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A review of port authority functions: towards a renaissance?

Patrick Verhoeven

Maritime Policy & Management, 2010, vol. 37, issue 3, 247-270

Abstract: The ever-changing environment in which ports operate has put strong pressure on the traditional role of public port authorities. Market developments have created the need for ports to be part of wider logistics networks and to provide value-added services. Powerful private players who are organised on a global scale, such as carriers, terminal operators and logistics service providers, struggle to gain control over port-oriented logistics networks whereas port authorities very often seem to remain local spectators with limited influence on these market-driven processes. Port authorities are on the other hand, the focal point of criticism from societal interests such as local government, NGOs and citizens for negative externalities related to port development and port operations even if these do not always fall within their direct responsibility. In 1990, Richard Goss questioned, albeit rather rhetorically, the need to have public sector port authorities. Since then scholars have demonstrated a true renaissance or renewed interest in the role of port authorities, recommending repositioning and development of new strategies. Parallel to the concept of the ‘renaissance man’, which is defined as a person who is well educated and excels in a wide variety of subjects or fields, a kind of ‘renaissance port authority’ is emerging from literature which may take on a variety of facilitating and even entrepreneurial tasks. The purpose of this article is to develop a conceptual framework for the various options at hand, based on an extensive literature review of port authority functions. The framework also identifies the principal governance-related factors that may in practice enable or prevent port authorities, particularly in Europe, from assuming the renaissance ambitions advocated by scholars. The hypotheses developed in this article form the basis of a wider empirical research agenda into reform of port governance in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

Date: 2010
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