The following are the topics that are covered in this chapter. Click on the topics to view the detailed tutorials.

Importance of Transportation in the chain of distribution Characteristics of different methods of transport
Factors affecting the choice of the method of transport Modes of transport
Benefits to a business of having its own transport

Importance of Transportation in the Chain of Distribution

Transportation involves in moving people or things from one place to another.  We know that the raw materials are not always found in the place where the production facilities are located. Therefore, raw materials needed to be moved from where they are found abundant, e.g mines, farms or plantations to where they can be processed (e.g. factories).

Transportation is also used to move finished goods from the factories to warehouses, wholesalers, retailers or direct to consumers.

Transportation adds value to the goods by the process of distribution. If goods are kept stored in the warehouses, they have a limited value. Their value increases if they are moved to a place where they can be sold and consumed. Therefore, transportation adds value to goods.

Transportation enables people to obtain and use a wide variety of goods and those goods that are not even made in their country. Import and export is possible only with the help of transport.

Transportation has enabled the countries to specialise in the production of those goods for which they most suited. Australia produces diary products, meat and minerals. Japan specialises in the manufacture of engineering and electronics products. Transportation moves these goods to markets all over the world.

Transportation has helped the growth of overseas markets and expansion of the global economy. It has been one of the most important driving forces behind the phenomenon of Globalisation.

Other than moving goods, transportation also moves people. Many people use transport to visit shops, theatres, cinemas and sports facilities. They also use transport to go on holidays in their own countries as well as other countries.

Characteristics of different methods of transport

Road Transport

People and goods can be transported through the network of roads. Road haulage companies and couriers provide services to manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, online businesses, local councils and private individuals.

From tarred main roads connecting towns and cities to dirt and sand tracks linking remote rural areas with small populations, roads are a connected network that enables the speedy transport and it is the most widely used method of transport today. Development of roads is essential for a country to go along the path of prosperity and development.

Many people use cars to move around. Others make use of public transport such as buses and trains. Cars, vans and lorries can also be hired. Some companies own their own fleet of road transport.

Advantages of road transport

  • Flexibility – Road transport is a flexible form of transport. It is not restricted to fixed schedules and routes. The routes and the frequency of the journeys can be adjusted.
  • There are many kinds of road transport available, ranging from bicycles to heavy trucks. There are specialised trucks for specialised loads. Hence, different kinds of goods can be carried in road transport that is suitable for them.
  • Road transport can offer road-to-road delivery service without the need to use any other form of transport for the part of the journey.
  • Road transport is suitable and fast over short distances and are also increasingly becoming more and more suitable for long-distance travel as well.
  • Roads are accessible to almost anywhere. Routes can be altered to avoid traffic problems or poor road conditions.

Disadvantages of road transport

  • Road transport is considered a slow method over long distances.
  • Trucks have limited load capacity. Therefore road transport is usually considered as unsuitable for bulk loads of heavy products such as timber or fertilizer. It is also not suitable for very large objects such as boats and generators that cannot be divided into smaller loads.
  • Road transport is costly. Fuel is a high cost factor in road transport. Vehicles also require maintenance, insurance and licensing. Loading and unloading of goods often require labour too.
  • Traffic delays can cause hold-ups.
  • Scope for land transport can be limited for some countries such as island nations like Maldives.
  • There is also concern about pollution caused by land transport

Rail Transport

In countries where raw materials are produced, the railways are essential for moving these commodities to power stations and steelworks. Many workers depend on railways and rapid transit systems such as underground railways to travel to and from work. Intercity trains operate in many countries. Local trains provide transport for shorter distances.

Advantages of Rail Transport

  • Rail transport is suitable for bulky and heavy goods such as coal, metal ores and oil, especially when carried for long distances.
  • Railway networks are not affected by traffic jams and also not so much affected by weather conditions.
  • Goods wagons are especially suitable for carrying goods of certain kinds, such as oil or cars. Many goods are now carried in containers on flat wagons.
  • Rail transport, especially if electrified, causes less pollution than the road vehicles.
  • Rail transport economises in the use of labour compared to road transport. A goods train with just two people on board could be equivalent of 60 trucks driven by 60 people.

Disadvantages of Rail Transport

  • Rail transport has to use other methods of transport such as roads to take goods or people to their final destination.
  • Rail transport is slow and expensive for short distances.
  • There are more areas of the world without a rail way. Therefore it cannot access many areas, which would require road transport to reach.
  • Setup and maintenance costs are high.
  • Rail transport is regarded as inflexible.

Air Transport

Regarded as one of the safest methods of transport, Air transport has grown in importance over recent years. Although a large proportion of air transport is passenger traffic, transport of goods by air has rapidly increased.

Goods carried by air

Valuable goods Jewels such as diamonds, gold, stamps and currency.
Perishable goods Flowers, vegetables, fruit, newspapers and magazines
Fragile goods Glassware and electronics
Urgently required goods Medicines, human organs, blood, government documents, examination papers and mail.
Emergency aid Medicines, medical equipment, vehicles, tents and blankets for victims of various kinds of disasters.
Small bulk items Scientific instruments, computer equipment and toys.
Live animals Race horses, tropical fish, zoo animals and pets.
Goods able to bear the cost of air freight. Lightweight office equipment, leather goods, sportswear, clothing, spare parts for vehicles or machinery.

Advantages of Air Transport

  • Air transport is the fastest method of transport between countries and between major cities provided that the final destination is not too far away from the airport.
  • Tickets can be booked online.
  • Several inter-connecting flights can be made on the same ticket without the the need for collecting in transit.
  • Air transport takes the shortest straight line route as an airliner is not obstructed by hills or mountains.
  • Air transport is also useful for transporting to inaccessible areas such as jungle, forest, and desert where even transport by road is difficult.
  • Because of its speed, it is very suitable for carrying important, urgent, lightweight and expensive loads.

Disadvantages of Air Transport

  • Travel by air or transport by air is expensive.
  • Many airports are situated outside cities. so the short journey time by aircraft is offset by the time taken travelling to the airport or delays in travelling to the final destination.
  • Aircrafts have limited carrying capacity compared to sea transport.
  • Aircrafts are sometimes affected by weather.
  • Many people are concerned about the pollution caused by the huge number of aircrafts flying worldwide.

Sea Transport

Sea transport is very important for linking the continents and islands of the world as three quarters or the earth’s surface is covered by water. Even though other methods such as air transportation has gained importance as a method of transport, the sea transport has retained its importance with the development of containers.

Advantages of sea transport

  • Sea transport is a relatively cheap way of carrying heavy, low value goods in bulk over long as well as short distances.
  • Ships have access to many ports of the world.
  • With the development of containerisation, the transport of goods by sea has speeded up, and also the goods have become safer to be transported by sea.
  • Specialised ships are available for specialised cargoes. Tankers, ships with refrigeration, Roll-on roll off ferries, etc.
  • The seas and oceans do not required maintenance, unlike roads and rail ways.

Disadvantages of Sea Transport

  • Sea transport is a slow method of transport and so it is not suitable for goods that need urgent shipment.
  • Transshipment is needed to and from docks to inland destinations.
  • Costs of insurance, packaging, storage, and port charges can be expensive, adding to the charges made for carrying the goods by the sea.
  • Several complex documents are needed.
  • Weather conditions may delay the arrival of ships or may result in losses at sea such as containers.
  • Not every country has a shoreline. Some countries are landlocked.


Waterways include canals, rivers and lakes. They may connect inland lakes such as the Great Lake in Canada and USA. They may connect seas and oceans such as the Suez Canal connecting the Red Sea and Mediterranean. Some countries have rivers that are hundreds and thousands of kilometres long. Barges, ferries and other boats are used for carrying products from a port at the mouth of the river to where they will be used or stored.

Advantages of Waterways

Waterways are suitable for carrying bulk cargoes of low value products such as sand, oil, coal, gravel, bricks and grain. Such barges are very fuel efficient. They can be loaded at the side of ship and unloaded where the product is to be used. The use of waterways saves the cost of other more expensive methods of transport such as roads.

Disadvantages of Waterways

  • Moving goods along waterways is a very slow method of transportation.
  • Waterways are not available everywhere or may not always be navigable because of tides or because of silting up.
  • Some canals and rivers may freeze over in winter and so be unusable.
  • High cost of maintenance of canals and the dredging of rivers to maintain a channel.


Pipelines are used for carrying liquids such as oil and water, gases and sometimes solids such as grains, sand and sugar using specialised machinery. In this tutorial we are looking at the transportation pipelines used to move liquids and gases between cities, countries and even continents. Pipelines are a safe means of transporting flammable commodities such as petrol and gas.

Advantages of pipelines

  • Pipelines are cheap to operate and usually take a direct route.
  • A continuous flow is guaranteed as long as the machinery is working.
  • Pipelines have a high capacity.
  • They are not affected by weather.
  • Less pollution of the atmosphere compared to other forms of transport such as using many road or sea tankers.

Disadvantages of Pipelines

  • Pipelines are expensive to construct and repair.
  • There must be a guaranteed long-term supply and demand to justify the construction of a pipeline.
  • If one part of the pipeline is damaged, the whole pipeline may be out of action.
  • Pipelines are usable for only a limited range of commodities.

Factors affecting the choice of the method of transport

  • Cost of Transport – This is an important consideration as transport costs form part of the price at which the goods will be finally sold.
  • The quantity of the goods to be carried – Bulk goods can be carried by both road and rail. Bulk low value goods can be carried overseas by ship. Small quantities of goods can be carried by air.
  • Nature of the goods – Do the goods need special handling? Do the goods need specialised container? Are the goods perishable, lightweight, heavy, durable, low value, fragile or bulky?
  • Urgency – If the goods are required urgently, the method which is the fastest method will be likely used, regardless of the cost.
  • Security needed – Expensive goods may be sent by road or by air as these methods are faster than rail or ship. This is to reduced the journey time so to reduce the possibilities of theft.
  • Safety – Fragile goods need careful packing. If the goods are too fragile, public transportation system is not good. Using your own transport could be the choice in this case.
  • Convenience and availability – The choice of the method often depends on the availability. Convenience, is also an important factor as different type of transport is suitable for different journey types.
  • Ability to reach the destination – Most places can be reached by road. In some mountainous areas, a helicopter maybe the only method of transport that can reach the destination. Some countries like Mauritius do not have railways. Some landlocked countries can’t be reached by sea. For island nations like Maldives, sea transport is often the most practical method.
  • Regularity and Reliability – When choosing a method of transport for hire, regularity and reliability of the transport provider is important to ensure that the goods reach the destination on time and in good condition.

Modes of Transport

Types of Road Transport

  • Bicycles – They may be used to ride to work where work place is not too far away, and to deliver small amounts of goods in neighbourhoods and in small towns. They may also be used by postmen to deliver mail.
  • Motorcycles/scooters/mopeds – These are very popular in city areas. They may be used by couriers to deliver packages.
  • Cars – Cars range from small saloons and hatchbacks to four wheel drive vehicles and stretch limousines. Cars are usually privately owned. But they are also available for hire. Cars are also used as taxi cabs which is the public transport that is available for hire by one passenger or a small group of passengers usually known to each other.
  • Rickshaws – Used in countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan and are available for hire. They are pulled by a man or bicycle driven. They are also auto-rickshaws which are powered by two-stroke type of motorcycles.
  • Bullock carts/water-buffalo carts/donkey carts – used in developing countries to carry goods to the market and to carry people.
  • Buses – In most countries travel by bus is an alternative to driving an own car. Buying a car is expensive and maintenance costs can add up too.
  • Vans – Vans are of various sizes. They are used for deliveries and to carry small quantities of goods. They may be refrigerated to carry food and ice-cream.
  • Trucks – These are vehicles to transport bulk goods, materials and equipment. These are known as lorries in UK and Common Wealth countries.

Types of Rail Transport

In the past trains used to be powered by stream. Today they are mostly powered by diesel engines or the lines may also be electrified.

  • Passenger trains – may be short distance commuter trains from the suburbs to the city centers or they may be long distance, intercity trains with sleeping facilities and restaurant carriages.
  • Goods wagons – They carry freight especially bulk loads.
  • Rapid Transit Systems – These may be metros, elevated railways, light railways or underground trains.

Types of aircraft

  • Passenger aircraft – These air crafts are often known as Jumbo Jets because of their size. These are wide bodied long-distance passenger jets such as Airbus 330-200 and Boeing 777-300. They carry large number of passengers as well as mail and freight.
  • Regional and short-haul aircraft – They operate on short journeys and carry fewer passengers.
  • Freighter aircraft – These are planes that are used to carry freight and usually no passengers.
  • Corporate jets – such as the Lear 35A can operate up to 1500 miles.
  • Helicopters – they can land, take-off and hover vertically. They are used when landing is restricted. They can be used in emergency situations such as air and sea rescue.
  • Light aircraft – such as Cessna 180 and Piper Tomahawk are used for short journeys. People also use them for pleasure rides. They can also be used in emergency situations and are often used by fire services help fight extensive forest fires.
  • Seaplanes – they have floats instead of wheeled landing gear so that they can land and take off from sea water.

Types of ships

  • Cargo liners – These are ships that operate on fixed routes and to fixed timetables. They may carry passengers, mail and general mixed cargo. They may be equipped with cranes for loading and unloading. There are many kinds of specialised cargo liners such as tankers (for bulk carriage of oil and petroleum related items), bulk carriers (bulk carriage of certain types of cargo like grain, iron ore and fertilizer) and container ships (designed to hold three storeys of containers below decks and stacks of containers as deck cargo).
  • Cruise liners – These are large floating hotels which provide luxurious, leisurely travelling experience. They visit a number of tourist attractions within several days. Cruise liners are often promoted as ‘your luxurious home at sea’.
  • Coastal Shipping – These are small ships that operate from port to port along a long coastline. They include:
    • Fishing boats – Fishing boats can be of varying sizes and some of them are deep sea vessels that undertake long journeys to fishing grounds.
    • Ferries – These are designed to carry passengers as well as wheeled cargo.

Benefits to a business of having its own transport

The choice of a business of whether to have its own transport or to hire from other transport companies depends on the nature of transportation that is needed. Businesses usually own types of road transportation such as cars, vans and trucks. Let’s look at the benefits of having own transport to a business:

  • It provides direct contact with customers therefore customer needs and problems can be sorted out quickly.
  • Goods can be better supervised while they are being transported. Therefore less chance of being damaged or stolen.
  • Delivery times and places can be adjusted easily.
  • Advertising can be done on the sides of the vehicles – logo, name of the company and contact details.
  • Can deliver to several customers on one journey in case of road transport.
  • It is more economic if delivery has to be done regularly and in loads of sufficient quantities.
  • Can be hired out to other people and businesses if needed.