Transport Geography: What It Studies, History, Concepts

The geography of transport is responsible for the spatial study of transport systems and means, considered a “spatial phenomenon”, since it arises from the need for people to move from one place to another through space. It is a social science that emerges from humanistic geography.

Transport is understood as the way of moving the inhabitants from one place to another, as well as bringing them closer to a service, product or interest. Hardly in a city, village or town, those things that are needed are in the same place where a certain person is. From here arise the means of transport as a means of connection to satisfy needs.

There are currently two very different ways of understanding the geography of transport: the study and analysis of transport systems, and the study and analysis of the impact of transport on society.

The first refers to means of transport such as routes, roads, distances, topography (study of the terrain), applied technology, distribution in space, socio-economic and political context, costs and investment.

The second aspect focuses on the effects of transport on societies. Experts argue that the geography of transportation can explain everything from economic crises to religious changes in communities. Social distribution over time and space is one of the main issues to be discussed.

Brief history of the geography of transport 

This branch of study of human geography could be considered relatively new. As with many of the disciplines of this family of study, it appears after the institutionalization of general geography in Europe. It is precisely in Germany where the first great advances are made.

The author Johann Georg Kohl is considered the forerunner of the geography of transportation. His work Transport and human settlements in their dependence on the configuration of the earth’s surface  (1841), is considered an invaluable and foundational document of this science.

Using Moscow as his main object of study, Kohl developed a mathematical theory about the development and expansion of what he called “circular cities.” In his book he correctly predicted the construction of skyscrapers and underground shopping centers, as a consequence of the geographical and geometric development of these urban centers.

Three decades later, Alfred Hettner, also a German geographer, proposed that the “geography of circulation” be installed as a subject within human geography. At that time, the geography of transportation had an organic imprint and cities and transportation systems were understood as the circulation of blood in the human body.

On the opposite ideological path, Friedrich Ratzel would propose a deterministic look strongly influenced by the Darwinian ideas of the time. Ratzel managed to systematize the geography of transport and propose the theory of “vital space”, of an imperialist and militaristic nature, on which part of the ideology of Nazi Germany would be based.

Ratzel and his ideas were highly fought within the scientific community, as they served as excuses to promote notions related to racial supremacy. Ratzel, like so many other geographical determinists, believed that the environment shaped men and that nature endowed specific qualities in certain groups.

It is at this time when the current of thought radically opposed to determinism arises: geographical possibilism. With the French Paul Vidal de la Blache as the main exponent, the theory held that it is humans who modify the landscape and that the role of transport would be fundamental for the development of a society.

The geography of transport understood as it is today (systematized and academized) only appeared in the 20th century. During the ’40s and’ 50s and after years of empirical research, the bases and methods of study and concrete analysis were established. Most of these with a humanistic approach and with a marked imprint of study houses in France and the United States.

Concepts of transportation geography

As with all science, over the years new challenges, ideas and currents of thought arise that force us to update the object of study. However, fundamental axes on which the study is compiled are always maintained.

– Geographic space: it is understood as the surface or distance that connects two points of interest.

– Movement: refers to the displacement relationship that occurs in geographic space.

These two concepts are the fundamental pillars of this science, from here other notions emerge such as:

Transportation and spatial change

Emerged in the 90s, it focuses on the study of social modifications that have arisen thanks to the globalization of commerce and telecommunications.

Within his field of study, he focuses on aspects such as: transportation analysis and politics, infrastructure construction, distance friction, transportation and the environment, transportation and tourism, information systems and management of the transport.

Mobility and social change

Transport, mobility and social changes are understood as three factors in conflict from globalization.

The urgent need for the redistribution of wealth that guarantees access to transport for underprivileged sectors or the sustainability of means and mobility systems are some of the issues that are developed.

Trends in the geography of transportation

In current times, there are at least six fundamental axes on which this science focuses.

– Land transport: explosion and exponential increase in the demand for cars powered by fossil fuel in the main world economic centers: Europe, Asia and the United States.

– Maritime transport: clear domain of large vessels in relation to international trade, in order to move containers.

– Rail transport: emergence and installation of networks and high-speed trains (“bullet train”).

– Air transport: high demand forced the almost total deregulation of this industry. Low-cost airlines appear and the construction of new airports is promoted.

– Seaports: as key points for commerce and recreation, each time they advance in kilometers and offer of services.

– Multimodal platforms: the demand for mobility in the main economic centers is such that it requires the construction of passenger terminals where at least two means of transport are combined, although sometimes the three main ones converge: land, air and sea.


  1. Shaw, J., Knowles, R., & Docherty, I. (2007). Fundamentals of Transport Geographies.
  2. Miralles-Guasch, C. (2013). Mobility, transport and the territory. A liquid and multiform triangle.
  3. Wilmsmeier, G. (2015). Geography of freight transport. Evolution and challenges in a changing global context.
  4. The Geography of Transport Systems. (sf). Recovered from
  5. Seguí Pons, JM, & Martínez Reynés, MR (2003). Plurality of methods and conceptual renewal of the geography of transport in the XXI century. Recovered from

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