Written by RAND Corporation
1 January 2013

What might the future of mobility be in China in 2030? Mobility is defined as the ability to travel from one location to another, regardless of mode or purpose. RAND researchers, working with the Institute for Mobility Research, used a six-step process to develop two scenarios that address this question. The six steps are

  1. select influencing areas (domains that affect mobility directly: demographics, economics, energy, and transportation supply and constraints);
  2. elicit projections on descriptors (via expert workshops in Washington, D.C., and Beijing);
  3. integrate these into scenario frameworks (using two analysis methods and a computer-based tool);
  4. produce scenario narratives (based on the clusters produced by the tool);
  5. draw qualitative consequences for future mobility; and
  6. create a wild-card scenario (by looking at events that might disrupt trends).

Three key drivers differentiate the resulting scenarios: economic growth, the presence of constraints on vehicle ownership and driving, and environmental conditions. In scenario 1, the Great Reset, continued (albeit slightly slower than previous) economic growth fuels demand for automobiles, including hybrids, but cities also invest heavily in transit and non-motorized infrastructure. Scenario 2, Slowing but Growing, assumes that the economy goes through a downturn marked by instability and that future growth in travel demand is lower than in the first scenario. By making potential long-term mobility futures more vivid, the aim is to help decisionmakers at different levels of government and in the private sector better anticipate and prepare for change.

Key Finding - Decision makers have control over one critical influence in the Future of Mobility in China

  • Three critical uncertainties, or driving forces, that cause one path to emerge over another: the pace of economic growth, constraints imposed on vehicle ownership and use, and environmental conditions. Of these, by far the most critical is economic growth. The potential for transportation decisionmakers to influence economic growth and environmental conditions is limited. However, they will have greater opportunity to use constraints on vehicle ownership and usage to reduce the growth in travel demand.


  • To help them anticipate and prepare for change, decisionmakers should identify the leading indicators of mobility in China.
  • They should use scenarios to help them determine opportunities, risks, and contingencies for various possible futures.