Atomization versus Massification in Transportation Modes

Atomization versus Massification in Transportation Modes

For transport modes, atomization represents the smallest load unit that can be effectively transported. The individual is the smallest load unit for passenger transportation, while a parcel or a part is the smallest load units for freight transportation. Atomization is less relevant for bulk since the smallest load unit is a flexible concept; it can be subdivided without any changes in the characteristics of the product. Still, the smallest bulk trade transactions rarely go under a ton (except for retail consumer transactions where the goods are bought in “bulk”). Massification for transportation modes involves the growing capacity to move load units in a single trip. The relations between atomization and massification can be paradoxical since individuals and customers tend to prefer the convenience of atomization. At the same time, carriers favor massification and the economies of scale it confers.

For passenger transportation, the most massified land transportation mode is the passenger train, which can carry about 1,000 passengers. In contrast, the Airbus A380, the largest operating passenger plane, has a standard configuration to carry about 550 passengers. The largest passenger conveyance is the cruise ship, with the biggest ships carrying about 6,000 passengers. For bulk transportation, tanker ships can carry up to 400,000 tons, while some bulk carriers have a capacity of up to 350,000 tons. Containerization offers a unique advantage since the container is a relatively small (atomized) load unit that can carry on average 20-25 tons, while containers can be massified on large containerships carrying up to the equivalent of 15,000 standard containers of 20 foot.