Intermodal transport is defined as the “shipment of cargo and the movement of people involving more than one mode of transportation during a single, seamless journey”. While this concept was expected to be the solution to the many challenges but Agbo and Zhang (2017) argue that it constitutes only a partial solution, that is the shifting of a portion of freight volume from road to rail.
Intermodalism has several drawbacks that have impacted the freight transportation system negatively thereby making it less sustainable. As Agbo and Zhang (2017) argue, the intermodal system was not able to produce a seamless transportation system between the different modes involved. Intermodal systems are less flexible concerning the dynamics of the freight transportation system. Also, intermodal systems are not agile when the changing demands in supply chains are concerned. Thus, this leads to loss of reliability, prolongation of delivery times and additional costs. Finally, Agbo & Zhang (2017) argue that Intermodalism fails to make efficient and effective use of existing infrastructure. On the other hand, Tavasszy, Behdani & Konings (2015) point out that there are several studies showing that despite the advantages of intermodal transport (secure and low cost long distance transportation) single road transport is chosen as a highly likely alternative taking into account other aspects such as lead time, reliability and flexibility of service.
Multimodal transport implies that more than one transport service is used for making a trip, being combinations of private transport and public transport services or combinations of public transport services. The term multi-modality is probably the most ambiguous to be examined in this research. Rossi (2012) provides two definitions: The first outlines multi-modal transport as the “carriage of goods by at least two different modes of transport”. The second ones describes international multi-modal transport as “the carriage of goods by at least two different modes of transport on the basis of a multi-modal transport contract from a place in one country at which the goods are taken in charge by the multi-modal transport operator to a place designated for delivery in a different country”. The latter perspective reinforces the legal aspect already mentioned in the most comprehensive definition of intermodality.
Multimodal transport focuses on alternating between different modalities within the transportation process and offers users diverse, effectively integrated transport options that are also easily accessible. Wursten (2015) also refers to three different multimodality types: roadway – railway, roadway – waterway and waterway – railway. The essence of multimodality lies on the fact that transport, be it passenger or freight, is not executed by one modality, and that there is the option to switch these modalities at a terminal.
The major distinction between intemodalidy and multimodality is that the latter is generally applied to passenger mobility while the former usually refers to freight transport.
The concept of co-modality aims to achieve the best results possible by efficiently using all modes of transport. The term was first used by the European Commission in 2006 in order to describe a system that its purpose is to realise “the efficient use of different modes on their own and in combination, to achieve an optimal and sustainable utilisation of resources”. Therefore, a broader definition of co-modality can be formulates as follows: the use of different modes, either in combination or on their own, in order to obtain a mobility outcome that is optimal in terms of transport sustainability and supply efficiency.
The concept was introduced as a way to alienate as much as possible mobility from its negative side effects (for instance, congestion, greenhouse gas emissions, accidents, low asset utilisation, etc.) but also to ease the dissatisfaction among road transport stakeholders, who considered the Transport White Paper 2001 would pose as a threat to their operations. Even so, Cruijssen (2012) argues, that the road freight transport has significant inefficiencies of around 45%, primarily because of order fragmentation at shippers and working capital reduction policies. Therefore, the term co-modality was used to introduce the concept of inter-firm freight consolidation.
Fiorello et al. (2011) believe that the successful implementing co-modality can be challenging, within the co-modal framework, the various transport networks should be managed as a single entity and, given the current circumstances, this condition is far from being met. This difficulty doesn’t only stem from infrastructure point of view, but especially because existing transport networks to be connected were planned independently.
Bart Van Rissen (2018) defines synchromodality as the result of combining intermodal planning with new business models. These new business models are flexible, capable of last minute changes in the transportation plan and offers integrated support, given that there is a central network orchestrator.
The feature that differentiates synchromodality form the other transport systems is horizontal integration planning within a transport system. This meaning that synchromodality aims at integrating various modal concepts in order to offer one transport service.
According to Tavasszy, et al., (2015), the innovation of synchromodal concept lies within the fact that it offers a service that doesn’t rely anymore on the type of modality, but rather acts as a complementary tool, meaning it allows the design of a range of customised services for different shippers, who possibly have different logistics requirements.
Essentially, we can conclude that difference between a multimodal transport system and a synchromodal, is that for multimodal transport the transport modal is chosen in advance of the trajectory, whilst in synchromodality the optimal transport mode will be chosen at real time, meaning the modality is not specified beforehand, but is chosen given the availability at the time.
The added value of synchromodal transport mode
This concept offers an integrated view regarding planning and management of various modalities to provide flexibility when transport demand is handled. Although the integration of service has always been major issue for intermodality. However, the added element offered by synchromodality has been the focus on horizontal integration of logistic services, rather than the vertical integration within one intermodal transport chain.
According to Behdani, Fan, Wiegmans &Zuidwijk (2016) the distinctive aspect of a synchromodal transport system within a whole transport system seeks to integrate the transport service on different modalities to propose a “single transport service” by applying a horizontal integration. This will open the way to optimise trade-offs between the quality and cost aspects of one or more transport modes. Allowing to explore and make use of the complementary nature of available modalities, a synchromodal freight transport system provides a service that is no longer dependent on the type of modality that is used for the main haulage. A set of customized services can be designed for shippers with different types of products and with different sets of logistics requirements. As a result, and taking into consideration specific delivery time requirements and the availability of each modality in real-time, the most optimum solution can be chosen. This can be followed by an appropriate pricing scheme, which will be different from the traditional mode-based scheme and can be now a service-based pricing. Such a service can provide a satisfactory level of main factors that are important for each specific shipper. A draw back that Behdani et al. (2014) identify can be the fact that the transition from the transition regarding the fare design can be a challenge for the service provider.
A synchro-modal pilot study was successfully launched in 2011 on the corridor from Rotterdam to Tilburg and it included a tri-modal network with mode-free booking by shippers, where for each container the best transport lane is selected and where different parties work together in optimizing a transport chain. The results of the pilot are promising (Rossi, 2012).
The figure indicates the modal split for truck, barge and rail; for the Rotterdam port in 2010, the modal split target for 2033 and the modal split results for the network in this pilot study (that are higher than the target figure).