Improvements in Movement of Empty Containers: The Case of the Port of Gothenburg


Author

Violeta Roso
Department of Technology Management and Economics, Division of Logistics and Transportation, Chalmers University of Technology, 41296 Gothenburg, Sweden

Nils Andersson
Department of Technology Management and Economics, Division of Logistics and Transportation, Chalmers University of Technology, 41296 Gothenburg, Sweden

Joakim Widstrand
Department of Technology Management and Economics, Division of Logistics and Transportation, Chalmers University of Technology, 41296 Gothenburg, Sweden

Kent Lumsden
Department of Technology Management and Economics, Division of Logistics and Transportation, Chalmers University of Technology, 41296 Gothenburg, Sweden


Content

Capacity increase only at seaport facilities without improvements in seaports’ inland access is not enough for the entire container transport chain to function properly. With constantly growing container transports, efficiency of rail and flexibility of road are increasingly needed for inland access to/from the seaports, however not always sufficient. Therefore the purpose of this study is to compare movement of empty containers by barge and long and heavy vehicles (LHV) to the reference situation done by regular trucks, on the case of port of Gothenburg and one of its nearby depots; with regard to economy, environment, flexibility and time efficiency. Currently the transportation of containers between the container terminal in the port of Gothenburg and the container depot located 6,5 km at Risholmen is carried out by trucks of a maximum capacity of three TEUs. The data for the study were collected through interviews, observation and literature review. The literature in general claims that barge is a very cost efficient and low polluting mode of transportation but in which circumstances? The findings of the study are focusing on how the studied modes are performing with respect to suggested criteria and show LHV to be the most suitable mode of transport for given route. Not only that the proper choice of the mode has an economic effect, but it also has an environmental impact due to reduced fuel consumption resulting in lower emissions.

Keywords: barge, LHV, empty containers, depot, Port of Gothenburg

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Maritime transportation is a steadily growing global industry. To adapt to this growth, ports strive to stay competitive by offering competitive port and hinterland services (Alderton, 2008). Since majority of the ports are located in densely populated areas, expansion within the port area is difficult and this has put challenges on ports to increase the efficiency in port activities and in the land use, to be able to efficiently handle the increased volumes (Roso et al, 2009b). The phenomenon of containerisation has facilitated the handling and increased the security of goods and products, which are the keystones for the global production and trade. However repositioning of empty containers is considered to be one of the biggest issues in the shipping industry. An increasing number of containers are repositioned empty because it is hard to find a cargo for a return leg. Not only that it has an economic effect, but it also has an environmental impact, since the reduction of empty container movements should reduce fuel consumption as well as congestion and emissions (Song and Carter, 2009). Container depots are often required to support the shipping lines’ activities, for instance with storing and reparation of containers, consolidation of goods and similar activities, and movement of empties between different depots/terminals and the seaport is a part of the problematic repositioning management. Positioning of inland terminals and their possibility for expansion is of high significance for sustainable development (Brnjac and Cavar, 2009). With constantly growing container transports, efficiency of rail and flexibility of road are increasingly needed for inland access to/from the seaports (Frémont and Franc, 2011), however not always sufficient. Recently sustainability has received increasing attention and with it also the role that logistics concepts can play in making transport more sustainable. Improvements like, for example, the implementation of Longer and Heavier Vehicles (LHV), would contribute to sustainability of road transport Åkrman and Jonsson (2007). According to McKinnon (2005) an increase in maximum truck weight from 41 tonnes to 44 tonnes would have the effect of reducing road haulage costs per tonne-km for weight-constrained loads by roughly 11%. Wiegmans and Konings (2007) and Lowe (2005) claim that transportation by barge, apart for having good transport economy, is also the safest mode of transportation. The arguments are based on the low number of accidents with practically no fatalities, probably due to slow speed of the vessel in combination with low traffic density. Therefore the purpose of this study is to compare movement of empty containers by regular truck, as it is done today, and by barge and LHV on the case of port of Gothenburg and one of its nearby depots; with regard to economy, environment, flexibility and time efficiency. The transportation of containers between the container terminal at the port of Gothenburg and the container depot located approximately 6.5 km at Risholmen is carried out with trucks with a maximum capacity of three TEUs, today.

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An advantage of the case study method is that the case is studied in its real environment, which makes it possible to obtain a well-developed understanding and knowledge for the studied area (Flyvbjerg, 2006). Furthermore, in order to ensure validity, triangulation with multiple means of data collection can be conducted. However, a single case does not allow a generalization (ibid). Data for the cases has been collected primarily through face-to-face and phone interviews and literature reviews, combined with site visits. In addition, a number of secondary sources were used, such as reports and internal documents. The interviews have been in between open and structured type of interviews and all interviews have, after permission from the respondent, been recorded with the length varying from 30 min to 1 hour. The rationale for using this interview technique was based on the fact that the subject and the areas, which were of interest, were well predefined. Some parts of the interviews are of the well-structured type since the data needed was of strict quantitative form such as for example information about costs. And, the fact that data related to the cost is of a sensitive character the same have not been disclosed in this paper in detail. The interviewees have a wide span of backgrounds, from truck drivers to CEOs, since the authors wanted to cover as many perspectives of the container flow as possible. The interviewees’ organizations and positions are summarized in Table 1.

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The purpose with this study was to compare movement of empty containers by barge and LHV to the reference situation done by regular trucks, on the case of port of Gothenburg and one of its nearby depots; with regard to economy, environment, flexibility and time efficiency. According to the findings the most suitable mode of transport with respect to suggested criteria is LHV with a capacity of 6 TEUs. This conclusion is mainly based on the fact that LHV should perform better than regular trucks and/or a barge with respect to economy as well as environment, which were the most important criteria. However, the regular truck is performing equally or slightly better than LHV followed by barge regarding flexibility. Barge is superior with respect to the safety due to its good records, according to the literature. When it comes to time efficiency, it was hard to make a valid conclusion since the time needed for the different transportation modes when transporting daily demand of containers was difficult to estimate due to many potential interruptions. Nevertheless, the time criteria is of rather low importance since it was a question of minutes or in the worst case one hour for the units that are not urgently needed by shippers. This study showed importance of efficient and economically viable terminal handling since calculations for this case were not in favour of the barge mostly due to very high port charges as well as high container handling cost due to extra transhipment needed. Therefore, future research on how loading and unloading of containers on the terminals can be carried out more efficiently as well as research about strategies for increasing fill rates would be of interest.

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About Author

Violeta Roso is an Associate Professor at division of Logistics and Transportation, Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden; where she obtained her PhD Degree in Technology Management and Economics. She has been researching on intermodal transport and dry ports and has written numerous highly cited research papers published in international scientific journals, such as Transportation Research, Journal of Transport Geography, IJPDLM, WRITR, Maritime Economics and Logistics and UNESCAP Transport Bulletin.

Nils Andersson and Joakim Widstrand obtained their Master of Science degree at International Master Program Supply Chain Management, at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden.