The effect of distance on cargo flows: a case study of Chinese imports and their hinterland destinations

Original Article


With the rapid development of ports in China, competition for cargo is growing. The ability of a port to attract hinterland traffic is affected by many factors, including distance to the hinterland destinations. This paper studies the effects of distance on import cargo flows from a port to its hinterland. Two major findings are reported. Through a Spatial Concentration Analysis, this study shows that cargo imported through ports with relatively low throughput is primarily delivered to local areas, with the proportion of cargo delivered to local areas from larger ports being much smaller. The present study also shows (according to a gravity model, the Gompertz function and several other methods) that cargo flows from a large port to its hinterland increase with distance below a certain threshold, while cargo flows approach a stable state once they exceed this threshold. These results can be used to inform port managers and policy makers regarding the hinterland markets for ports of different sizes.


Import cargo flow Hinterland Ports of China Distance decay Gompertz model 



The authors wish thank the editor and anonymous referees for their valuable suggestions, which have helped improve this paper considerably. This study was sponsored by the Social Science Foundation, by the Ministry of Education of China (Grant No. 12YJC630205), through the Shanghai Pujiang Program (Grant No. 15PJC060), and by the Shanghai Maritime University Foundation (Grant No. 20120079).


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Transport and CommunicationsShanghai Maritime UniversityShanghaiPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  3. 3.School of Economics and ManagementChongqing Jiaotong UniversityChongqingPeople’s Republic of China

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