Commercialization involves the extension of the operational scale of passenger and freight transport systems so that that they can reach their optimal market potential. Although an optimal market size can never be attained due to regulations preventing monopolies and differences in consumer preferences (e.g. modal choice), the trend towards maximal market exposure is unmistakable. Within transport systems, four distinct cyclic phases of extension and functional integration can be identified:
- Introduction. Initially, a transport system is introduced to service a specific opportunity in an isolated context. The technology is often “proprietary” and incompatible with other transport systems.
- Expansion and interconnection. As the marketability and the development potential of a transport system becomes apparent, a phase of expansion and interconnection occurs. The size of the market serviced by these transport systems increases as they become adopted in new locations and as new providers emerge to service those markets. At some point, independently developed transport systems connect. However, this connectivity is often subject to a function of transshipment between two incompatible transport systems.
- Standardization and integration. This phase often involves the emergence of a fully developed transport system servicing vast national markets. The major challenge involves standardization of modes and processes, further expanding the commercial potential. Modal flows are moving more efficiently over the entire network and can move from one mode to another through intermodal integration. A process of mergers and acquisitions of transport providers often accompanies this phase for the purpose of rationalization and market expansion.
- Integrated demand. The most advanced stage of extension of a transportation system involves a system fully able to answer the mobility needs of passengers and freight under a variety of circumstances, either predicted or unpredicted demand. As this system tends to be global, it commonly operates close to market potential. In such a setting, a transport system expresses an integrated demand where transport supply is tuned with the demand. This is further expanded by the digitalization of transportation.
Each of these phases tends to be sequential and related to the historical process of transport development. For instance, up to the mid 19th century, most transportation systems were isolated and developed independently from one another. Even global maritime transport was fragmented by national flags and trading systems. As regional transport systems grew in the second half of the 19th century, they gradually interconnected, but moving from one system to another required a form of transshipment. By the early 20th century, most national transport systems were integrated, but interconnection between modes was difficult. The next challenge resided in the development of intermodal transportation, accelerated by containerization and information technologies.