state of affairs (because past trends informed the projections) and the various forces that might shape the state of affairs in 2030. These forces, which might be more or less likely and more or less desired, will affect mobility outcomes in the future.

As noted previously, our scenarios are descriptive and not normative. We did not seek to define a desired mobility future and then identify the path to arrive there. Instead, our scenario approach explored possible future developments with past trends as a point of departure. In other words, we tried to answer "What if?" and not "How to?" questions. These included the following:

What if NEVs become an important element in the vehicle fleet?

What if long-distance travel continues to grow?

What if constraints on vehicle ownership and driving became far more widespread?

What if auto manufacturing continues its upward trajectory and China remains the world's dominant car producer?

What if economic growth falls to levels not seen in a generation?

In this chapter, we present the implications of the scenarios for transportation decisionmaking.

Implications for Transportation Policy

The Chinese urban and transportation landscape has changed rapidly in the past few decades, and further changes are likely in store. Some might be continuations of past trends, but, in many cases, it would be difficult for past trends to continue, and the country might instead see a leveling off or even a decline. The scenarios explore several combinations of these potential patterns, as well as ways in which the policy responses at different levels of government contribute to these patterns.

The Great Reset scenario assumes that, while economic growth slows from previous highs, growth remains fairly strong. The economy navigates a shift from growth fueled by government investment to reliance on consumption as the engine for growth. Car manufacturing and ownership continue to increase, even as cities try to stem the tide with additional constraints on driving and more investments in transit and nonmotorized modes of transport. The transportation network is built out both within and between cities, facilitating a substantial increase in intercity travel.

The Slowing but Growing scenario is built on the assumption of lower levels of economic growth, following a rocky transition period marked by instability. Although some past trends continue, such as expansion of auto manufacturing, the problems are more pronounced. Investments in new infrastructure have proven less productive than hoped because demand for intercity travel is not growing very quickly. Car ownership grows, albeit slowly, because many people still cannot afford to purchase vehicles. Lacking revenues, cities have not built much new infrastructure for other modes.

Analyzing the differences between the two scenarios, we can identify the key drivers that caused one path to emerge over another. Our analysis revealed three factors as being significant in this regard: (1) economic growth, (2) constraints on car ownership and driving, and (3) environmental conditions.

Economic Growth

Although economic growth will almost surely slow in China as it has for other fast-growing Asian countries in the past, the question here is how much it slows and whether the transition can be managed smoothly (the Great Reset) or is disruptive (Slowing but Growing). The central government, through its planning mechanism, sets targets for growth, but many other factors can affect growth as well: labor shortages, corruption, declines in export markets, consumer spending, and problems in the financial sector. So, although there is some leverage over this factor, controlling it is by no means fully within decisionmakers' purview.

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