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Hope & Change: a level playing field in the New Year…

Posted to Global Maritime Analysis with Joseph Keefe (by on December 29, 2010

2010 ends with an answer and an observation about shortsea shipping.

With just one weekly MarPro column left to craft before the candle flickers and dies on 2010, I’m tempted to do the ‘year in review’ thing or perhaps deliver an inspirational message to the troops. Instead, I find myself fixated upon a reader response to my December 15 edition, entitled, Shortsea Shipping Short-circuited? Don’t Bet on it just yet.” And while it is easy (some might find it boring) to write about domestic marine highways initiatives, there is a method to my madness. I end 2010 with hope; hope for a level playing field when it comes to pushing ahead with what may be the savior of the U.S. domestic, deep draft merchant fleet.   


  • Pros and Cons


On December 16, and in response to my opinions about shortsea shipping, MarPro member, reader and frequent contributor Gary Ferrulli wrote, There may be a lot of "little wins" out there and that is great to see; but to tackle the big issues of really taking loads off of the North/South corridors with a competitive SSS service is well beyond any commercial opportunity and will require massive subsidies in one form or another. Barge services are not competitive and thus will never take away that many loads off of the roads; vessel costs will start at $150. Million each and go up from there and when you do the commercial viability tests against those numbers, you can't justify them. Again, I'm not opposed to them, I try and take a realistic/pragmatic view of issues.” Mr. Ferrulli’s arguments are shared by a lot of people and I hear similar comments frequently; on line, in print and in my private E-mail box. For the record, I couldn’t disagree with them more.


I was tempted to immediately post my own response to Mr. Ferrulli’s comments when I first saw them up online. Actually, I put together about 300 strident words before deciding to “keep my powder dry” and then hitting the “delete” key. And, my Mother frequently tells me, “Hold your horses, Joseph!”  There are a lot of reasons that I could list to defend my own point of view. On the other hand, the Associated Press on December 23rd provided the perfect reason to keep it simple. In a piece entitled, “10-hour driving limit for truckers proposed,” AP goes on to explain that the Obama administration is considering the establishment of a 10-hour driving limit for long-haul truckers.


  • Leveling the Playing Field: There’s an Idea…


Using arguments long familiar to domestic merchant mariners now saddled with maximum workday rules imposed and enforced by the U.S. Coast Guard, the Federal Motor Carrier Administration apparently endorses reducing the current 11-hour limit by an hour. And, while the proposed change would only rescind the relaxation of work, rest and recovery rules enacted by the Bush administration, the changes would clearly slow down motor freight, make it more expensive to move it at the same speeds and in other words, level the playing field just a little bit when it comes to deciding which mode of travel is, as Mr. Ferrulli puts it, more “competitive.”


  • Little Wins: They Add Up


It isn’t really that big a deal – or is it? Using that rationale, the removal of the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) for the shortsea shipping leg isn’t that big a deal, either. Coupled as a package deal, and with the economy of scale associated with waterborne cargoes, the beginnings of a larger advantage become evident. And, just imagine if the less than 5 percent of ARRA and Tiger Grant funds expended on the waterfront [as opposed to that being hemorrhaged on surface roads and rail] were increased, even by a fraction. I promise you that the “commercial viability tests” that Mr. Ferrulli alludes to would then look a lot different.


DOT Secretary Ray LaHood says, "We are committed to an hours-of-service rule that will help create an environment where commercial truck drivers are rested, alert and focused on safety while on the job." I couldn’t agree more and that’s why mariners have been adhering to strict rest and recovery codes for years. If the trucking industry opposes changes to the rules, there’s little reason to ask why. I’m also guessing that this mindset contributes heavily to the seemingly rock-solid wall of opposition that prevents as many as four different pieces of Washington legislation [trying to rescind the HMT for domestic shortsea shipping] from becoming law. And, that’s because if the trucking industry loses on either or both initiatives, the playing field will have been substantially leveled [for those who hope to reduce road congestion, increase efficiencies, greatly cut back on stack emissions and revive a flagging merchant marine and associated shipbuilding sector] by using the waterborne modal arm. But, let’s face it: their lobbyists are better than ours.


  • Hope & Change


The proposed changes to the trucking rules are scheduled to be published in today’s Federal Register, after which the general public will have 60 days to comment and suggest changes. Final rules are due out next summer. In advance of all of that, I can’t promise that I won’t dip my pen into the “shortsea” ink in the New Year, but if I do, it will be for good reason. When the ball drops in Times Square on New Year ’s Eve, I will continue to hope that America’s Marine Highway – whether that means brown water barges or deep water shuttle vessels – is a viable commercial concept. That said, I’m no less pragmatic than our well-considered reader. Looking at the facts, he doesn’t own the market on “realistic” outlooks, either. That’s because it isn’t realistic to think that shortsea shipping will become viable, unless the facts outlined above, can also change. Hope and Change – my mantra for the New Year. – MR.


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Joseph Keefe is the lead commentator of MaritimeProfessional.com. Additionally, he is now Managing Editor of the new Maritime Professional print magazine. You can also read his work in MarineNews and Maritime Reporter magazines. He can be reached at [email protected] or at [email protected]. MaritimeProfessional.com is the largest business networking site devoted to the marine industry. Each day thousands of industry professionals around the world log on to network, connect, and communicate.

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