Containerisation has led to increased competition between ports and put pressure on the use of scarce hinterland infrastructure. Having good coordination between all actors involved in port-related transport, including infrastructural access to the hinterland, is required to be successful in container port competition. In hinterland chains, different coordination problems exist for different reasons. As a response, different public and private actors undertake coordination arrangements to solve coordination problems. The goal of this thesis is to advance the understanding of how actors in port-related transport chains improve this coordination. The core of the thesis consists of five article. They form a ‘pattern of discovery’ of different issues related to coordination in hinterland chains applying different theoretical lenses from inter-organisational theories in which Institutional Economics plays a central role. This thesis introduces a framework to analyse coordination in hinterland chains. The framework helps to cope with the complexity of coordination in port-related transport chains and it is a tool to explore coordination issues systematically.

The first study shows that different coordination problems exist in transport by road, rail, and waterway. These coordination problems occur due to the imbalance between the costs and benefits of coordination, a lack of willingness to invest, the strategic considerations of the actors involved, and risk-averse behaviour. Based on literature review, desk research, interviews, and cases of coordination arrangements from the port of Rotterdam, we introduce a typology of four main categories of coordination arrangements. The categories are inspired by Transaction Cost Economics, theory on Property Rights, and Collective Action theory, and include: introduction of incentives, creation of interfirm alliances, changing scope of the organisation, and creating collective action. In the empirical part, coordination arrangements from container bargingin the port of Rotterdam are discussed and linked with the relevant coordination problem.

The second study further explores coordination arrangements in the port of Rotterdam taking the typology from the first article as a starting point. Key characteristics related to the complexity of the transaction (number of actors involved, group character, and coordination problems to be solved) and of the coordination arrangements (type of coordination arrangement, function of actors involved, function of the initiator, power base of the initiator, transport mode and use of ICT) are defined. The analysis shows that transport companies are the most important initiator of coordination arrangements. The Rotterdam Port Authority and terminal operators also play an important role. This article assumes a relationship between the chosen coordination arrangement and the complexity of the transaction. More actors involved leads to more complexity, resulting in more hierarchical coordination arrangements; the involvement of public actors or the port authority reduces transaction costs. When the group size is large, initiators of coordination arrangements do not enforce coordination, but act mainly as a stimulator or enabler (leader firms). The analysis shows that ICT is usually applied to solve the lack of operational coordination, and when the group size is large.

The third article further explores one main category of coordination arrangements, namely ‘changing scope’, thereby focussing on two actors, namely shipping lines and terminal operating companies. By making use of insights from Transaction Cost Economics and the Resource-based View, the paper helps to understand why and how shipping lines and terminal operating companies vertically integrate into intermodal transport and in inland terminals. The paper discusses a number of cases from the Hamburg–Le Havre range, where shipping lines and terminal operating companies have changed their scope. After the theoretical and empirical analysis, the papers draws conclusions on the explanatory power of the theories. From a theoretical point of view, and based on empirical observations, the study shows that three other aspects are relevant to take into account: the geographical scale of vertical integration strategies, the elements of power and culture of the firms, and the role of the formal institutional environment.

In the fourth study, the focus is on including the role of the institutional environment and dynamics in the analysis of coordination in hinterland chains. Based on an in-depth study into coordination in liberalised railway market in the Port of Rotterdam, empirical illustrations are used to adjust the Transaction Cost Economics approach towards a dynamic model influenced by Douglas North's theory on economic and institutional change. The study states that such a framework is relevant to study port-related railway chains that changed from a single and homogenous actor constellation to a multiple and heterogeneous actor constellation. In the adapted framework, the institutional environment is not only a constraint but also an instrument creating possibilities for improving coordinating behaviour, and allowing interaction between the coordination arrangements and the institutional environment.

The last article deepened the insights on causes of coordination problems focussing on container barging in the port of Rotterdam. A multidisciplinary analysis is performed, analysing possible institutional reasons that cause coordination problems. The study shows that container barging has a large track record of coordination arrangements. The sector is embedded in a history with many vertical and horizontal alliances. Although the Inland Waterway Transport sector can be characterised as conservative and individualistic, container barge operators act with an entrepreneurial, adaptive and future-oriented spirit. The degree of organisation among barge operators and inland terminal operators, active in organising barge transport, is relatively high, reflecting an ability to work improve coordination in the future. The present division of property and decision rights forms a bad condition for future improvement. This includes the missing contract between the barge operator and the deep-sea terminal operator, and between the barge operator or skipper and the infrastructure manager. This is difficult to change in the short term.

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Published on 01/01/2016

Volume 2016, 2016
DOI: 10.4233/uuid:5b8551b1-f12a-463d-97e5-5f3ca4473557
Licence: CC BY-NC-SA license

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