The four elements of transport are (i) the way, (ii) the unit of carriage, (iii) the motive power unit, and the terminal.
(i) The way. Natural ways are cheap and free, and have no maintenance costs unless we try to improve them artificially. The sea, the air, the rivers, and footpaths are all natural ways. Being natural they are subject to the whims of nature, and this often requires, that they be improved artificially. Rivers are subject to controls to prevent flooding in wet periods and insufficient flow in dry periods.
They are dredged to maintain a channel and locks are built to improve navigation in the upper reaches, Bridle paths are made up and turned into roads. Highways and motorways, canals, railways, tramways tunnels, and monorails are similarly constructed. Clearly these are not free’ like may be borne socially rather than privately. If the costs are borne by the ratepayer and taxpayer we may have what is an apparently free way built the owner usually has sole use of it. This owner then charges for its use by other persons, to recoup the capital costs.
(ii) The unit of carriage. Whatever we call it, some vehicle or craft must be used in transport. The efficiency of the mode of transport depends to some extent on the flexibility and adaptability of the unit of carriage used. Road vehicles are adaptable than railways rolling stock because they are not entirely tied to the way: aircraft and ships are even less tightly bound by the way on which they travel.
Even a pipeline can be considered as unit of carriage. It is not very adaptable in its behaviour: we cannot expect it to carry gas until noon, milk from noon till 3 p.m., and petrol from 3 p.m. to midnight. In choosing our method of transport the adaptability of the unit of carriage will be a major consideration.
(iii) The motive power unit. Every vehicle must be driven and the choice of a propulsion unit depends upon the strength of the vehicle, the speed required, the available fuel, and other factors. Today the steam engine, the first great prime mover, has been largely replaced by the petrol engine, the jet engine, the diesel engine and the electric motor.
(iv) The terminal. Nearly every journey involves junctions where we can transfer from one form of transport to another. A port is usually regarded as a terminal for ships, but in fact it is also a terminal for trains, roads, pipelines, and aircraft.
In planning efficient transport systems, commercial firms and transport authorities must view the interchange of facilities as being part of a unified whole. Congestion in terminals in the past has spelt the death of transport system, as it did when the congestion on the canals led to the growth of railways.
The Position of Transport in the Pattern of Commerce
If specialized production is how advanced societies create the utilities they need to satisfy their wants,’ some way must be devised to bring to the market-place the surpluses created by each specialist. The function of transport is to more goods and passengers geographically.
It is part of tertiary production, satisfying wants’ by making goods available and by giving service to those who need, for family, business, or recreational reasons, to travel in their day-to-day affairs.
It also enables a fuller use to be made of the division of labour, because transport increases the size of a market and therefore permits a higher degree of specialization to employ. An improved transport system makes possible an increase in the scale of production so that the wealth of the whole nation increases.