Transport as a loosely coupled system: Implications for research and practice
Conference contribution, 2016
In view of the current challenges that the freight transport system is subject to this paper addresses the organising of transport. We suggest that the transport system can be characterised as a ‘loosely coupled system’ (Weick 1976) and identify three system layers; the supply chain layer representing the exchange of goods, the transport layer representing the transport operations, and the transport infrastructure layer. Furthermore, we identify two interfaces connecting the three layers; the exchange of transport services representing the ‘market' for transport services, and the traffic as the use(s) of the transport infrastructure. The aim of the paper is to analyse the organising of the transport system by scrutinising the pattern of loose and tight couplings within and between these layers. The paper is based on a conceptual discussion and elaboration on loose couplings and loosely coupled systems in relation to the transport system and its characteristics. The paper concludes that tight couplings are dominant in the supply chain and infrastructure layers and that these tight couplings are enabled by loose couplings in the transport layer. The transport system as a loosely coupled system means difficulties to change the pattern of loose and tight couplings. For example, when loose couplings resting on ‘standards and markets’ need to be replaced by specific solutions - requiring adjustments carried out in interaction among specific actors - this becomes difficult to put in place. Therefore, while there are many positive outcomes produced by loosely coupled systems, such as flexibility and efficiency, the downside is their resistance to change.