Intermodal Transportation Management

What is Intermodal Transportation Management (IMTM)?

Both “Intermodal” and “Multi-modal” are used interchangeably to describe the movement of travelers between multiple modes of travel on a single journey. “Multi-modal” is favored by some highly-respected authorities, such as Todd Litman at the Victoria Transport Policy Institute. Certainly this usage is logical and in some ways a clearer depiction of this process.

For our purposes here at H2, with all due respect to these authorities, we will frame the term as “Intermodal.” Our reason is that we are focused on the practicalities of connecting two or more modes of travel. For us, the “inter” part of “intermodal,” – from the Latin word for “between” – becomes crucial.

Intermodal, or Multi-Modal, Transportation enables travelers to utilize more than one mode to reach their destination. (Photo courtesy of Pixabay.)
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The Duquesne Incline in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (US) connects parking on either end of the line and reduces traffic on Mt. Washington. Photo courtesy of By Plastikspork (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons.)

The Duquesne Incline in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (US) connects parking on either end of the line and reduces traffic on Mt. Washington. Photo courtesy of By Plastikspork (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons.)

Dr. Steve Lockwood has described IMTM thusly:

“The term ‘intermodal’ is variously defined, but has at its core the deliberate linkage and management of multiple modes. In recent decades, shippers and providers in freight transportation as well as public sector providers of passenger transportation increasingly have recognized that the natural advantages of multiple modes can be more effectively captured through deliberate integration of multiple modal operations. ‘Intermodalism’ is a coordinated and sequential shipment or passenger movement involving two or more modes: rail/truck, barge/ship, plane/truck, bus/rail, or rail/auto. The advantages of intermodalism, in both freight and passenger transportation, can be reinforced by focusing on improved physical connections, operational coordination and integration, and enhanced information and communication systems for both operators and customers.” 

A research team of W. Brad Jones, Dr. C. Richard Cassady and Dr. Royce Bowden in a paper for the U.S. Department of Transportation suggested this:

“Intermodal transportation should be generally defined as: The shipment of cargo and the movement of people involving more than one mode of transportation during a single, seamless journey.” 

For example, people might walk to a bus stop, ride the bus to a rail station, ride the train to their rail endpoint, exit and walk the rest of the way to their destination. Or, commuters might drive to a remote parking facility, park and then board an employer-provided shuttle to their endpoint. Possibly, travelers might drive to a ferry terminal, drive aboard, park, then exit on the other side of the water and continue driving onward.

Why is IMTM Important?

At H2, our focus is not on the verbiage but on the “seamless” part of the Jones-Cassady-Bowden definition. Here’s why: In some cities around the world, intermodal travel is relatively seamless. This is especially true where one provider controls all the modes involved in the travel. That provider has motivation to provide both good service and quality control over the entire modal exchange. Sometimes that provider is a governmental entity. Sometimes that provider is a private infrastructure investor or the result of a Public-Private Partnership (also known as a “P3” or “3P”) where private capital is deployed for the public good.

In these situations, some forethought and planning has gone into rendering the connections between modes comfortable and convenient. Travelers might move easily from a bike to a train with well-placed bike racks at the station, or even with racks pre-positioned on board the train.

Unfortunately, these examples are the exception to the norm. In many areas around the world, ownership of transport may be public or private, or both. There may be dozens of separately-owned, private bus lines linking to a rail station. Perhaps the station itself has insufficient parking, or worse yet, no parking, to accommodate commuters.

A Balanced Approach to IMTM

Many public and private transit entities are competent, well-funded and customer-oriented. Unfortunately, many are not. For example, a heavy rail passenger line might be well-run but they do not know much about bicycles or parking articolo. This is where H2 comes in. We aim to share the expertise we have, the knowledge we have access to through our network of supporters, and the experiences of others in our on-line community. We also support, where appropriate and adequately safeguarded, private investment in public infrastructure.

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Every transportation facility, whether rail station, car ferry or parking garage, is part of a larger transportation ecosystem. Our goal is to help this ecosystem function to its maximum efficiency. We are here to help it run smoother, give better service to patrons and be more sustainable, both environmentally and financially. We want managers of these services to understand that they are not alone and that there is help available to them. We also hope they will seek to connect their operations to this ecosystem by discovering and implementing new ways to bring the “inter” to “modal.”

Transportation providers need to consider how their patrons will connect to other means of movement. (Photo courtesy of Pixabay.)

We will discuss overall developments and trends in IMTM; however, our focus here will be practical: What are the best practices for car share programs in rail stations? How can a parking garage accommodate bike racks? How do you implement a “Park and Ride” at a rail station? Principals of the H2H2H Foundation have performed quality assurance reviews of IMTM operations and have access to a wealth of insider know-how ready to put to work for you. Let’s maximize the transportation grid we have right now by sharing our collective know-how. Please join H2 now by registering here or becoming a sponsor here.

A car ferry connects two highways not linked by bridge. Here, cars queue for an arriving ferry. (Photo courtesy of Pixabay.)