Marine Transportation System

Posts Tagged ‘AMH’

“What’s Taking So Long?”

In Marine Highway, Surface Transportation Policy on January 31, 2012 at 12:57 am

I filed a version of this with the good folks at the Connecticut Maritime Coalition whose Deep Water Port notes newsletter carries my perspectives from Washington…

A few years back the trade press started asking from their columns and story headlines why it was taking so long for marine highway progress—on the water and in government.  To some extent the questions “why” and “when” reflected skepticism and an understandable response to some of the slam-dunk rhetoric that advocates used in the first years of the last decade. The advocates’ logic was simple: Roads are congested; water is not. New highways are expensive; water is free.

Of course, it’s not that simple. (Just as the argument that Jones Act = No Marine Highway is too pat a dismissal.)

Even long-time marine highway supporter Clay Cook asked impatiently—and not without cause—in last year’s May/June Maritime Executive whether USDOT marine highway program efforts were “dead in the water?”

What is taking so long?

On the business side it doesn’t help that the economy went into the tank.  Cargo and freight volumes dropped. Capital became scarce. People and companies ducked into secure holes, stopped spending and started stuffing the mattress. Then there was the rapid rise of diesel prices only to drop just as marine efficiencies started to look attractive.

But that hardly explains it all. Modal shifts don’t happen on a dime. Yes, trucking has its challenges but driver shortages and HOS regs alone don’t steer companies to the water. Besides, intermodal rail has been doing very well and can be expected to be even more competitive in offering services to trucking.

One thing is simple: marine highway service has to make sense in economic and logistics terms to the folks who control the cargo.  Some truckers and shippers have said in public forums how water transport does make sense for their businesses. They even qualify as MH advocates. Their numbers can and will grow but more needs to be done to make the prospect for marine highway service more real and the information more available.

A few more operations on the water could make a difference. The long awaited M-580 “Green Trade Corridor” COB service between Stockton and Oakland will be up and running in a couple months. On the government side of things we also will see some steps that could make a difference.

  • In early February House Ways & Means will hold a hearing on maritime tax issues including a Harbor Maintenance Tax exemption for domestic moves of non-bulk cargo and the tonnage tax, which presently can frustrate the start of marine highway services. The chair of the subcommittee, Pat Tiberi (R-OH), is also sponsor of the exemption bill, HR 1533.
  • Related to that is the pending House Surface Transportation bill that may carry the HMT exemption legislation in a first ever “maritime title” in a surface transportation authorization bill.
  • The Navy/MARAD “dual use” project should get interesting in the coming months. Herbert Engineering’s October 28th report for MARAD, coordinated with market and operation studies, is a guide to vessel designs that could work for the commercial and, when needed, national defense markets. The strategy to replace the tired RRF with new, commercially viable ships is hinged on MH development taking off.  New incentives to help marine highway services to capitalize and get off the ground may be part of a dual use package considered within the Administration.
  • The M-580 project benefited by Federal capital grant money as have some other MH related projects.  Don’t expect marine highway program grants to be issued this or next year but USDOT is announcing a 4th round of TIGER grants (Notice of Funding Availability to be published January 31, 2012.)  Watch for MH related proposals.
  • Also, let’s not forget that the MARAD funded market/business plan studies for M-5, M-55 and M-95 corridors are to be released in the next few months.

None of the above presently qualifies as full fledged game changers but the potential is there. There is more to come on the marine highway story in 2012.  Pbea

We’re Just Getting Started

In Marine Highway, MTS Policy on October 8, 2010 at 10:04 am

[This first appeared in the America’s Marine Highway website and newsletter.]

Advocating for the AMH: We’re Just Getting Started

If we’ve learned anything about the developing American marine highway it is that it is developing incrementally and slowly.  A few nice-sized steps but no big leaps.

I have little doubt that the market will eventually demand greater use of the marine mode for domestic goods movement as the limits of landside capacity reach an economic tipping point and the imperative strengthens to use less fuel and produce fewer emissions. But the question to ask is whether it is wise to wait.  In 2007 Congress answered the question…sort of.

In a multi-faceted “energy independence and security” bill the energy efficiency of the marine mode was recognized. With the signing of Public Law 110-140 Washington said that it would be to the nation’s benefit to make greater use of coastwise and inland marine transportation. The U.S. Department of Transportation was handed a program outline and a few tools. It was told to return to Congress with recommendations as to any additional things that might be done to make it work. (No report as yet.) Then in 2009 Congress gave its approval to a grant program and appropriated a modest sum of $7 million.  [Note: since this writing grants were awarded.]

This year USDOT finally stepped up to implement that new policy and program. In August some projects were designated as eligible for grant funding and others were identified as “initiatives” to be encouraged.

The starting gun sounded on the American Marine Highway program…thus also signaling one of very few opportunities to improve the outlook for U.S. flag shipping.

There’s much to be done here in Washington. Federal funding is not the be-all and end-all of the marine highway program but it is crucial. Funding is how policy intent is measured in Washington. Is the $7 million the start of a serious effort or just flash-in-the-pan funding? Without an AMH budget for the Maritime Administration it will not have the program and staff resources to do much of anything in the next years. Without funding for AMH grants the Federal program will seem toothless. States and other transportation planners will ignore it. Start-ups may go only a short distance for lack of resources to secure that needed barge or crane.

Likewise, the policy provisions signed by President George W. Bush in 2007 are just a toe in the door. The next Congress should look more deeply into how marine highways can contribute to the overall transportation system and then decide what to do about it and the shipyard infrastructure needed to support it. I think there is plenty the legislature and this change-minded administration can do about it.

The next year or two will be a critical period that will decide if the new marine highway policy is to be taken seriously. Grant funding in FY 2011, commencing October 1, is unlikely, but it need not be a serious blow to the marine highway effort. For starters, we need to work to secure funding in the FY2012 budget and strengthen interest among policy makers.

Progress in the next years may continue to come in small increments along with an occasional large step. It is not easy to turn around business thinking about logistics or change attitudes in government about the role of domestic waterborne shipping but it can be done. Whether the marine highway effort in Washington falters or advances will depend on how strong and effective is the advocate crew…those of us who want to see more stars and stripes flying on the water.  Pbea

Raising the U.S.-Flag

In Marine Highway, MTS Policy, Surface Transportation Policy on September 7, 2010 at 11:13 pm

The lead on the June 21st American Shipper story caught the eye.  The chair of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation “says government programs aimed at helping the U.S.-flag fleet ply foreign trades have been a failure.”

“We have frankly struggled to find the policy that would truly improve and strengthen the U.S. marine transportation system…that would ensure we continue to have a robust merchant marine,” said Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) in a private session with the Federal Maritime Commission.

On July 20th Chairman Cummings held a hearing on the subject.   He repeated his concerns about the state of the American industry in international trade and told MARAD Administrator David Matsuda that something should be done.

Some of the witnesses focused their testimony on the existing U.S.-flag programs—the Maritime Security Program (MSP) and the cargo preference program.

Administrator Matsuda cited numbers that summarize the industry’s decline.  He noted that the once substantial U.S. merchant fleet “created many of the technological innovations now used by the rest of the world” then stated this depressing fact:  “However, U.S. maritime programs have not been successful in inducing or even maintaining capacity within the Nation’s domestic merchant marine. “

Chairman Cummings told Matsuda, “We…should work to formulate a meaningful U.S. maritime policy that will revitalize our merchant marine and expand the percent of U.S. trade carried in U.S. ships.”  He wanted the MARAD to return with some ideas.

Given how long it is taking USDOT to unveil long overdue surface transportation recommendations–in part due to the White House aversion to talking revenue measures–one might imagine the subcommittee chairman waiting a little while for a new administration maritime initiative.

Here’s an idea.  Suggest to Congress that the place to start revitalizing the U.S. merchant marine is here in U.S. waters.  Rather than try to formulate a new policy by which U.S.-flag shipping can be competitive in the Asian trade, we should develop an ambitious initiative for the nascent and inadequately resourced American Marine Highway program here at home.

It is good to hear Chairman Cummings raise his concerns.  Whatever can be done to invigorate the U.S.-flag sector is worth considering.  It certainly is long overdue.

I will borrow words used by former Secretary Norman Mineta in a December 2007 speech about the broader U.S. maritime sector.  “Compared to the resources and focus that we have devoted to surface transportation and aviation,” Mineta said after having left the cabinet office, “I believe we must quickly and dramatically increase our attention, our funding, and our national purpose with respect to maritime issues.”

If there is an obvious opportunity to revitalize the maritime sector–one of this country’s earliest industries–it is in the short sea market, primarily the Jones Act trade, as part of a smart energy/environment/transportation policy framework.  If there is a way to give new life to the merchant fleet and bring U.S. shipyards to produce vessels for a new, greener generation it is through an expanded domestic market and a policy that takes the maritime sector half as seriously as Washington has taken other sectors of the economy.  Many of us would settle for half.   Pbea

The Next Maritime Administrator

In Federal Government, Leadership on January 27, 2010 at 11:50 pm

David Matsuda –the President’s pick to serve as Maritime Administrator–is ready to serve.

He returned to familiar turf this week when he appeared at his nomination hearing.  He worked for the same committee that will be voting on his nomination.  His work in the Senate had to do with railroads, ports, transit, trucking and aviation.  He worked for a senator whose state’s second largest employment sector is logistics and which is host to the New York Harbor and Delaware River gateways.

Since mid 2009 David Matsuda has been running the Maritime Administration as the top political appointee at the modal agency.  He has the confidence of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood who first knew him as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy.

Importantly for MARAD–and for the marine transportation system–he has knowledge and experience to help shape a new transportation policy for the administration to recommend to Congress.  That transportation policy has to include, for the first time, a national freight policy.  And by rights it should put the marine transportation system squarely in that policy.

David Matsuda’s prepared statement for the hearing was brief and straightforward.  He reminded the committee that the “impacts of our nation’s maritime industry are not limited to coastal states.”

“Items brought in by ship make their way to store shelves and factory lines throughout the nation. Some raw materials we mine, goods we produce, and agricultural products we grow for export leave through our seaports or travel down rivers or across great lakes to distant markets.  In all, 36 states have a maritime port—whether it’s on a river, lake, gulf, or ocean. Merchant mariners live in just about every state in the Union, and midshipmen nominated by you and your colleagues to study at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy can claim home to all but one state. Some states have shipyards or marine manufacturers which can be the largest sources of jobs in an entire community or region.”

He noted acknowledged the challenges.

“Today’s industry is struggling with many tough challenges: a lagging economy, climate change, the threats of invasive species, piracy and other security issues, a greatly expanded Panama Canal opening in 2014, and an aging workforce, to name a few.”

One of the challenges facing the next Administrator is to make something of the marine highway program.  It is just getting started.  With no assurance of a reliable funding stream for the program, MARAD–hopefully with strong support from the Secretary’s office–will have to make the most of its modest resources to develop a credible and creative program that will be central to MARAD’s mission for many years to come.

“I feel my experience working within the federal government, and especially working in the Senate, has allowed me a broad understanding of how these challenges can be approached successfully: by working with all stakeholders in good faith and with transparency in decision-making.”

We wish him well.    Pbea

The Opportunity in Obstacles

In Marine Highway on January 14, 2010 at 1:47 am

Jim Kruse and colleagues at the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI)  completed a study that identifies obstacles to marine highway development.  It’s a good report.  At least I can say that the presentation I saw last evening outlined a lot of useful information.  The report itself is not yet available.

I can’t wait to read about the failed domestic shipping services that the TTI team examined.  (They looked at successes, too.)

Clearly there are obstacles.  There are the perceptions.  The operational issues.  The insufficient demand, particularly during tough economic times.   The potential customer expectations…assuming you can him to the point of talking about expectations.

There are the governmental hindrances.  The ingrained logistical practices.   The costs of multiple handling  of cargo.   The scarcity of financing for start-ups.

But wait!  There is good news.  Folks don’t see the Jones Act as much of a problem.  (Seriously, that’s in the report.)

“North American Marine Highway Operations” is a useful study, commissioned by TRB–the Transportation Research Board of The National Academies–as part of the federally funded National Cooperative Freight Research Program.  And it appears that more will be done on this subject.

Are we surprised there are many of these obstacles?  No.  A number of them have been well known.  Prime Example: the Harbor Maintenance Tax as applied to non-bulk cargo clearly needs to be addressed.

Can we learn from this study.  Yes, indeed.

Truth is, we have a lot to learn.  A lot to address.

At the TRB Annual Meeting (as if thousands of people can “meet”) some other things caught my attention.

  • In the foreseeable future trucking will no longer be at a disadvantage when compared to marine transportation emissions on a ton-mile basis.
  • When this decade the U.S. implements its self imposed Emission Control Area (ECA or “ee-ka”) limiting emissions within two hundred miles of the coastline vessels will have to adopt use of cleaner fuels, which will put vessels at a complete economic disadvantage vis a vis trucking.

Accepting these at face value, marine highway advocates also will have to address some fact of life environmental obstacles.  But then we knew that, too.

The I-95 Corridor Coalition long term “vision” for the 16-state members see marine corridor services as part of the multi-mode capacity solution to the Atlantic states’ growing system problem.

Marine highway services are operating in the U.S. now.  Ten years hence marine highways will be more a part of the national transportation system.  How much of a part of the system will depend on how well government and industry transition marine transport to meet commercial  and public needs and do so in a changing environment.

The obstacles in front of us are not fortress walls.  The obstacles just show us where we need to get to work.   Pbea

Mile Markers on the Marine Highway

In Intermodal, Marine Highway, Surface Transportation Policy on December 18, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Since the notion of American marine highways helping to mitigate landside congestion took root early this decade–along with the call for Federal policy and program–voices have been heard to ask, “so, where is it?”   “What happened to those promised new short sea services?”  Why isn’t [big box retailer] using coastal shipping?

Cynics who habitually dismiss the competitiveness of U.S. flag shipping eagerly seize opportunity to validate their view.  Observers see their doubts re-enforced or just wonder if there is any there there.

Meanwhile, advocates are impatient for government to concur with the public benefits rationale by enacting major policy directives and funding game changing projects.  (There is also the understandable impatience of entrepreneurial risk takers whose initiatives could use a short term assist to help establish themselves in the market.)

I count among those seeking a decisive boost for new marine highway operations.  But expectations are tempered by the Washington experience.  To keep our sanity folks here learn to tolerate the tortoise pace of policy-craft.   We look for the smallish increments that represent progress, even as we look to accomplish greater things farther down the road.

So what  progress has been made?

Those are the highlights, added to by various research papers and reports.  It is worth noting that the above achievements are not the result of a well-funded, cohesive effort by a powerful maritime industry lobby.  (Indeed, one might argue that none of those modifiers apply, especially when compared to other transportation sectors.)  They largely were achieved by decision-makers coming to recognize the inherent advantages of domestic marine transportation, and with the encouragement of various labor, port, public agency and private sector advocates (as well as the Coastwise Coalition that I chair) who have validated that policy direction.

So what progress will we see in the coming year or two?

  • USDOT will announce the multimodal TIGER grants and we will learn if applicants whose projects would enhance new AMH services–such as Eco Transport (CA) and SeaBridge Freight (TX/FL)–are among the awardees.
  • MARAD will issue a final rule for the SST/AMH  program, designate AMH coastal and inland corridors, and call for projects.
  • USDOT will report to Congress on hindrances to AMH development and make recommendations, some of which may resemble recommendations made to the Secretary in 2009 by the Marine Transportation System National Advisory Council.
  • MARAD will issue a rule for the new grants program and, with the cooperation of the Secretary, will make every effort to award grants by October 2010.
  • President Obama’s FY 2011 budget will include a specific funding request for SST grants.
  • Congress will act on the legislation to exempt from the Harbor Maintenance Tax non-bulk cargo that moves between US ports and among Great Lakes ports.
  • Congress will consider new surface transportation policy that to some extent will recognize how AMH routes can benefit traditional users of congested land routes.

That’s what I see happening.    Pbea

Hours on the Road, Time on the Water

In Marine Highway, Surface Transportation Policy on November 6, 2009 at 5:59 pm

The rules of the road will help define the market for marine highway services.   A prime example is the Hours-of-Service (HOS) regulation that limits the time truck drivers can spend behind the wheel.  These are excerpts from American Shipper of October 29, 2009.  (The links are mine.)

The U.S. Department of Transportation and its Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Monday agreed to revisit rules on hours of service for truck drivers to resolve a lawsuit by safety advocacy groups and the Teamsters union.

*************

The hours-of-service rule allows drivers of commercial vehicles to drive up to 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty. The rule also has a 14-hour maximum workday limit so that drivers have to clock off even if they haven’t driven all 11 of their allowed hours. And drivers must take a 34-hour break after being on the job seven or eight consecutive days.

**************

The trucking industry objected to the original changes five years ago, which added an extra hour to the maximum time behind the wheel but shortened the overall work day and the restart period, but has since adjusted to and supports the current rule.

Trucking companies comply with Federal requirements and adjust operations accordingly.  One adjustment may be in how they schedule drivers for long hauls.  If the daily allowable driving time is reduced under revised HOS regs then one response could be to substitute vessels for a long leg of the long haul.  Instead of dispatching a driver for the full trip put two drivers to work on the short hauls between the origin/destination points and the ports at either end.

The authors of “Operational Development of Marine Highways to Serve the U.S. Pacific Coast,” which recently appeared in the Transportation Research Record (September 2009), see that potential.

Marine highways are viable for longer routes such as those from California to the Pacific Northwest, where truck rates are higher and both distance and trucking hours-of-service regulations permit vessels to be time competitive at lower speeds. (from the abstract)

One of the authors is Ron Silva of Westar Transport, a California trucking firm that understands the operational benefits of  a transportation system that would make it possible for trucks to spend time on the water.   Pbea

Short Sea Grants on the Horizon

In Marine Highway on October 29, 2009 at 2:02 pm

In 2007 Congress approved marine highways as a new policy direction in a measure signed into law by President George W. Bush.  The Secretary of Transportation “shall designate short sea transportation routes as extensions of the surface transportation system…” and is authorized to “designate” short sea transportation projects.

Yesterday President Barack Obama signed a bill containing an addition to the policy and program.   “The Secretary shall establish and implement a short sea transportation grant program to implement projects or components” of a designated project.

Originally sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) the grant provision was part of a Maritime Administration Authorization Act, subsequently folded into a Defense Department Authorization bill (see title XXXV) that went to the White House.

This is a welcome addition to the still new policy initiative to increase marine highway use in the United States.  It is a modest but important enhancement of the 2007 law.  Money gives meaning to policy.  Even if it is just $15 million, the amount that the Administration is prepared to spend if Congress were to appropriate it.   (The  Senate version of the still unresolved DOT appropriations bill contains funding.)  Indeed the Maritime Administration budget plan includes $15 million for each of  the next couple of years.

The new grant program is broadly writ.  To be eligible to apply for funding a project must be “financially viable” and demonstrate that “a market exists” for the project services.  The Federal grant could be no more than 80 percent of the cost for which the money would be used.  That use presumably would be to cover capital costs.  We will see how the Maritime Administration further defines the new grant program through regulation in the months ahead.   Before they do that  MARAD will finalize the rulemaking first published for comment in October 2008 regarding the designation of routes and projects.   Pbea

HMT on the Marine Highway: Once is Too Much

In Marine Highway, Surface Transportation Policy on October 18, 2009 at 11:09 pm

The Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) discourages new customers for the marine highway.  It may not be the only number in the logistics calculus but it tops most to-fix lists.  Why?

Vessel operators, maritime labor, ports, and others agree that the HMT is most in need of a policy fix.  But the diversity of perspective sometimes means the prescriptions for a fix will vary…as will the way of explaining the issue.

If you ask someone to explain the HMT issue the response may be:  “It’s a double tax on cargo.”   I have heard  that  lone, simple statement made many times including by an  industry witness at a committee hearing.  It is how others are coming to know the issue.  A key Member of Congress recently explained the issue that same way.  Double taxation,  period.

The double hit of the ad valorem tax is a valid reason.  Imported cargo pays on entering a U.S. port, and then, when transshipped by coastal service to another American port, pays again.  But that explanation leaves out an equally important reason for Congress to approve legislation such as the Cummings bill in the House (H.R. 638) or the Lautenberg bill in the Senate (S. 551).

The single hit of the HMT on domestic cargo–much of which moves in trailers–is the other principal reason.   Domestic freight represents the greater percentage of goods moving on the roads today…far more than international boxes.   When the Port Authority of  New York & New Jersey studied trucking in that congested metro region less than 5 percent of the trucks on the road were carrying containers to or from the port.  This is hardly surprising.

So whether the cargo is riding in a 53′ trailer, or is a vehicle itself, that is the freight we need to attract to the marine highway.  Unlike the imports the domestic freight would pay only once.  That also is too much.

If the marine highway is to fulfill our expectation to enhance the surface transportation system and mitigate the interstate burden the J.B. Hunts, the FedExs and other companies should participate in blue and brown water services.

Exempting both international and domestic non-bulk cargo moving in the American domestic trade, and among Great Lakes ports, is the objective. It is a low-cost way to remove a disincentive for the use of efficient marine transportation and signal  a policy change to the logistics industry where the business decisions are made.

That says it all.    Pbea

The Marine Highway Route to Climate Action

In Green Transportation, Marine Highway, Surface Transportation Policy on October 15, 2009 at 7:26 pm

BlogActionDayCall me silly, but I give benefit of the doubt to John McCain, Barack Obama, Al Gore (yes, him, too) and the slew of scientists who have convinced leaders around the globe that the time for action to address global warming is…yesterday.   (With such heavy stakes I’m betting on the smart guys–people of science.)

Closer to home, I trust people like marine biologist Marisa Guarinello, who on Sunday told me of her recent stint in Antarctica.  She witnessed the consequences of diminishing ice habitat and the effects on native species.

I also trust my gut, paunchy thing that it is.  I never expected in my lifetime to see terra-evolution.  From my early years in grammar school I learned, as we all did, about  the  Ice Age and other such periods that lasted over the course of  tens of thousands  of years.  When I see ongoing evidence of change (the Melting Age?) occurring in my lifetime it’s a bit unnerving.

Want an example?  How about the shrinking of the Arctic?  So much so that studies and early planning are underway for Arctic shipping routes as ice is reduced to being less of an obstacle.  I understand that there is opportunity in them thar high latitude shortcuts, but that opportunity has the look of silver lining an awfully dark cloud.

The Marine Transportation System can do more than take advantage of a disturbing, ecological change to Planet Earth.   It also can contribute to the reversal of GHG factors.

In fact the future of the MTS–the prospect for growth in maritime-centered mobility–is dependent on marine transportation being relevant in the Climate Change Era (CCE).

Our friends in USDOT might agree with that assertion.  They are preparing the administration’s view as to the next surface transportation policy.  Even as the policy is in development clear themes are being voiced by Secretary Ray LaHood and his team.  Sustainability.  Livability.  Mobility.

The Secretary sees the MTS as fitting neatly in that framework of principles.  He said marine transportation, specifically the development of the American Marine Highway (AMH), as transformational for the national transportation system.

Marine transportation is highly efficient.  It moves large volumes of  things using less fuel than  the other surface modes.  It has advantages from a GHG perspective.   However it isn’t a slam dunk for “Green Mode of the Year.”  But with the right investments it can do even better in contributing to our environmental and energy security.  Fuel switching.  Operational adjustments.  New technologies.

Government and the private sector have roles to play here.  Federal policy should aggressively foster both the use and greater advances in marine transportation.  Investments in technology, new equipment and AMH services by the private sector, or its public sponsors, should be rewarded.  Research should be supported.  Transportation policies in this CCE should be unified through the integration of modal policies and some programs.

Like it or not, change is happening.  There are implications for the Marine Transportation System.  Let’s make it work both for future generations and for the industry that supports millions of jobs.   Pbea

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