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The Role of Third Party Logistics Service Providers and their Impact on Transport

European Union
Complete with results
Geo-spatial type
Network corridors
Project Acronym
STRIA Roadmaps
Transport mode
Multimodal icon
Transport policies
Societal/Economic issues
Transport sectors
Passenger transport


Background & Policy context

The international competitiveness of European industry will increasingly depend on its ability to deliver customer-adapted products all over the world quickly and in time. Such a competitive image places a number of demands in the logistics system and management's attitude to how important logistics is as a competitive parameter. In the 1990s, focus has changed from internal efficiency of the logistics function to external relations between the parties of the total supply chain. The largest potential for improvements is not found inside an individual company, but in the interfaces between independent companies in the supply chain. Outsourcing logistics activities has become a relative common principle for companies. Since Third Party Logistics Providers (3PLPs) provide this service for multiple clients, 3PLPs play a significant and increasing role in overall optimised logistics networks.


The main goal of the PROTRANS project is to identify the most important challenges (for whom/what), to determine barriers, success and failure factors and to assess future importance of intermodal transport for 3PLPs strategies at a European level.
Derived from this main goal, research objectives of the PROTRANS project can be listed as follows:

  • development of a theoretical framework for an analysis (SWOT analysis) of the 3PLs market in Europe;
  • description/mapping of scope (a.o. sectoral specialisation, business sectors of clients, output volumes);
  • geographical coverage network and transport options at the 30 most important 3PLs in Europe, including a business profile (turnover, profit, asset base);
  • identification (NUTS 2 level) of 12 main logistics regions in Europe, where a concentration of 3PLs can be found, in conjunction with a node position in infrastructure networks and the main European transport corridors;
  • analysis of the reasons why these regions have become successful as logistics hubs;
  • analysis of present and future requirements (scope, course, network, transport options) of 50 leading shippers operating in a European scale;
  • review of the services offered by 3PLs as an answer to the requirements posed;
  • analysis of the existing barriers at the 30 leading 3PLs to develop pan-European integrated logistics services (existing framework condition, asset base, change resistance);
  • computation of the Intermodal Perception Index;
  • integration of results on intermodal market demands, 3PL perception and 3PL future strategies;
  • definition of recommendations and actions; and
  • dissemination of the projects' results.

In order to achieve this main goal, the work of the project has been divided into 5 tasks (Work Packages):

  • Work Package 1: Analysis of the 3PL market
  • Work Package 2: Analysis of European logistics regions
  • Work Package 3: Market demands and services offered by 3PLPs
  • Work Package 4: Intermodality as an integral part of pan European strategies
  • Work Package 5: Conclusions, recommendations and dissemination.

In PROTRANS a great amount of interviews have been carried out amongst shippers and logistics service providers. A database has been developed on European 3PLPs and a benchmark of logistics regions in Europe has been carried out. The IPI (Intermodal Perception Index) model has been extended with variables on third party logistics.


Parent Programmes
Institution Type
Public institution
Institution Name
European Commission, Directorate-General for Energy and Transport (DG TREN)
Type of funding
Public (EU)


As described above, one of the objectives of PROTRANS was to develop a relational database of 30 main European logistics service providers for easy reference in the following tasks in the PROTRANS project. The database has been written in MS–Access and structured to receive information in the most efficient and user-friendly way.

The information filled in per 3PL record is structured in five main input screens:

• Overview of parent companies

• 3PLP general information

• 3PLP facilities

• 3PLP transport means

• 3PLP client information.

The initial aim was the development of a database as a tool for use during the project duration. This goal has been met and even exceeded as the database has proven to be also very well usable for dissemination and commercial activities. Based on the filled database, statistics are derived to give an impression of the 3PLP market in Europe. In total, 172 main companies are distinguished in the database, though some companies may be indicated as 3PLP, whereas their actual core business is transportation only. For each 3PLP, data provided is: country of origin, main clients, activities offered by 3PLPs, transport services and overview of relationships.

As logistics policies and 3PLP networks distinct between logistics regions, in order to point out differences, logistics regions have been identified and evaluated on the basis of the following aspects:

• size (transport volume and turnover of the 3PLs);

• concentration/ density of 3PLs;

• special areas of competence (logistics and transport);

• infrastructure (transport, intermodal hubs, telecommunication);

• situation towards logistics corridors;

• volume of the material flows from, to and through the region;

• investments in or existence of intangible matters (RTD, innovations, patents, intermediary organisations).

In the next phase, data were allocated to benchmark the different main logistics regions. By this benchmark, findings of first part are applicable for policy makers at the international, national and regional level as well as for other relevant organisations and companies. The benchmark encompassed:

• identification of logistic regions working with ‘best practice’;

• reasons for ‘leadershipment’ of some logistic regions;

• analysis of the trend to have more or le

Policy implications

3PLPs facilitate shippers' present and future requirements on logistics and transport systems. However there is in general a low degree of 3PL involvement in strategic and tactical logistics design decisions. This will also have implications for modal choice where the changed demands can act as barrier for the use of IMT. The 3PL involvement in IMT is not as developed as the involvement in logistics in general and in road transport in particular. The 3PLPs have a role as systems integrators, not operators of IMT systems and it is in the area of implementation that the 3PLPs are most deeply involved. Finally, can be stated that the use of 3PLPs in logistics processes and IMT will lead to improvement of logistics performances. Because of the economies of scale and scope, 3PLPs are able for instance to consolidate physical flows and optimise information flows. In the logistics processes the main performance improvements by 3PLP are quality and time related e.g. on-time delivery, lead-time reduction and capabilities to fit time-windows. But also the load factor is increased by interference of 3PLPs. Regarding IMT the reduction of transport cost, increased load factor and road transport kilometres are the main indicators that are improved by 3PLPs. In order to promote the role of 3PLPs with regards to further involvement in logistics management and specifically in the management of IMT, understanding the different perspectives and concerns of the various stakeholders in logistics and transport systems is required. Within logistics and transport systems different levels of decision-making imply different issues of interest. Changes in logistics management and transport are a matter of designing or redesigning logistics and transport systems. Modal choice is a strategic decision that is determined at a very early stage of designing a new transport system. The degree of success in designing or redesigning logistics and transport systems largely depends on the shipper-3PLP relationship and the ability to overcome the barriers in logistics and IMT and to effectuate the opportunities in the logistics market.

Barriers for further outsourcing and IMT: 3PLPs play a crucial part in the supply chain in general and in the provision of logistics and IMT services in specific. In order to realise more efficient logistics operations, further outsourcing of logistics and improvement of IMT the following barriers should be razed to the ground:

• A perceived shortage of qualified personnel and the somewh


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EU Contribution
Partner Organisations
EU Contribution


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