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Posted: January 17th, 2024

Assessing the Viability of Inland Waterway Transport as a Solution to Road Congestion

Assessing the Viability of Inland Waterway Transport as a Solution to Road Congestion

Road congestion is a major problem in many urban areas, affecting the economy, the environment and the quality of life of millions of people. One possible solution to this problem is to use inland waterway transport (IWT) as an alternative or complementary mode of transport for freight and passengers. IWT refers to the movement of goods and people on rivers, canals, lakes and other inland waterways. This blog post will assess the viability of IWT as a solution to road congestion, considering its advantages, disadvantages, challenges and opportunities.

Advantages of IWT

IWT has several advantages over road transport, such as:

– Lower environmental impact: IWT emits less greenhouse gases, air pollutants and noise than road transport, contributing to the mitigation of climate change and the improvement of air quality and public health.
– Higher energy efficiency: IWT consumes less fuel per tonne-kilometre than road transport, reducing the dependence on fossil fuels and the costs of energy.
– Higher safety: IWT has a lower accident rate than road transport, resulting in fewer fatalities, injuries and damages.
– Higher capacity: IWT can carry larger volumes and heavier loads than road transport, increasing the productivity and competitiveness of the transport sector.
– Lower infrastructure costs: IWT requires less investment and maintenance than road infrastructure, saving public funds and resources.

Disadvantages of IWT

IWT also has some disadvantages compared to road transport, such as:

– Lower speed: IWT is slower than road transport, especially on narrow and winding waterways, affecting the delivery time and reliability of the transport service.
– Lower accessibility: IWT is limited by the availability and connectivity of waterways, restricting the geographical coverage and flexibility of the transport network.
– Higher external costs: IWT generates external costs such as water pollution, erosion, sedimentation, flooding and biodiversity loss, affecting the ecological integrity and resilience of water ecosystems.

Challenges for IWT

IWT faces several challenges that hinder its development and competitiveness, such as:

– Lack of awareness: IWT is often overlooked or underestimated by policy makers, transport operators and users, resulting in a lack of support and promotion for this mode of transport.
– Lack of coordination: IWT involves multiple actors and stakeholders from different sectors and levels of governance, requiring a high degree of coordination and cooperation to ensure the harmonization and integration of policies, regulations, standards and practices.
– Lack of innovation: IWT suffers from a low level of innovation and modernization, affecting its performance, quality and attractiveness. There is a need for more research and development, technology transfer and adoption, digitalization and automation in this mode of transport.

Opportunities for IWT

IWT also offers several opportunities that can enhance its viability and potential as a solution to road congestion, such as:

– Increasing demand: IWT can benefit from the increasing demand for transport services due to the growth of population, urbanization, trade and tourism. There is a potential for modal shift from road to water transport, especially for bulk cargo and short-sea shipping.
– Improving infrastructure: IWT can take advantage of the improving infrastructure for water transport, such as the expansion and upgrading of waterways, ports, terminals and intermodal facilities. There is also a scope for developing new infrastructure projects that can increase the capacity and connectivity of water transport networks.
– Adopting best practices: IWT can learn from the best practices and experiences of other regions and countries that have successfully developed and implemented IWT as a solution to road congestion. There are examples of good practices in Europe, Asia and America that can provide inspiration and guidance for IWT.


IWT is a viable solution to road congestion that can bring multiple benefits for the economy, the environment and the society. However, it also faces some drawbacks and challenges that need to be addressed. There are also opportunities that can be seized to enhance its development and competitiveness. Therefore, it is important to adopt a holistic and integrated approach that considers all aspects of IWT in relation to other modes of transport. It is also essential to involve all relevant actors and stakeholders in the planning, implementation and evaluation of IWT policies and projects. By doing so, IWT can become a more attractive and sustainable mode of transport that can contribute to solving the problem of road congestion.


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: International Energy Agency (2019) Transport accessed 17 January 2024
: European Union Agency for Railways (2019) Safety Overview 2019 accessed 17 January 2024
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: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2019) Infrastructure Maintenance and Renewal: Spending Needs, Financing Capacity and Policy Options accessed 17 January 2024
: European Commission (2018) Study on the Analysis and Evolution of International and EU Shipping accessed 17 January 2024
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: World Wildlife Fund (2019) The Impacts of Unsustainable Inland Waterway Transport Projects on River Ecosystems accessed 17 January 2024
: European Federation of Inland Ports (2019) Inland Navigation in Europe: Discover its Potential! accessed 17 January 2024
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: Inter-American Development Bank (2016) Integration and Trade in the Americas: Special Issue on Latin American and Caribbean Economic Relations with Asia-Pacific accessed 17 January 2024


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