National Center for Sustainable Transportation

Congestion Reduction through Efficient Empty Container Movement

Project Number


Project Summary

Benefited from the expansion of U.S. trade, especially the international trade between the United States and the tremendous economic expansion of Asia, the maritime transportation industry has been growing steadily during the past decades. This increase in international trade resulted in the growth of containerized traffic between marine ports and the consignees/consigners in hinterland. These trips contribute to traffic congestion and air pollution along the transportation corridors and in urban areas. However, due to imbalanced containerized trade between imports and exports as well as the business agreements of container leasing, empty container movement takes up more than 20% of total container handling [1]. In general, carriers still prefer to lease containers in shortage areas and off-hire them in surplus areas since expenses will be lower than repositioning containers [2]. Therefore, there is a need to develop an overall solution approach to model and provide strategies to efficiently route the carriers, to schedule the containerized traffic and to reuse empty containers.

Repositioning of empty containers is studied in two aspects: container inventory management and carrier routing. Current literature sees theoretically justified models in both avenues, however, introducing a new transportation mode into carrier routing to increase the traffic capacity without causing congestion needs to be considered in order to extend the current theory and algorithms to large scale vehicle routing. Adopting a vehicle routing framework to container transportation is worthy of study since multiple trailer trucks provide multiple container capacity, which increases the transporting ability of each vehicle.

In this work we propose to develop an optimization-based vehicle routing framework that integrates routing for laden and empty containers, while jointly conducting dynamic multi-trailer truck routing, container reuse methodology, and container leasing strategy. The proposed routing model will provide a dynamic routing plan to deliver laden containers and reposition empty containers. Demand forecasting will be used for prediction of customer demand, which will guide the initial container leasing plans. We believe the proposed research would shed insights into the dynamic multi-trailer truck containerized vehicle routing environment. The aim of our approach is to develop methodologies to reduce truck movements by reducing empty container movements, whereby reducing traffic congestion and the environmental impact of the growing logistics activities in urban centers.

Project Status




Topic Area

Sustainable Urban Freight

P.I. Name & Address

Professor, Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering; USC Viterbi School of Engineering
University of Southern California
3715 McClintock Ave.
Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center (GER) 206A
Los Angeles, CA 90089-0193
United States

Funding Source


Total Project Cost


Agency ID or Contract Number

Research Subaward No. 201302432-02

Start and End Dates

1/1/2016 to 8/24/2017

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