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Half of global journeys are by car. But Asia prefers public transportation


A new study titled "ABCs of Mobility", recently published in Environment International by Rafael Prieto-Curiel of the Complexity Science Hub in Vienna and Juan Pablo Ospina of the Research Group in Space Economics (RiSE-Group) at the Universidad EAFIT in Medellín, has shed light on a crucial aspect of urban life: the role of cars in transportation and how this dynamic varies between continents.


A new study titled "ABCs of Mobility", recently published in Environment International by Rafael Prieto-Curiel of the Complexity Science Hub in Vienna and Juan Pablo Ospina of the Research Group in Space Economics (RiSE-Group) at the Universidad EAFIT in Medellín, has shed light on a crucial aspect of urban life: the role of cars in transportation and how this dynamic varies between continents.


A "variable" percentage

Based on the latest data, cars hold global leadership in transportation, involving about 51 percent of global travel. However, this percentage varies significantly among continents. For example, in the United States and Canada, nearly 92 percent of travel is by car. In the South and East Asian territories, public transportation represents a significant portion of travel, with cities such as Hong Kong (77 percent), Seoul (66 percent), Mumbai (52 percent), and Tokyo (51 percent) showing high rates of use.


So much in so little”: the data confirms it 

And the trend is surprising, in part, because none of these cities-and particularly any Asian state-are mentioned when discussing the first subway in the word and those that were built in the years immediately following. A sign that their "history" at the level of public transportation does not have its roots long ago but that, at the same time, structural interventions have been in place in just a few years that enable them to arrive at the previously mentioned usage figures.


The European phenomenon

Furthermore, it's interesting to observe how there is a diversification in transport modes in Europe. In Northern and Southern Europe, the percentage of travel by car is between 50 percent and 75 percent. Some cities, such as Rome (66%) and Manchester (71%), show a strong dependence on the car. However, there are also cities such as Copenhagen (47 percent), Utrecht (75 percent), Bilbao (66 percent) and Bolzano (58 percent) where cycling and walking are common modes of travel. Finally, public transportation plays a key role in cities such as Paris (60 %) and London (45 %). This trend is also repeated in Eastern European cities such as Minsk (65 %), Prague (52%), Warsaw (47%) and Budapest (45%).


Asia and cycling mobility

In many regions of Asia, there is a significant presence of cyclists on the streets, a feature that is helping to redefine the urban mobility landscape. Cities such as Dhaka, whose percentage reaches 58 %, Beijing with 53%, and Shanghai with 47%, stand out as leaders in this trend. But they are not alone in embracing cycling as a primary mode of transportation. Even metropolises such as Tokyo, where 37 percent of residents prefer bicycling, and Mumbai and Delhi, both with significant participation at 33 percent, testify to the growing importance of cycling in Asian urban life.


What about Latin America?

Cities in Latin America show a different dynamic, with less dependence on cars compared to wealthier countries. In Mexico City, for example, only 21 percent of travel is by car. Here, an extensive metropolitan system, combined with alternatives such as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and buses, covers nearly half of all trips in the city, indicating a balance between active mobility and public transport.


In sum, while the cars remain dominant in global transportation, differential trends across continents reveal a complex interplay between culture, infrastructure, and individual preferences in the choice of transportation modes.

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