Determinants of modal choice in freight transport - A case study

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Authors: Jeffs, V.P. and Hills, P.J.

Journal: Transportation

Volume: 17

Issue: 1

Pages: 29-47

eISSN: 1572-9435

ISSN: 0049-4488

DOI: 10.1007/BF02125502

In the next few years, exciting developments in the field of freight transport are likely to occur. The Channel Tunnel will be perceived as giving railways much greater distance of operation, compared to the current train ferry to/from Great Britain. The further development of swap-body technology will allow easier modal transfer and the creation, in 1992, of a single market in Europe will transform the pattern of trade. All of these are likely to have significant impacts on modal choice, and hence modal split, in freight transport. Reappraisal by many firms of the modes of transport used is likely but will it result in a net transfer of freight from road to rail and, if so, to what extent? To answer such questions, an accurate and reliable method of predicting modal split is required. Research in the past has concentrated on the development of modal split models based on generalised costs. These fail to explain adequately the prevalence of road freight in the UK. From surveys of freight managers within industry, it is clear that models to date rely too heavily on the economic cost factor and too little on behavioural factors (Jeffs 1985). This paper derives from a recent study of freight transport modal choice from the standpoint of the transport decision-maker within the firm. It attempts to shed light on the actual parameters which should be incorporated into a modal split model. Many variables appear to exert an influence on modal choice decision-making process. However, it is possible to categorise them into six main groups, namely: customer-requirements; product-characteristics; company structure/organisation; government interventions; available transport facilities; and perceptions of the decision-maker him/herself. It is the interactions and inter-relationships between these which ultimately determine freight modal split. This study has shown that the relationship between the outcome of the transport decision process and the values of particular determinants of modal split is not straight-forward, due to the complexity and variety of interactions involved. Perhaps one of the main reasons for researchers' failure hitherto to develop a successful modal-split model has been the preoccupation with techniques that rely on the development of common metric (e.g. generalised cost), which has led to the exclusion of some important explanatory variables along quite different dimensions. Another important issue concerns the appropriate level of aggregation. In order not to reduce the explanatory power of the key variables, it is important to work at a disaggregate level, although this does make substantial demands on data. The use of factor analysis enables both the aggregation of information without loss of behavioural reality and the specification of variables in terms of a common metric. In conclusion, freight transport has usually been examined within too narrow a framework. It must be placed firmly within the context of the total industrial process. The demand for freight transport is directly influenced by the level, composition and geographical distribution of production and consumption activities. Freight flows are complex and so it is highly unlikely that a universal mode-choice model can ever be developed. Future research should, therefore, be directed towards developing partial models in response to specific needs of those involved in decision-taking in the freight sector. © 1990 Kluwer Academic Publishers.

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