The Geography of Transport Systems
Jean-Paul Rodrigue (2017), New York: Routledge, 440 pages.
ISBN 978-1138669574
Transport Terminal Governance
Authors: Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue, Dr. Brian Slack and Dr. Theo Notteboom
1. The Nature of Governance in Transportation
Governance is associated with an effective usage of existing resources as well as a better allocation of new resources. Like all sectors of activity, transportation has a unique set of characteristics about its governance as both the public and private sectors are actively involved.
Governance is the exercise of authority and institutional resources to manage activities in society and the economy. It concerns the public as well as the private sectors, but tends to apply differently depending if public or private interests are at stake. In both cases a significant concern is performance, which is how effectively available resources are used.
The governance of transport infrastructure is particularly relevant because of the strategic, economic and social importance of transportation and the cross-jurisdictional character of many infrastructures such as highway, rail and telecommunication networks. Transport is not of mere convenience, but a fundamental infrastructure that must systematically and constantly be available to its users. Effective governance is complex to assess since it is not linked with a specific governance structure, but generally conveys several advantages:
  • Confidence. Provides a level of confidence that an activity, such as a terminal or a logistics zone, is effectively managed. This can involve daily operations as well as the planning, design and funding of new infrastructure. Effective governance is linked with consistent and reliable services as well as a good level of responsiveness and feedback when an unexpected issue arises.
  • Capital costs. Lowers capital costs as investors and financial institutions have confidence that the allocated capital will be effectively used in the development and expansion of productive assets generating returns.
  • Competitiveness. Improves the capability to compete through the retention of existing users and the attraction of new ones. This can take many forms such as lower costs, but factors such clear expectations and transparency are also significant. Keeping market considerations constant, organizations with better governance are usually able to be more competitive than organizations having a less effective governance.
  • Stability. Confers a long term resilience of the organization, which provides a level of stability in capital markets and the financial institutions supporting them.
For transport infrastructure such as port terminals, airports, inland ports or logistics zones, many different forms of governance are in place which shape modes of financing, operations, functioning and external relationships. This is particularly important as large terminal infrastructure involved in global flows of passengers and freight are complex, capital intensive and of strategic importance to the economic welfare of whole regions. Therefore, the capital intensiveness and the long life span of transportation infrastructures underline the need of an effective governance to insure that the infrastructures are properly funded, maintained, operated and expanded. There are two main components of terminal governance; ownership and operations. Ownership involves who is the owner of the terminal site and facilities (including equipment):
  • Public ownership is common because of the economic and strategic importance of many types of terminals. In several countries passenger railroads are owned by the national government, and the passenger stations are thus under the control of the state-owned railway company, such as is the case in China, Europe and North America. Public ownership of airports is also prevalent, although in the United States this takes place at the State or municipal levels of government. Under public ownership, investment in infrastructure and planning future expansion is carried out by the public authority using public monies or public guarantees for capital subscribed on private markets. The private sector is then offered leasing opportunities which terms and duration can be negotiated.
  • Private ownership is less evident in transport terminals. There are numerous exceptions for certain modes, such as road freight (distribution centers), rail freight transport in North America (terminals and rights of way), and where privatization has taken place, as for example in ports and airports in the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Here, private capital is used to provide infrastructure.
Operations involve the day-to-day management and carrying out of terminal activities:
  • Public control of operations is typical in many ports, such as Singapore and Hampton Roads, in many state-controlled railroads such as China, and at publicly owned airports such as in the United States. Here the public authority provides the handling equipment, contracts with the labor force, and operates the rail, airport and port terminals.
  • Private companies manage and carry out operations in privately owned terminals. They are also active as operators in many publicly owned facilities under a concession agreement. The latter is a growing trend in ports and airports, where facilities are leased to terminal operators for fixed terms. The types of concession vary considerably, in terms of duration and conditions. Some are short term, a few years or so; more typically they are long-term concessions of 15 to 30 years. In some the owner provides some equipment, such as gantry cranes in ports, in others the concession holders are expected to invest in equipment. In some they are required to use public employees, while in others they may use their own workers. In Canada a half-way private/public system of governance of major airports and ports is in place. The airports and ports are leased to locally-managed non-profit corporations that have to operate the facilities commercially, without access to public funds. Surpluses have to be re-invested.
Public ownership and operations has been important in many modes because of the strategic importance of transport and the long term investments required that the private sector may be incapable or unwilling to make. In this way the terminals can be owned and operated as public goods, and can be integrated with public regional and national economic policies. On the other hand, public facilities are seen by some as slow to respond to market conditions, with a propensity to over-invest in non-economic developments, and with high costs to the users. The default is commonly to leave the governance structure the way it is since inertia is the usual norm for managing large infrastructures. There are circumstances that would incite the revision of existing transport governance. The first concerns when the infrastructure is experiencing a decline in its traffic or is losing its market share. The second is the behavior of competing facilities that may be perceived as unfair, such as being subsidized. The third is the potential duplication of infrastructure as each competing facility is vying for the same traffic. The fourth are concerns by the effectiveness of the existing governance structure, often triggered by allegations of corruption and waste of resources.
There is a growing tendency towards privatization in transport as a whole, particularly with deregulation. Transport terminals increasingly became an attractive form of investment for private equity firms seeking valuable assets and a return on their investments. This is manifested in the sale of ports and airports in some countries such as the UK, and in the break-up of state rail monopolies, as in the EU. Privatization is most evident, however, in the awarding of operational concessions to private companies. The trend towards concessions is warranted in part by the belief that the private sector is more efficient than the public in operating terminals, and that this form of governance keeps the ownership still under public control. It is also seen as a mean of reducing public expenditures at a time when states are becoming less willing (or able) to make large investments. Thus, the setting of public / private partnerships is seen as a dominant trend in the governance of transport terminals.
2. Port Devolution and Global Terminal Operators
Even as late as the 1980s, ports around the world were the types of terminal most dominated by public ownerships and operation. While the forms of port governance differed greatly, from the municipally-owned ports in Northern Europe and the US, to the state owned ports in France, Italy and much of the developing world, public ownership was dominant and publicly managed port operations were prevalent. This contrasted with the shipping industry, where private ownership was almost universal. The development of containerization particularly underlined how operationally deficient public port authorities were to growing time and performance requirements intermodalism imposed on transport chains. The changes, slow at first, came from two directions:
  • First, there was the belief that the transport industry as a whole should be divested to the private sector to promote competition. Ports were among the many sectors thus targeted.
  • Second, there was a policy recommendation from the World Bank that developing countries would do well to free their highly controlled port industry, by issuing concessions to companies capable of modernizing their port industries and better manage operations. To facilitate the changes required, the World Bank created a Port Reform Tool Kit to demonstrate to States how to go about affecting the reforms.
These developments helped create what has become a global snowball of port reform, commonly known as port devolution since the public sector was relinquishing its role from a function it formerly assumed. It made governments around the world more open to considering reforming port governance and offering better conditions to ensure privatization. The growing demands for public and private investment in ports, precipitated by the growth in world trade, and the limited abilities of governments to meet these needs because of competing investment priorities, were key factors. Thus, while few were willing to go as far as the UK in the total privatization of ports, many countries were willing to consider awarding concessions as an intermediate form of privatization, leading to various forms of public-private partnerships. The result has been an almost global trend towards the award of port operational concessions, especially for container terminals.
If the opportunities to award operational concessions can be seen as an increase in demand, growth has also been greatly affected by an increase in the supply of companies seeking concessions. In Northern Europe and the US many ports had already operated through concessions, awarded to local terminal handling companies. Because they were relatively small and locally-based with only few exceptions, they did not participate in the global growth of opportunities for concession awards. The exceptions were Stevedore Services of America (SSA) that was already active in several US West Coast Ports, which obtained concessions to operate facilities in Panama and several other smaller ports in Central America, and Eurogate, a joint company formed by terminal handling companies from Bremen and Hamburg, that obtained concessions in Italy and Morocco.
Over a short period a few companies were able to become major global terminal operators controlled a multinational portfolio of terminal assets. They mostly came from Asia with four large companies dominating, three coming from a stevedore background and one from a shipping line:
  • Hong Kong-based firm, Hutchison Port Holdings (HPH), part of a major conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa.
  • Port of Singapore Authority (PSA), the government owned operator of the port of Singapore.
  • Dubai Ports World (DPW), which is mainly part of a sovereign wealth fund created to invest the wealth derived from oil trade.
  • AP Moller Terminals (APM), as a parent company of the world's largest shipping line; Maersk.
HPH, which originated as a terminal operator in Hong Kong, first purchased Felixestowe, the largest UK container port, and today has a portfolio of 51 terminals around the world, including in Rotterdam and Shanghai. PSA has been active securing concessions in China and Europe, including Antwerp. These two terminal operators take their origin from globally oriented ports offering limited local terminal expansion opportunities. The local operators were thus incited to manage the constrained assets efficiently and to look abroad for expansion opportunities. DPW has grown through purchases, such as P&O Ports and CSX World Terminals, and by securing concessions elsewhere.
Shipping lines have also participated in terminal concessions, but to a lesser extent. The most important is the in-house terminal operating company of Maersk; APM Terminals. In addition, Evergreen, COSCO, MSC, NYK, and CMA-CGM hold port terminal leases. Between the dedicated terminal operating companies and the shipping lines, a global pattern of concessions is evident.
3. Significance and Consequences of Terminal Operators
The rapid expansion of terminal operating companies reflects two economic forces. First, the entry of former terminal operators into the global system represents a process of horizontal integration, in which the companies, constrained by the limits of their own ports, seek to apply their expertise in new markets and seek new sources of income. Second, the entry of shipping lines into terminal operations is an example of vertical integration, in which the companies seek to extend their control over other links in the transport chain. Several other factors explain the growth of global terminal operating companies:
  • Profitability. By modernizing port operating systems, mainly through better equipment, information systems and management, port holdings are able to increase the profitability of their terminal assets. For instance, HPH achieved a 35% per year return on investment in the early 2000s. Port management was very lucrative, inciting others to expand existing assets and new players to enter the field.
  • Financial assets. Port holdings have the financial means to invest in infrastructures as they have a wide variety of assets and the capacity to borrow large quantities of capital. They can use the profits generated by their efficient terminals to invest and subsidize the development of new ones, thus expanding their asset base and their operating revenues. Most are listed on equity markets, giving the opportunity to access global capital, which realized in the last decade that the freight transport sector was a good source of returns driven by the fundamentals of a growth in international shipments. This financial advantage cannot be matched by port authorities even those heavily subsidized by public funds. In other cases, terminals became financial assets per se which can become more valuable as the traffic they handle increases (additional revenue). Financial holdings, such as retirement funds, are thus considering transport terminals and port terminals in particular, as valuable assets to own in a portfolio.
  • Managerial expertise. Port holdings excel in establishing procedures to handle complex tasks such the loading and unloading sequence of containerships and all the intricacies of terminal operations. Many have accumulated substantial experience in the management of containerized operations in a wide array of settings and are therefore able to transfer managerial expertise to new terminals. Being private entities, they tend to have better customer service and have much flexibility to meet the needs of their clients. This also includes the use of well developed information systems networks and the capacity to quickly comply with legal procedures related to customs, clearance and security.
  • Gateway access. From a geographical standpoint, most port holdings follow a strategy aimed at establishing privileged positions to access hinterlands. Doing so they secure a market share and can guarantee a level of port and often inland transport service to their customers. It can also be seen as a commercial strategy where a “stronghold” is established, limiting the presence of other competitors and a situation of monopoly. Gateway access thus provides a more stable flow of containerized shipments. The acquisition of a new port terminal is often accompanied by the development of related inland logistics activities by companies related to the port holding.
  • Leverage. A port holding is able to negotiate with maritime shippers and inland freight transport companies favorable conditions, namely rates, access and level of service. Some are subdiaries of global maritime shipping lines (such as the A.P. Moller group controlled by the shipper Maesrk) while others are directly controlled by them (such as Hanjin or Evergreen) so they can offer a complete logistical solution to international freight transportation. They are also better placed to mitigate pressures from port authorities to increase rents and port fees. The “footloose” character of maritime shippers has for long been recognized, with a balance of power more in their favor than of the port authorities they negotiate with.
  • Traffic capture. Because of their privileged relationships with maritime shipping lines, port holdings are able to capture and maintain traffic for their terminals. The decision to invest is often related to the knowledge that the terminal will handle a relatively secure number of port calls. Consequently, a level of traffic and revenue can be secured more effectively.
  • Global perspective. Port holdings have a comprehensive view of the state of the industry and are able to interpret political and price signals to their advantage. They are thus in position to influence the direction of the industry and anticipate developments and opportunities to offer global solutions to terminal requirements in ports around the world. Under such circumstances they can allocate new investments (or divest) to take advantages of new growth opportunities and new markets.
The growth of multi-national terminal operating companies has resulted in a concentration of power. In 2008 the top five global terminal operators accounted for 28% of global container port activity in terms of equity based throughput. What is perhaps most important is that they now dominate at the most important container ports in the world. They are able to wield monopoly power in many parts of the world. The consequences of this power remain to be analyzed, but there is growing evidence of dissatisfaction in many ports about the actions of these companies that possess long term leases. Thus, in Genoa there is concern about the lack of performance of the port since PSA took over the main container terminal. In Antwerp, there are concerns about the imposition of Singapore-based management systems on a European operation. In China there is opposition to HPH and how it is increasing terminal handling costs to enhance profitability, which is seen as undermining China's competitiveness on global markets. On the other hand, there is strong evidence to suggest that port performance has improved in most ports as a result of the award of concessions to international terminal companies. The question will be whether to regulate further concentration of power leaving several maritime ranges having to deal with a limited number of terminal operators in position to impose oligopolistic price settings.
4. Cluster Governance
Deregulation, port devolution, the growing role of global terminal operators and the changes imposed by intermodalism and global supply chain management are challenging the role and function of port authorities, or any agency overseeing regional transportation assets. The governance of hinterland access regimes is linked with cluster formation. It refers to the agglomeration effects and the degree of internal cohesion and competition within a hinterland. This governance concept not only applies to ports, but can also be inferred to airports, inland ports and logistical zones, or any freight distribution construct where a closer integration of the involved actors could lead to performance improvements. An emerging paradigm concerns the consideration of the city as a terminal and a hub, which means it acts as a functional freight region. This paradigm is particularly important because:
  • A metropolitan area is the origin, destination and point of transit of large volumes of passengers and freight. They are embedded within their respective supply chains with a wide array of flows.
  • All regional transportation assets are interrelated and contribute to the regional, national and global economy. They are embedded within their respective transport chains with an array of modes and terminals.
  • Existing governance and regulatory structures are ill-placed to reflect this jurisdictional, functional and operational reality.
Cluster governance is a business strategy that relates to the mix of, and relations between, organizations and institutions that foster coordination and pursue projects that improve the cluster as a whole through regional strategies and the coordination of their hinterland. The main advantages of cluster governance are a better access to competencies and innovative ideas, a better access to suppliers and customers, a better access to capital and an overall reduction of transactional costs. Although there is no single cluster governance model, as each port (or terminal) region has a different set of geographical, economic, regulatory and operational characteristics, the following four issues tend to be common to all clusters:
  • Service efficiency. Concern a series of initiatives to improve the quality and the reliability of terminal assets. This goes beyond infrastructural issues, as it involves some operational commitments to standard levels of service, often through certification by external agencies. An emerging strategy in this direction involves the development of port community systems that are making available information helping the management of terminal-related supply chains, commonly through a web portal. Service efficiency can also involve technical and managerial training to improve the labor quality. A standard is thus set among the terminal users in terms of what level of quality and efficiency is expected. In turn, this promotes the marketability of all the terminal users.
  • Logistical integration. Concern strategies that aim at better embedding terminals within their regional supply chains. For a port, this can involve the setting of satellite terminals or inland ports that are accessed through dedicated corridors. The setting of co-located logistics zones is also a common strategy both in proximity to the port, rail or airport terminal facilities.
  • Infrastructure and growth management. Although both infrastructure and growth management have conventionally be undertaken by port authorities, the emerging paradigm concerns a higher level of intermodal integration with for instance on-dock rail facilities. Infrastructure development also takes place more in a public-private partnership form with the involvement of terminal operators and other private stakeholders such as rail operators and logistical firms.
  • Terminal-city integration. Concern various strategies that help mitigate the commonly significant environmental and social externalities that terminals have on their surrounding communities. As terminal facilities, notably ports, tend to be in proximity to high density urban areas, environmental management and corporate responsibility are perceived as tools helping promote a better coordination and avoid possible conflicts. On the other end, airport terminals are typically located away from central areas implying that their integration can lean on the setting of transit corridors and adjacent retailing, office and housing activities.
The full implications of cluster governance remain to be assessed, particularly to what extent they generate added value to the terminal region and if such strategies are linked with the attraction, or at least the retention of customers and the traffic they generate. There are also impacts on competition within the cluster as firms undertake collaborative strategies aiming at improving their respective efficiencies. It can be expected that a better access to international markets can be achieved, which would indirectly promote the globalization of the companies within the cluster. This also has an impact on competition between clusters over discretionary traffic, namely transshipment.