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Intermodal Transportation in the 21st Century Research Paper

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Updated: Nov 11th, 2020


In the fast-paced environment of the 21st century, there is a growing need to create a transportation network that would increase mobility by providing easy access to different modes of transport as well as reliable information that would allow making an informed choice. Today, the ongoing movement of both people and goods largely predetermines the level of the economy and has an undeniable impact on the quality of our daily life (Slack, 2016).

It is quite a rare case when a journey or a supply chain involves a single mode of transport: intermodal transportation has already become a part of our routine. However, it is highly challenging both for travelers and suppliers to plan the whole route in such a way that would make it possible to complete a journey without delays arising from transport change (Slack, 2016). Therefore, the demand for seamless access to transfer across transportation modes is increasing. Unfortunately, the available capacity of infrastructure does not allow satisfying it, which accounts for the fact that we still have to deal with overcrowded trains, airport delays, supply chain failures, and other similar problems (Baykasoğlu & Subulan, 2016).

Currently, even the most advanced technology has a lot of limitations that thwart the progress of intermodal transportation. The paper at hand is going to prove that open data is one of the key solutions in overcoming transport-related problems.

Innovation to Meet Changing Demands

The modern society is changing even quicker than the technology, which makes transportation network devise ways to keep pace and satisfy the new demands of its users. There are a lot of pressures the system has to experience, and failures to meet expectations are not infrequent. Moreover, businesses and individuals have switched to the lifestyle that requires to be connected 24/7. The same is expected from intermodal transport: the system has to provide an opportunity of easy connection saving time and money (Steadie Seifi, Dellaert, Nuijten, Van Woensel, & Raoufi, 2014).

That allows stating that transport suppliers have entered a brand new world of technology, customer satisfaction determinants, demand, and competition level – the world that calls for both immediate and continuous transformation. The customer is no longer satisfied with the schedule of one part of the journey or delivery – he/she wants to be guaranteed that the whole process will run smoothly and within a specified period of time. That preconditioned the appearance of the trend towards open data platforms. The release of large amounts of information into the public use has revolutionized route planning, ticketing, booking, financial management, connecting services as well as other related domains (Luo, Gao, & Akçay, 2016).

The demand for transport is on the rise as overcrowding is not only a problem of inconvenience but also a negative factor hindering economic development. Traveling should now be considered as a process of necessity, which increases the significance of innovation that would make it possible to cope with the current challenges. The society is now open to data sharing as it can provide a number of unquestionable advantages to intermodal transport and help travelers find the most effective solutions (Luo et al., 2016). There appear new businesses based on online platforms such as taxi, car-sharing, bike-hire, etc., the success of which is largely predetermined by their ability to collaborate with one another. Intermodal transportation presupposes not only new technologies but also a new way of thinking and operating: if businesses want to achieve common goals and keep pace with the environment, staying detached from other industry representatives is no longer possible (Meisel, Kirschstein, & Bierwirth, 2013).

Open Data: Willingness to Share

Taking into account the increased importance of cooperation, an open data system becomes a key component to the successful development of the intermodal network as it allows switching from one mode to another without transition problems. However, to make it possible, the provider of each mode involved in the chain should be willing to give others access to information the company possesses (Meisel et al., 2013).

Supposedly, the public sector will side with the idea of introducing an open data policy. Yet, the private sector is very likely to be afraid of losing a competitive edge together with data proprietary. That is why its representatives show higher resistance to change. Despite the fact that their doubts are not groundless, there are still a lot of advantages that they can obtain from sharing data with other transportation companies. First and foremost, it will help increase the efficiency of the whole system. As a result, the position in the market will be reinforced and customer satisfaction is likely to increase. Transparency ensures high-speed connectivity, reduction of fuel consumption, and harmful emissions to the environment, service and vehicle innovations, and other benefits (Gebhardt et al., 2016).

Most of the private mobility providers realize open data potential and are ready to cooperate with their former rivals. Yet, for others, benefits do not provide enough reason to disclose data that gives them a competitive advantage. In such cases, mandates can be used to foster data sharing: a lot of urban transport services need access to public rights-of-way, which means that local bodies can ask them to share data in exchange for this access. This will create favorable conditions for the development of an open data environment that is to be regulated by the authorities.

Merging the Private and the Public

As it is evident from the previous section, the ability to monitor the whole network of transportation options is vital for individuals and businesses, which makes open data the key component of intermodality. However, even if we take it for granted that all transportation service providers are willing to share their data, there is still a challenge of merging information coming from the private sector with public information, which is absolutely necessary to make data valuable. At the same time, the system must be protected from the misuse (Eriksson & Svensson, 2017).

Thus, there is a need to create a shared room of configurable resources that would be closed to other systems outside the network. This is now possible with a great number of cloud storage. Clouds will enable the intermodal transportation system to control its numerous vehicles and quickly integrate new ones (Slack, 2016).

Intermodal Freight Transport: Information Transparency

Intermodal freight transportation involves even more complex processes than those associated with public transport. It requires expert knowledge of the delivery system organization, well-established communication channels with all parties constituting the supply chain, and uninterrupted access to all related data (Slack, 2016).

The situation is complicated by the fact that a lot of information (such as detailed descriptions of destinations, freight lines, operation costs, etc.) is still kept non-transparent. Yet, it is required to connect ports with railway stations, air delivery with land-based distribution as well as in any other connections. Transparency would increase the efficiency and predictability of the supply chain while reducing operation costs, energy consumption, and emissions (Eriksson & Svensson, 2017).

Intermodal freight transportation presupposes interchanging modes without handling the freight (that should have an intermodal container), which improves security, increases speed, reduces damage, and cuts costs. IT systems are currently being developed and tested to connect different modes and businesses without delay and additional expenses. The idea is to identify transportation that has spare load capacity and establish connections in advance. The major challenge, however, is to unite all the sources of information that are now available and integrate their data into one system featuring an interface that would make meaning to all parties involved and will not overcomplicate logistic processes (Eriksson & Svensson, 2017).

Smartphones to Handle Intermodality

It is quite clear that open data can be accessed using a smartphone. Still, these tools provide a lot more opportunities to handle intermodality: using mobile apps, people are able to integrate mobility services, collect information from a number of different sources and structure it in such a way that the user could understand it and get the benefit out of its use.

There are a lot of apps that try to manage multimodal integration. When users provide information about their current location and then choose the final destination they want to reach, most apps display a list of mode options and even provide an approximate time and cost of traveling. Yet, owing to the underdevelopment of open data sharing systems, mobile apps fail to schedule a trip using multiple modes in such a way that time periods and places where the transition occurs correspond (Bräysy, & Hasle, 2014).

There are many other limitations smartphones have besides the apps that they use. For instance, points of access to mobile ticketing are not very numerous, which is a problem for both travelers and providers. It is still typical of the passenger to use paper tickets that there will be no problem with the ability of the system to accept mobile payment (Bräysy, & Hasle, 2014).

Another obstacle to use smartphones for accessing open data systems is their cost. Despite the economic progress, there is still a great number of people who cannot afford a smartphone that would feature all the required functions. Moreover, their use is quite complicated for the elderly people who have either no smartphone at all or no desire/ability to learn how to use such apps (Slack, 2016).

All these facts imply that even if a perfect app is developed to contain the open-access database, there are plenty of other problems that have to be addressed to ensure successful intermodality.


Although intermodality is developing rapidly, we are still quite far from creating a perfect system of transportation that would overcome all the existing challenges. This complex system would benefit a great deal from establishing a reliable open database connecting the private and the public sectors. The culture of collaboration should be encouraged to create favorable conditions for its appearance. Interventions must be made to increase customer satisfaction, which would at the same time provide additional benefits to all the sides engaged into an intermodal network as well as a considerable advantage to the environment.

The future of intermodal mobility is not clear now as a lot will depend on the development of the market and technologies (since currently, smartphones have a considerable number of weak points that do not allow using the entire potential of open data systems) as well as on motivation of people who strive to improve the quality of their lives.


Baykasoğlu, A., & Subulan, K. (2016). A multi-objective sustainable load planning model for intermodal transportation networks with a real-life application. Transportation Research Part E: Logistics and Transportation Review, 95(3), 207-247.

Bräysy, O., & Hasle, G. (2014). Software tools and emerging technologies for vehicle routing and intermodal transportation. Vehicle Routing: Problems, Methods, and Applications, 18, 351.

Eriksson, D., & Svensson, G. (2017). Transfer of responsibility between supply chains. World Review of Intermodal Transportation Research, 6(2), 130-140.

Gebhardt, L., Krajzewicz, D., Oostendorp, R., Goletz, M., Greger, K., Klötzke, M.,… Heinrichs, D. (2016). Intermodal urban mobility: users, uses, and use cases. Transportation Research Procedia, 14(4), 1183-1192.

Luo, T., Gao, L., & Akçay, Y. (2016). Revenue management for intermodal transportation: the role of dynamic forecasting. Production and Operations Management, 25(10), 1658-1672.

Meisel, F., Kirschstein, T., & Bierwirth, C. (2013). Integrated production and intermodal transportation planning in large scale production-distribution networks. Transportation Research Part E: Logistics and Transportation Review, 60(1), 62-78.

Slack, B. (2016). Intermodal transportation. Sustainable Railway Futures: Issues and Challenges, 13(1), 219-231.

Steadie Seifi, M., Dellaert, N. P., Nuijten, W., Van Woensel, T., & Raoufi, R. (2014). Multimodal freight transportation planning: A literature review. European Journal of Operational Research, 233(1), 1-15.

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