Integrating river ports within their urban area in order to optimise transport chains – The ANR FLUIDE Project

Science topics June 2013 CityTransport

Antoine Beyer, Researcher - AME Department, SPLOTT Laboratory

The fact that they receive containers which travel on the Seine is just the most visible aspect of the major change in the position of river ports in the metropolitan environment. A combination of economic and environmental imperatives have combined to force us to re-evaluate the role of rivers in supplying large conurbations, both in the case of maritime hinterlands and urban logistics. In the past, as they were under threat from urbanisation and for a considerable period of time without much potential for development, river port authorities tended to adopt defensive positions, asserting their status and traditional prerogatives.

The re-birth of river transport gives the port authorities a new-found legitimacy. At the national level, the basis of this is the Grenelle Environment Summit’s national goals for modal transfer. From the local standpoint, it is stimulated by growing interest among cities in urban distribution approaches that provide an alternative to the road. This situation opens up a new phase of negotiation which multidisciplinary research at IFSTTAR is attempting to describe.


A multidisciplinary investigation

The aim of the researchers involved in the ANR1 FLUIDE2 project is not to adopt a prescriptive approach, and still less to militate in favour of the development of urban river transport, but rather to examine the complexity of the issues surrounding the river and identify their determinants in order to shed light on their links with metropolitan space.
The approach is based on a multidisciplinary approach, at the crossroads between academic, institutional and occupational research. This is partly explained by the fact that the urban planning agencies and port authorities of the four selected cities (Paris, Lyon, Strasbourg and Lille) also took part in the project.


The major directions of the research

The diversity of these situations explains the historical differences in the city-port relationship, the position and function of ports in the urban conurbation and how this is taken into account in present-day urban planning. We have found that after the rediscovery of the leisure use and environmental benefits of river banks, partnerships between the city and the port have resulted in a reconnection with productive use. Comparisons within Europe with other major river areas belonging to our neighbours (United Kingdom, Benelux and Germany) allows us to see that French ports are involved in a wider movement, while not forgetting their specific features and the innovation they exhibit as regards river links to city centres.

A second major research direction analyses logistical functions and river traffic in the metropolitan areas. The approach employed is based on the study of specific urban distribution channels and assesses the importance of urban river transport, from cities with more urban profiles (Paris and Lille) to those with more industrial profiles (Strasbourg and Lyon), the manner in which river transport is integrated within the organisation of logistics as a whole, and the role of the ports in serving the conurbation. To this we have added a third input, the analysis of transport chains and the forms of transaction between stakeholders in a comparison between major rivers, in particular the Seine and the Rhône.

A fourth input provides essential, but often poorly known, information about the men and women who make the river system work (water management staff, lock-keepers, owner-boatmen, and freight handlers). This is an atypical group of people, whose lives are centred on the river and some whose jobs involve travelling on it. Their role in reducing uncertainty on land or in the boats is of vital importance with regard to reliability and continuity, as a fundamental feature of this transport system is its vulnerability to a variety of risks, both technical and climatic. Concerns persist within this occupational group. The renewal in the ports, which is seen from the outside as a re-birth, can be experienced as a loss as it leads to a feeling of disorientation.


A comprehensive analysis of the river metropolis

Ultimately, this research will provide firm references about the economic structure of the sector (occupations, regulations, characteristics of the market) and the sociological characteristics of the persons who work on the waterways, the characteristics of the transport chains and the urban distribution channels (organisation of transport chains, purpose and function of hubs), urban logistics (location and distribution) and city/river governance in planning projects. It will then permit a cross-cutting analysis of the river metropolis that examines analysing its stakeholders, functions and organisation as well as the different levels of the metropolitan port system.






1 ANR : Agence Nationale de la Recherche
2 FLUIDE : FLeuve Urbain Intermodal DurablE