Several classifications of ports were proposed in the literature, but there is no single established or accepted framework or taxonomy due to the complexity and diversity of the port entities.
In 1990s, UNCTAD introduced a new classification based on the definition of port-generation, according to which some prevalent ports’ characteristics could be associated to discrete time periods, the so-called generations. UNCTAD fully defined the characteristics of three generations of ports, while the fourth-generation port was less specified. Later, several researchers criticized the definition of portgeneration and proposed new elements of classification, mainly of qualitative nature.
The objective of the paper regards to the definition of an operative basis for the quantitative specification of ports’ characteristics, based on UNCTAD port-generation approach. The definition of a specific generation for a port is not a vote, or an element of ranking; but, a synthetic indicator about his main role in the worldwide network. Several ports were object, in the time, of a process of hybridization. They were born with specific characteristics and, later, they evolved in acquiring new ones.
The paper, after the presentation of a revised port-generation classification, proposes some indicators to identify each of the three generations defined by UNCTAD. The applicative section presents the preliminary results of the calculation of the specified indicators to a set of Italian ports.
commercial ports, port-generation approach, quantitative indicators
 Russo, F., Musolino, G. & Assumma, V., An integrated procedure to estimate demand flows of maritime container transport at international scale. International Journal of Shipping and Transport Logistics, 6(2), pp. 112–132, 2014.
 Russo, F. & Rindone, C., Container maritime transport on an international scale: Data envelopment analysis for transhipment port. WIT Transactions on Ecology and the Environment, 150, pp. 831–846, 2011.
 UNCTAD, Port marketing and the challenge of the third generation port. Trade and Development Board Committee on Shipping ad hoc Intergovernment Group of Port Experts, 1994.
 UNCTAD, Fourth-generation Port: technical note. Ports newsletter n. 19, prepared by UNCTAD Secretariat, 1999.
 Paixao, A.C. & Marlow, P.B., Fourth generation ports: A question of agility? International Journal of Physical, Distribution & Logistics Management, 33(4), pp. 355–376, 2003.
 Beresford, K.C. & Gardner, B.M., Pettit S.J. & Wooldridge C., The UNCTAD and WORKPORT models of port development: evolution or revolution? Maritime Policy & Management, 31(2), pp. 93–107, 2004.
 Bichou, K. & Gray, R. A critical review of conventional terminology for classifying seaports. Transportation Research Part A, 39, pp. 75–92, 2005.
 Flynn, M., Lee, P.T.W. & Notteboom, T., The next step on the Port Generations Ladder: Customer-Centric and Community Ports. Current Issues in Shipping, Ports and Logistics, ed. T. Notteboom, University Press Antwerp: Brussels, pp. 497–510, 2011.
 Polimeni, A. & Vitetta, A., Vehicle routing in urban areas: An optimal approach with cost function calibration. Transportmetrica B, 2(1), pp. 1–19, 2014.
 Musolino, G., Rindone, C. & Vitetta, A., Sustainable mobility and energy resources: A quantitative assessment of transport services with electrical vehicles. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 113, pp. 109–236, 2019.
 Russo, F. & Musolino, G., A unifying modelling framework to simulate the Spatial Economic Transport Interaction process at urban and national scales. Journal of Transport Geography, 24, pp. 189–197, 2012.
 Russo F., Rindone C. & Panuccio P., European plans for the smart city: From theories and rules to logistics test case. European Planning Studies, 24(9), pp. 1709–1726, 2016.
 Russo, F., Musolino, G. & Assumma, V., Competition between ro-ro and lo-lo services in short sea shipping market: The case of Mediterranean countries. Research in Transportation Business and Management, 19, pp. 27–33, 2016.
 Cantarella G.E. (ed.), Sistemi di trasporto: tecnica e economia, UTET, 2008.
 Cascetta E., Transportation Systems Analysis. Models and Applications, SpringerVerlag: New York, 2009.
 Ben-Akiva M., Meersman H. & Van de Voorde E. (eds.), Freight Transport Modelling, Emerald, 2013.
 Tavasszy, L. & de Jong, G. (eds.), Modelling Freight Transport, Elsevier Inc., 2014.
 Censis, V Rapporto sull’economia del mare. Cluster marittimo e sviluppo in Italia. Federazione del Mare, 2015.
 Italian Ministry of Infrastructures and Transport, Piano Strategico Nazionale della Portualità e della Logistica, Report Finale, 2015.