Ground transportation | Understanding tourism

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(Last updated on: 09/09/2020)

Ground transport is integral to the life that we live today and throughout history. From transporting goods to going on holiday, we need ground transport to get from A to B. In this article I will give you an overview of the ground transport industry, with a brief history of the different types of ground transport.

Ground transportation

What is ground transportation?

The definition of ground transportation, is ‘transportation that is over land instead of on water or in the air’.

There are various different types of ground transportation.

Ground transportation includes travelling on foot or by bicycle or motorbike, as well as by car, camper, van, train or bus.

Ground transportation also extends to trams, streetcars, cable cars, funiculars, horses or camels, Segway, scooters, and golf carts.

You can find out more about the history of ground transportation, and these different varieties below.

A brief history of ground transportation 

The history of transport is largely linked to technological innovation.

As technology has improved, people are able to travel further and it is much easier to do so.

In ancient times, inventions such as skis and foot coverings meant citizens could travel further than before, and this continues to apply as inventions become more and more advanced.

The correlation between better technology and better travel is no coincidence!

The history of road transport

ground transportation

Throughout history, roads have existed.

Earth tracks were created by humans carrying goods from A to B, and where there was heavy traffic these tracks were more defined. These were, in the most basic sense, ‘roads’. As trade grew and animals became domesticated, these tracks were widened to allow for animal traffic – horses, donkeys and oxen were used to carry goods.

Wheeled vehicles drawn by animals came into play in the 4th or 5th millennium BC.

They were likely invented and developed in the Ancient Near East at this time, spreading to Europe and India soon after and followed by China a while later. This type of wheeled transport meant that better roads were needed.

Natural materials aren’t great for this, and it seems that the first paved streets were built in 4000 BC in Ur, a Sumerian city-state in ancient Mesopotamia. Corduroy roads, made of logs laid over a swampy area, were built in Glastonbury a few hundred years later. Around the same tie, brick-paved roads were built in the Indus Valley Civilisation.

Later on, the Roman Empire needed better roads.

In order for their army to travel quickly, they required roads that weren’t constantly muddy. They replaced the existing roads with better ones, introducing the use of deep roadbeds. These were made of crushed stone and this underlying layer meant that water could flow through when it rained rather than turning to mud and slowing everybody down. Some of these roads are still used today!

Roman designs were used elsewhere. They were also adapted; additional layers were used to stop the dust and drag from wheels and, in the 8th century, the first tar-paved roads were created in Baghdad, Iraq. In England in 1656, toll roads were introduced. Generally, roads were better made within cities, rather than outside of them.

The history of rail transport

ground transportation

Rail transport is a huge part of ground transportation. The history of rail transport goes back to the 6th century BC, in Ancient Greece. It has continued to evolve until the present day!

The Isthmus of Corinth is a narrow land bridge. In ancient Greek times it was known for separating the Peloponnese from mainland Greece. There is evidence of a trackway here, around 6 to 8.5 km long, which would have been used to transport boats across the Isthmus. The tracks were created by wheeled vehicles running grooves into limestone. This would prevent wagons going off track! Thus, the origins of rail travel were born…

Much later, in 1515, the Reisszug was introduced in Austria. A wooden funicular railway, it still exists and operates today – though it has been updated! It is thought to be the oldest operational railway in existence.

the Reisszug funicular

Wooden railways continued to expand and evolve in Europe and later in America through the 1600s and the 1700s.

As steam engines were introduced in the 1700s, railways needed to change. The Coalbrookdale Company in the UK started to add cast iron plates to wooden rails, updating the railways in terms of their durability and load-bearing ability.

In the early 1800s, steam power was introduced.

Richard Trevithick built the first full-scale working steam locomotive in 1804 — rail transport was constantly evolving and tracks had to be adapted to suit new technology. Steam engines started in the UK but continued to be a major player in rail travel around the world for more than a century. 

Electric railways came into play later on in the 1800s, followed by diesel power in the early 1900s. Again these required the constant evolution of train tracks and just the way rail travel was treated in general. Finally, high speed rail was introduced in 1964 with the Tokyo-Osaka journey in Japan.

Road and rail transportation are the two main components of ground transportation. It is used every single day in different ways, and has been throughout the years. It continues to change and adapt as technologies and industry change. It is now independent of humans, thanks to revolutions of industry and invention.

Different types of ground transportation

As mentioned above, there are so many different types of ground transportation. From private to commercial, solo to group, there are various ways in which we can travel by land.

Here is some further information about some of these transport options.

Cars

ground transportation

Cars, or automobiles, are the most common road vehicle in the developed world.

The birth of the modern car occurred in 1886, when German inventor Karl Benz patented the Benz Patent-Motorwagen.

Cars came into global use in the 20th century. They quickly become popular in the US, with Western Europe and other parts of the world being slower on the uptake.

Cars are the most popular mode of ground transportation.

Cars have benefits as well as problems; they provide mobility and independence to individuals, with convenience for transport on-demand. However, they are the largest cause of injury-related deaths worldwide and they require road maintenance, as well as being a large polluter.

Buses

architecture buildings bus cars

A bus is, essentially, a large car.

They run in similar ways, but buses allow for many more passengers.

Horse-drawn buses were used in the 1800s followed by steam buses and electric trolley buses.

Motor buses, popular today, were introduced in the 1890s. They are used for scheduled transport such as commuting to work or travelling between cities, which lowers congestion levels.

Private hire buses are available and used for tourism, school transport, political campaigns and more.

Trains

train in railway

With rail being the other popular form of ground transportation, trains are incredibly important.

A train is a series of connected vehicles which travel along a track to transport people and/or goods.

There are various types of trains, from steam trains and high-speed electric railways.

Trains are again used for commuting and travelling to different towns or cities; there are also trains used for tourist and entertainment purposes.

Bicycles

sportive woman with bicycle resting on countryside road in sunlight

Another mode of ground transportation is the bicycle.

Human-powered traditionally (although there are also motor-powered bikes of course), they are pedal-driven single-track vehicles.

With two wheels attached to a frame, bicycles are an easy and affordable way to travel overground.

They are used for fitness and recreation as well as transport.

Courier services and safety officials also use bicycles.

Originally developed in the late 1800s, little has changed in terms of the shape and configuration of the bicycle. 

Trams

people at city

A somewhat mixture of a train and a bus, a tram is a rail vehicle which runs on tramway tracks on public streets.

Trams mostly use electric power, and are lighter and short than typical trains. Used typically for public transport and often for tourists, they are a great form of ground transportation.

In the US, trams are typically called ‘streetcars’. The first ever tram was the Swansea and Mumbles Railway in Wales, UK – horse-drawn service started in 1807. It was a one off, really, closing in 1827.

The first street tramway in Britain was built in Birkenhead in 1860.

Human-powered transport

delivery man on a scooter

There are, of course, various types of human-powered ground transportation.

Walking and running are two examples of completely free ways to use your body to get around.

You can also travel by scooter, Segway, skateboard, roller skates, quadracycles and various other modes.

These are great ways to travel without pollution issues, and at a low or one-time cost.

To conclude: Ground transportation

As you can see, there are many different types of ground transportation, that are important components of tourism. Ground transportation has been around for many, many years and I’m sure that it will continue to be around for years to come too.

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Hi, am Dr Hayley Stainton

I’ve been travelling, studying and teaching travel and tourism since I was 16. Through Tourism Teacher I share my knowledge on the principles and practice of travel and tourism management from both an academic and practical perspective.

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