Divergent effects of container port choice incentives on users' behavior

R.B. Castelein, Harry Geerlings, Ron van Duin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Port choice decisions are often considered to be based on unambiguous choice criteria. The authors examine how port users' evaluation of these criteria can differ and how this may affect actors' incentive structure and decision making, and ultimately port performance. Apart from ports' physical characteristics, the paper considers port policy and freight market conditions as components of actors' incentive structures. As port users interact, each actor's decision making has consequences for the incentives offered to others – with an important role for strategic behavior. The aggregate of port users' decisions affects a port's throughput, cargo composition, and value added, and has implications for handling efficiency. This paper combines these insights within an overarching framework linking port characteristics, policy, and freight market conditions to port user choice behavior and the consequences for ports. The paper explores various facets of this framework using the case of how the Port of Rotterdam competes along the Hamburg–Le Havre range, drawing on port throughput data on various levels of detail and in-depth interviews with a representative selection of port stakeholders. It shows that there is a downside to ports being particularly attractive to carriers, in that the port that offers the most incentives to carriers disproportionately attracts relatively low-value activities: inefficient calls and a large share of empty containers, along with a strong import/export imbalance. Interview findings contextualize the findings from the data and elaborate further on the mechanisms underpinning these observations. Most importantly, the attractiveness of a port for carriers does not always translate into attractiveness for shippers. The challenge for port policy is to balance the port's positioning toward its different categories of users and achieve a congruent value proposition for all port users.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-93
Number of pages12
JournalTransport Policy
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Container ports
  • Port choice
  • Port competition
  • Port competitiveness


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