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  • New markets in inland navigation become essential in the framework of a transition towards a more sustainable transport sector and a climate neutral Europe. Inland navigation in the 21st century also faces several bottlenecks, including those that are structural, both on the demand and supply sides.
  • On the demand side, the outlook for several goods segments points to saturation or even decline (e.g. coal). A likely structural slowdown in world trade is another important challenge for inland waterway transport. While the energy transition changes the product portfolio of inland navigation, it is also expected to lead to the emergence of new markets, to which the inland navigation sector will need to adapt in order to gain market shares.
  • On the supply side, inland vessels will be confronted more and more with difficult navigation conditions on free-flowing rivers such as the Rhine, Danube, Elbe, and others. The underlying reason is low water periods which are expected to intensify with the ongoing climate change. The low water phenomenon and its related negative effects (loss of transport volume and of modal shares for IWT) calls for a diversification of the areas of operation of inland vessels, towards a higher participation in city or urban logistics, for instance, where water levels are less critical.
  • For these reasons, it is important to identify and anticipate the emergence of new markets in inland waterway transport (IWT). New markets can determine new types of products transported by inland vessels, but they often imply new types of logistics, new types of vessels and new areas of operation.
  • For example, one important new market, urban inland waterway transport, does not only imply a change in the type of cargo transported (e.g. parcels instead of mass cargo), but also a change in the areas of operation (city logistics instead of transport crossing borders), a different range of logistics (short-distance instead of long-distance transport), and different types of vessels (smaller vessels instead of large vessels).
  • Based on statistical data, literature research and expert interviews, the following new markets for IWT have been identified:

    1) Urban passenger transport by inland vessels in the form of public local transport (examples are found in Antwerp, Brussels and Rotterdam).
    2) Urban freight transport by inland vessels (construction material, food products, parcels, etc.) in large cities such as Amsterdam, London, Paris, Lyon.
    3) New cargo flows stimulated by circular economy strategies (e.g. waste transport).
    4) Transport of renewable energies or components for their generation (biomass, biofuel, hydrogen, wind turbines).

  • The detailed analysis of these topics reveals one common feature: new markets for IWT exist, and with high potentials. However, these markets are not yet sufficiently developed to gain easy access to the inland navigation sector. They are fraught with intermodal competition, commercial, logistical and technological challenges, risks and uncertainties to varying degrees.
  • The urban transport of freight, passengers and waste is an activity where inland navigation meets the need of society and governments to find solutions for existing and growing urban problems, in terms of saturation of road infrastructure, related negative externalities, and ecological problems in cities.
  • Similarly, the transport of alternative energies meets the need of our society to transform the energy sector from a fossil to a non-fossil form of energy generation. It is found that this new market, despite having certain potentials, is strongly dependent upon political and regulatory activities. Together with the partly unknown technological and economic trajectories of different renewable energies, these features represent certain risks for the development of this sector as a new market for IWT.
  • However, urban waterway logistics also face hurdles and risks. One significant hurdle is the competition for space in urban areas between the transport or logistics sector on the one hand, and the important housing and tourism sectors, on the other hand.
  • All in all, many transformations need to be accomplished to extend the cargo portfolio of inland navigation. The report sheds light on these necessary transformations and challenges and describes key projects in different new markets and in different cities, countries and regions, where these transformation processes are already underway and where first success stories can be told.