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A freight exchange is an online service for haulage companies, logistics providers, freight forwarders and transport companies. It allows haulage companies to search a database of available freight that needs to be delivered and advertise their available vehicle capacity. Logistics providers and freight forwarders can advertise their freight loads that needs delivering as well as match their freight loads to the available vehicle capacity. These systems provide a platform that allows carriers to communicate freight traffic information to fellow operators such as transporters, forwarders and logistics companies. They allow forwarders to advertise their freight either privately or publicly to a large number of freight operators that are looking for loads. They also allow freight operators to offer vehicle space. Online systems are normally subscription-based with a small charge for advertising (posting) and searching (consulting).
The main purpose of a freight exchange is to fill empty vehicles on their return journeys (when they are on their way back to their depot after a delivery) by matching them to available freight. For example, a trucker has an order to transport tulips from Keukenhof in the Netherlands to Como, Italy. Ideally, a freight order for the return trip would increase profitability, so the trucker would search for return freight or return load on a freight exchange.
The world's first electronic freight exchange was called Teleroute and was launched in France on the Minitel system in 1985. Before the Internet, users were supplied with a terminal to advertise or search for freight. Today, there are many examples around the world offering many services to haulers and freight forwarders.
The classic freight exchange was a favorite tool in the centralized economies. For example, there was a ban against driving with an empty truck in the socialistic Czechoslovakia. Transport companies had to use the national system showing information about available loads.
With the help of new technology freight exchanges are now able to improve efficiency even more by integrating with telematics and transport management systems to offer realtime freight load matching utilizing GPS technology.