As a consequence of changing market conditions in the maritime sector, and in particular the concentration of flows to a few mega-ports to exploit economies of scale, the competitiveness of the small to medium sized ports is at stake. However, it is recognised that 'soft' factors like organisation, administration and information can increase competitiveness and efficiency and make small and medium ports more attractive.
EUROBORDER focused specifically on small and medium sized ports and on port terminals as the node in the transport chain. The aim was to study potential improvements in information exchange, the organisational structure and administrative routines in the terminal and relations with its customers and the rest of the port community.
The project has developed improvement scenarios for four case study ports. The scenarios suggest a wide set of changes to raise competitiveness on cost, time and quality. All measures, whether organisational or administrative changes involving investments into technology, infrastructure or equipment, have been collected in a toolbox which can serve as source of inspiration for European ports, port terminals and their customers.
Many of the scenario ideas can be found as 'best practice' in the port industry, particularly in the larger ports, but it is likely that these solutions are not implemented in the small to medium sized ports.
EUROBORDER has analysed the effects of the scenarios on transport chains by the development of four network models, which are based upon a few real-life transport chains involving three of the case study ports. The project found that the port costs constitute a rather small part of the total generalised costs for transport from door to door.
The quantitative analysis based on generalised costs has shown that even if price and time are important, these two factors alone do not explain the choice of a transport solution. The quality of service provided (such as reliability, flexibility and security) is equally or even more important.
Port terminals must position themselves as an integral part of intermodal transport chains (hinterland-port-sea-port-hinterland). There is a big uncertainty when it comes to information handling, internally and especially externally. Problems arise from the diversity of customers and their needs, lack of standards and lack of trained staff.
The key issues, or the three I's of successful port business, are:
- Interaction - to actively define a role and a business strategy,
- Integration - to co-ordinate investments and operations to exploit synergies,
- Information - to manage the intermodal transport tasks and contribute to the overall goal.
These key issues still have to find their way into port terminal management.
Fine-tuning individual port processes may achieve improvements in port performance. More importantly though, port performance may be improved by changing the actual way the processes are performed. EUROBORDER has identified tools and processes which can be used for creating and assessing individual solutions.
The following four development areas have been assessed as most important by the users:
- improving port terminal efficiency with a focus on 'city port' problems;
- developing and implementing communication systems based on EDIFACT, Internet or Extranets;
- the use of technology for automatic identification (standardisation);
- training of staff.