“My jolly body shall a story tell
And I will clink for you so merry a bell
That it shall waken all this company;
But it shall not be of philosophy,
Nor yet of physics, nor quaint terms of law;
There is but little latin in my maw.” (from The Sailor’s Prologue by Chaucer)
Give the sailor a new story to tell.
For all of the new thinking that is going in transportation circles the maritime sector would appear to be an industry that lingers in the past. We know that some companies are plotting real innovation. The use of renewable energy, more efficient vessel designs, and replicating nationally the Alaska Marine Highway trailer trade. We know that there are inherent efficiencies to hail and some companies would build on that.
But in the absence of an organized effort to tell how the industry and its skilled labor force is trending into a new age –and have virtues of particular relevance today–the outward appearance amounts to a familiar, 20th-century one.
Not so with the railroad industry. The once Iron Horse now has the look of a low emission, high performance thoroughbred. The appearance is a calculated one that to some degree is also deserved. When new equipment is brought on line with green power plants there is no question about it.
“I have to say, the folks there have really turned out something cutting-edge. The NS 999 cranks out 1500 horsepower relying solely on rechargeable batteries. And, it releases no diesel exhaust emissions. None.”
Those aren’t words from some Norfolk Southern executive. They’re from the USDOT Secretary’s blog. The Class Ones have a story to tell and they’ve been telling it. Good for them if the Transportation Secretary wants to join in. (And why not? The President likes to tout the new Detroit from the podium.)
What’s the maritime story? One that will turn heads in Congress…that will prompt a sustainability-conscious president to urge more use of and investment in marine highways? One that says our waterways are the nation’s past and future?
A maritime industry lobbying effort is in the works. A collective “fly-in” (Washington lobbying lingo) by labor, business and ports is being organized for spring 2010. What will be the message? That the industry produces many great paying jobs? That the maritime sector is important to the economy and our national security? All factually correct and important to say. But it’s an old–in some ways ho-hum–story.
It isn’t message enough when the government is tackling climate, energy, congestion and freight transportation issues, and will be setting policies and programs to last the next 5 years and more. And it isn’t relevant enough when businesses, including customers of freight services, are developing strategies to bypass congestion, reduce fuel costs and carbon footprints, and earn EPA SmartWay credentials.
We are approaching fast the convergence of government policy and business imperatives.
It is no wonder that the railroads are projecting themselves–successfully so–as worthy of a hearty handshake from Al Gore. Will the maritime sector also be ready and relevant? Will the policy makers know why it makes sense to use marine transportation in this new age? There’s only one way they will know.
Give the sailor a new and true story to tell. Pbea