Mode transportation refers to the specific means of transport used for a particular journey, either by people or goods. Most modes have the capacity to carry both passengers and freight, though some are designed to only take one or the other, while others, such as ocean ships, intercontinental airflights and long distance rail services require pre- and on-carriage by road (intermodal transportation). Each mode is characterized by technical, operational and commercial characteristics that define its market opportunities.
Commercial characteristics are driven by demand for the modes, which differ based on the travel time required and the value placed on speed and reliability. As income levels rise, the propensity to travel increases and modes that offer faster or more reliable service are favored over those that may be cheaper but less convenient. This phenomenon is known as modal shift and can occur in passenger and freight markets.
In addition to speed and reliability, the cost of transporting a product or a person also influences mode preference. In general, modes that use more energy per trip, are more expensive to operate and maintain. In contrast, those that use less are cheaper to operate and maintain, but tend to have lower service quality or are unavailable in certain geographic areas.
In the United States, trucking is the most commonly used mode for freight shipments. This is primarily due to the fact that it can deliver to customers’ door-to-door locations and is not limited by geography, which makes it ideal for local or regional freight shipments. Nevertheless, road freight is not ideal for longer hauls and is vulnerable to external factors like weather and traffic congestion that can impact its effectiveness, unlike air or ocean freight.