Seamless freight transportation — where goods flow rapidly from door to door using the most cost-efficient and reliable transport modes in harmony with each other — has long been an industry buzzword more talked about than consistently executed.
Is the idea that this type of synchronicity a necessity for sustainable and greener growth taking hold? Well, perhaps. At least that’s a theme from the International Transport Forum’s 2012 Transport Outlook, which is titled, “Seamless Transport for Greener Growth.”
ITF is a 53-member intergovernmental organization that’s basically a strategic think-tank on global transport policy issues surrounding “economic growth, environmental protection, social inclusion and the preservation of human life and well-being.”
The 2008 financial crisis triggered a severe drop in demand that lead to big reductions in global output, trade and transport volumes, the ITF says. “The fall in trade was larger than the drop in output, and the fall in transport volumes was larger than the drop in trade volumes,” the report says.
Today things are not much better, especially for transportation: “The macroeconomic outlook and with it the expectations for trade and transport in the near term remain rather bleak…The impacts are most clearly felt in the near term outlook for freight transport.”
But while bleak, conditions for a return to growth do exist, the report continues. “The impact of the current economic crises could well be a permanent loss of output rather than a direct return to pre-crises growth paths, but global passenger transport volumes could grow to be as much as two and a half times their 2010 level by 2050. Freight volumes could grow by a factor of four.”
The transport sector has, and will have, an important role in achieving greener, seamless growth. According to ITF projections the key driver for reducing emissions will be based on technological change, i.e. fuel efficient internal combustion engines and hybrids, rather than large scale adoption of alternative options such as electric vehicles, it says. This means that emissions will continue to rise, but not as much as they would absent the application of fuel-efficient technologies.
With public and private transport funding under pressure and in many cases not really available, adopting a seamless transport system approach “with its focus on end-to-end journeys” will help identify the best bang-for-buck investment and technological options. This approach will favor a more balanced transportation system, the report continues, that is less focused on car reliance and thus also better for the environment.
“Highlighting seamlessness is not trivial as it focuses on improving the network and system characteristics of transport where pay-offs for modest investments can be large. Such a perspective can help identify new and effective design and investment opportunities.” Seamlessness increases when switching between modes is easier and smoother, for example through better intermodal terminals or more connected networks.
The 61-page ITF report is a dense and highly bureaucratic document but the message is fairly clear; making “think seamless” the mantra instead of the PR buzzword will enhance the growth opportunities that are there, encourage investment of scarce funds and resources, and better align mobility and green plans.
[Image: ITF logo]