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No Truckers? Let's Try Ships

July 26, 2018 in Economics

By Colin Grabow

Colin Grabow

Although the economy continues to ride high, there is growing
concern that a dearth of truckers could soon drive it into a ditch.
Anecdotes suggest an increasingly frantic
scramble for drivers, with $70,000 salaries said to be insufficient
to lure new drivers to the field. The trucking industry faces a
shortage of 63,000 open positions this year — a number that
is only expected to increase — and companies are already said
to be turning down loads due to a lack of available trucks.

Some members of Congress have responded by introducing a bill that would allow drivers as
young as 18 to transport goods outside the state they’re licensed
in, down from the current age of 21. While a welcome step,
more-expansive thinking is needed. Additional drivers are one
solution, but there is another that should be considered: more
ships. Rather than tinkering at the policy margins, Congress should
pursue measures that would transfer freight from the nation’s roads
onto its waterways.

Repealing the Jones Act would be a good start.

Repeal the Jones Act. It
escalates the cost of shipping goods on America’s
waterways.

Passed in 1920, this law mandates that ships transporting cargo
between two points in the United States be domestically flagged,
owned, crewed, and built. Intended to bolster the U.S. maritime
sector, the Jones Act has instead been a case study in the failures
of protectionism. Absent foreign competition, U.S. shipbuilders
produce vessels whose price is as much as eight times higher than
those built abroad. This disincentive to the purchase of new
vessels means we have fewer ships and a fleet that is old and
inefficient.

High costs have inevitably followed and, along with them,
increased demand for transportation alternatives such as trucking
and rail.

The proof is in the numbers. From 1960 to 2014, the amount of
freight placed on railroads increased by 48 percent while intercity
trucks saw their loads grow by an impressive 217 percent. In sharp
contrast, the amount of cargo carried by ships sailing around the
coasts during this period decreased by 44 percent. And Great Lakes
shipping declined by 43 percent.

Even as Americans have shunned ships for domestic use, however,
they appear perfectly willing to employ them to conduct trade with
Canada and Mexico. Freed from the Jones Act’s restrictions, coastal
ships linking the United States with Canada and Mexico have seen
their freight tonnage more than double during the same time
period.

Given the decline of domestic shipping, Americans are now left
with a transportation system that is hugely dependent on trucks
— and on the drivers who operate them. According to the
Bureau …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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