Paths to the Future: Prototypical Historical Patterns of Mobility Evolution in OECD Countries and Their Implications for the Future of the BRIC Countries

Paths to the Future: Prototypical Historical Patterns of Mobility Evolution in OECD Countries and Their Implications for the Future of the BRIC Countries


Charlene Rohr, RAND Europe, Tobias Kuhnimhof, Ifmo, Liisa Ecola, RAND


This study looks to understand key factors contributing to mobility development in OECD countries, through both qualitative and quantitative analysis, and then uses these findings to examine implications for the future mobility in the BRIC countries.


In industrialized countries the historical high growth in passenger mobility – specifically car travel - has leveled off in recent years and there are some signs of saturation. However, current evidence suggests that this saturation occurs on very different levels in different countries; i.e. high-income countries show different levels of motorization (cars/capita) and car travel demand (VKT/capita), even if levels of GDP per capita are broadly similar. Moreover, the evolutionary paths that have lead up to the current situation differ in the speed of development: historically, industrialized countries have shown different growth rates for the mobility indicators listed above at comparable levels and comparable growth rates for GDP per capita. This indicates that although economic development explains much of mobility development, there are likely to be many other influential factors ranging from transport, land use and industrial policies.

This paper reports on a study that investigates a) why the evolutionary paths of mobility development in high-income countries have been so different in the past and b) what this means for the future of mobility in places that today are still characterized by substantial growth of mobility. To this end, the paper describes the historical paths of mobility development of four OECD case study countries that have seen different mobility patterns: USA, Australia, Germany, and Japan. These case studies describe the historical development of mobility and use these paths to develop hypotheses of the key factors, which are likely to have influenced mobility development. The study also develops models of cars/capita and VKT/capita for the case study countries, using GDP/capita as the key explanatory variable. The country-specific model coefficients describe a) the speed of development for these indicators and b) the level at which saturation is likely to occur. By means of these models, we factor out the economy as an explanatory variable and establish two coefficients that encapsulate each country’s specific historical mobility development – beyond what appears to be determined by GDP development. Subsequently, the paper combines the four descriptive case studies with the model coefficients and theorizes how quantitative and qualitative factors have overlaid to shape the specific evolutionary path of each case study country.

What are the implications of the findings from the OECD country case studies for the future of mobility in emerging economies? To study this we engaged in a dialogue with transportation experts from the BRIC countries: Brazil, Russia, China, and India. The factors that shaped the speed of mobility development and projected saturation levels for the OECD countries were presented to this group of experts. In this dialogue and based on the experience from the OECD countries, likely ranges for a) the speed of mobility development and b) long term saturation levels were established, i.e. the coefficients for models for the BRIC countries. Recombining these coefficients with GDP projections for the BRIC countries allowed for the development of hypotheses for the future of mobility for the BRIC countries.


Association for European Transport