What Attributes Are the Most Important When Starting A New Transportation Service

Many have postulated what generates transportation corridor development, especially regarding new service options.  Often, these discussions involve many users seeking someone to help them solve “their” problem. For example, the shipper will want service alternatives that are reliable and/or at a lower cost than their current operation.  Carriers want more cargo on their network.  Public sector groups want to see more economic activity,  expressed as freight traffic, through their region. (The same could be applied to intermediaries, such as labor, freight forwarders, brokers, etc.).  There seems to be no single word that encompasses the “why” regarding how transportation services start and continue over time. 

In organizing my thoughts on this topic, I came up with two alternative lists to distill what maybe needed for a transportation service to begin and remain successful.   I really don’t know which list is better, so they are presented here for your consideration. 

First, the 7 C’s.  (I was thinking of something catchy.  I think this works..)

  1. Capital-It takes money to get something started.  There are barriers to entry, costs of renting/purchasing equipment, etc., as transportation may require large upfront costs before the first shipment occurs.
  2. Carrier-A carrier (or multiple carriers) must be willing to offer that service, possessing the right equipment, skills, etc. to satisfy a shipper’s needs.
  3. Connectivity-The trade lane must service a network, or be tied to networks, so that the cargo does not stop at a midpoint.  For example, there are many ports in the U.S., but not all are served by multiple Class I railroads.  This could put these ports at a disadvantage for rail dependent cargos.  (There are other connectivity issues related to pipelines, roadways, shipper locations, channel characteristics, etc., so don’t think I am only picking on railroads!).
  4. Cargo-There has to be cargo operating in both ways (to spread out the revenue costs for the carrier) or someone is willing to pay for the empty movement, but cargo must be available and willing to pay for that freight service. 
  5. Collaboration-For the carrier, shipper and other engaged parties, the service must be seen as an important relationship, not a “one-off” item, to encourage shippers and carriers to be confident the service will continue into the future.  This may also require a champion to ensure that everyone is working toward the same goal. (Yes, Champion is a “C” word, but in this context, it is a visionary pushing for collaboration.)
  6. Costs-There is no free lunch.  Costs must be set at a level where carriers benefit while shippers receive their desired service levels, and where possible, there are little significant cost on other users/groups.
  7. Climate-Does the business climate support this service?  Can the service handle any disruptions or adopt to changing conditions?  Given discussions on resiliency, climate may be a good word when discussing risks outside of operational activity.

My alternative term is OARS (like row your boat?)

  1. Operations – The right equipment, permits, labor agreements, etc., to make a transportation service run,
  2. Assets – This category includes the actual transportation equipment and infrastructure (roadways, vessels, trucks, cranes, docks, etc.), and the labor (truck driver, train, customs, services…),
  3. Reliable– Everyone has to commit to making the service “work”, where service risks are minimized, and revenue streams can be managed so that everyone benefits.  
  4. Support– Everyone involved understands their role, and works to ensure the cargo, equipment, service, etc., work as expected.  In some ways, this final category may be the hardest to maintain over the long term as markets/costs, can change over time.

In reviewing these two lists, there exist many nuanced concepts, but one “C” word seems to be an unspoken, but vital, element: commitment.  This requires a commitment to provide the service (carrier), use the service (shipper), and to support the service (public sector/other agents). 

 

Don’t Tell Me!!!

Wise men don’t need advice. Fools won’t take it.
Benjamin Franklin

The older I get, the more I see this message true. It is easy to assume we are all experts. For a researcher, this is not a good attitude. We all know the one way to do any research activity (process, data, approach, etc.), but in doing so, we often forget the joy that comes from learning something new. It is in that learning, based on recommendations, comments, critiques, etc., that we grow as researchers. But it is in the teaching to others where we learn more.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Damaged Pizza and Potholes

In October 2018, I made a presentation on the challenges of funding highways in Mississippi.  As the Domino’s Paving for Pizza campaign started earlier that year, I suggested that Mississippians should only eat Domino’s pizza.  This would be a win for everyone, Domino’s sells more pizza, people have better roads without having spent money on highway/vehicle related taxes.  (I really liked the pizza/pothole meter, although think of what is happening to your car when you hit a pothole!)

Domino’s fixed two potholes in Jackson, but I am sure there are other potholes in Mississippi.

The Car Has Taken the Kids – Parenting in the Future

There have been plenty of discussions on the adoption of autonomous vehicles.  Often, these topics depend on one assumption:  these decisions are made by reasonable, functioning adults, but what about its relationship to travel for our children.  There is a need to discuss this emerging topic, but it seems forgotten in the “hysteria” surrounding adopting the technology. And when I did some research on this topic, it remains a large gap, as suggested by Ben Morris. 

Wired Magazine published a short six-word story in wired 27.06 on a future parenting dilemma.  The story “The Car Has Taken The Kids” got my mind racing.  Here is the page, scanned here for comment purposes only, and unfortunately, I could find no way to link back to this image on the Wired Website.)

Page from Wired Magazine – used for comment purposes

 

There have been many questions about the future of autonomous vehicles, mostly focusing on adoption of regulations, permits, etc., but what is the social acceptance of autonomous cars as related to parenting?

So, here are some things that concerned me about the topic:

A.  At what age should a child travel alone in an autonomous car:

  • I assume we would let unaccompanied children ride in a car when they are five years old, as is the case with airline travel.  However, that oversight may be waived for short distances to visit family or for childcare purposes.  Over time, that boundary may change if convenience wins out over safety.   
  • But that raised a different question, do we still need a driver’s license?   Over time, the age of receiving a driver’s license has increased, but everyone is riskiest during their first year of driving. 

 B.  And where would you send your kids in the autonomous car:

  • There will be a desire to send children to visit family, such as grandparents, or aunts and uncles.  Regarding divorced couples, the autonomous car may prevent disagreements over parental visits, as there is a clear time log when the child left one parent for the other. 
  • Do we send the kids in autonomous cars for childcare or after school activities?  So, the parents do not necessarily have to do these trips, but there will still be a vehicle in the traffic stream, and there may or may not be carpooling!
  • School? Would this create more backup around the unloading lines, or would this be faster than parent yelling “I love you”, “Did you forget”, etc.?  But would that cut down on bullying if kids are not on a bus?

 C.  And how far could you send your children?

  • 0.01 mile: to the bus stop, to get the mail?
  • 1.0 mile: Elroy and Judy had short drops off at school. (Click here for the singalong!)
  • 6 miles: New Orleans, LA to Jefferson, LA
  • 79 miles: New Orleans, LA to Baton Rouge, LA
  • 135 miles: New Orleans, LA to Lafayette, LA
  • 348 miles: New Orleans, LA to Houston, TX  (There are direct flights, so one could simply have the car drive to the airport (14 miles from New Orleans to Kenner.)

(The following map is from Rand McNally)

There so many concerns over what is a safe distance for a child to “roam”.  That discussion has spurred some legal actions, such as in Utah.  Adding unaccompanied minors in an autonomous car will raise that question again, similar to the comments made about the mother who let her son ride the subway.

D.  How will parents know their children will be safe?

  • Do we put bio engineering safeguards in place, such as voice activation?
  • Should parents have to report this to police/traffic centers if the child is going over a certain distance?
  • Can there exist feedback loops and apps for the parents and the expected party to monitor the vehicle (temperature, speed, location, fuel, potty breaks)?
  • What if the vehicle makes a wrong turn?
  • Who would be able to respond in time to ensure the child’s safety? 
  • Will this require some group to geocode the entire trip, and if so, who monitors that movement?
  • What would prevent the kid from “stealing” the car, once they know how the “car” works? 
  • Who bears the liability for that decision if something failed?

E.  Will this movement result in more or less traffic, or influence parking/land use?

  • Will the car be parked while waiting, such as at school or other events?
  • Will the car return to the parents, and then move back to get the child? 
  • Will these put additional empty miles on the network or will the car become a commodity/resource consumed in the “shared economy”?

There will be a point when people will accept young children in autonomous vehicles, but it will be slow process, one of the points raised by Dr. Tremoulet.   This raised another question concerning activity to Virtual Reality, “do children even need to go anywhere?”.  In Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt”, where the children play in a virtual reality world, which results in the death of the parents.     

No one will say that chauffeuring kids around is a task that could not be automated, but there may also be something that is lost, TIME.   My kids may not have appreciated their parents driving them around, and we all have complained about operating a “taxi service”, but that driving reinforced our family bonds.  A bond that was strengthened mile by mile on road trips, to\from swim meets, or running errands.  We all have road trip stories, although they may not be as dramatic as driving the car off the road, as in Family Vacation!

 

Visiting the Port of Zeebrugge

While attending a course on Maritime Supply Chains at the University of Antwerp, we visited the Port of Zeebrugge.

There is a saying that if you see one port, you have seen them all. Others will say, if you see one port, you have only seen one port. I would add when you see one port, you see one port for that day, as traffic patterns can change quite a bit. That was the issue here, as several presenters discussed the lower traffic in the port was the result decline after a surge of cargo moved to Britain prior to the last Brexit deadline.

After a great introductory presentation, we drove around the port, which handles a lot of autos! We first toured the facilities in the morning, while it rained, only to see it clear up later that day.

One auto storage facility, we saw in the afternoon! No rain!
Yes, typical bus tour in the rain! Notice the cranes, COSCO shipping will move to Zeebruggee, but there was little international containers when compared to the containers moving to/from Britain.
We even watched a ship pass the sealock outside the port administration building.

The question of Brexit remained a constant topic. The Port of Zeebrugge is a major gateway between Europe and the United Kingdom. Traffic through Zeebrugge remains integrated into supply chains for British retailers, even to the point of handling larger trucks, which are allowed in the UK, but not in the EU.

It was a great visit, hearing the presenters talk about importing fresh fruit, how interdependent the UK was for EU firms stocking their shelves, and how the port itself developed. (There is a lot of rail in Zeebrugee. They can build European block trains at the port.)

Intermodal trains at the Port of Zeebrugee

It was a great visit, but at the end of a long day, sometimes you are just ready to take the bus back!

What If the Horseshoe Falls Off?

There is the old nursery rhyme about how a kingdom is lost because a horseshoe falls off.  The poem refers to paying attention to little things that can make a difference, as the casual relationship of minor things failing can evolve into major problems (the Space Shuttle Colombia is but one of many examples). While one could argue its importance on military logistics or other more mundane tasks (such as learning the basics when mastering any skill), the same logic could be applied to not only the development of data but to data applications.

In the age of “Big Data”, we see where more information can provide insights that were unavailable just five years ago. The use of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will transform how we collect, manage and process data, providing insights that will assist researchers and decision makers. However, the casual relationships between collecting/using data with any unintended consequences remain.

For example, one could argue that I represent three people: a physical me who eats, sleeps and walks around, while there is a legal me, who signs legal documents and has financial interests. There is an emerging digital me, where I live and work in a virtual world. My information is collected, processed, and analyzed, as I become “a product” sold to others. In many ways, the data collected from millions of digital actions are creating better horseshoe nails for business, governments and others, but will this lead us to lose the kingdom of our individualism?

Why Does Adopting New Information Take So Long?

do we know the question?

As a researcher, I have often heard people lament, “We studied this in the past and nothing was done”, or “Why are we not using this approach”, or some variation concerning the fact that data and information are not being used after the being developed, purchased, or studied.  The question is that we think, using our crystal ball, we have built a masterpiece, and wonder why people don’t adopt our insights.  We often forget that this “knowledge” could be slow to be adopted by others for many reasons.

Failure of adoption:

  • The first is simply the WHY?  Sometimes when doing research we understand more about the question that the person who needs the answer.  So while we prepare our work, we forget our client will only use what they can understand with some level of confidence.  How often have we seen a more senior person misspeak based on information not properly summarized for them?
  • Secondly, there remains the ever consuming “tyranny of the urgent”, in that the research is needed in a timely manner, but the research is not needed beyond the “now”.  The reasons can vary from staff turnover, policy change, new leadership, the findings were not what was expected, to a thousand different reasons.  Furthermore, data is perishable, something that is often forgotten by the researcher, but not the client.
  • Thirdly, the experts may not agree with your opinions.  My wife is a fan of Downton Abbey, and during season 3, Sybil Branson died after childbirth.  The tragedy was there were two doctors arguing over her treatment, and the older doctor stated to the other doctor he is to not interfere.  In many ways, we can find people with good intentions failing to achieve an expected outcome because they are using older models from the past.  They remain uncommitted to learn, and without the application of new information, their working knowledge could, and does, fail, in providing actionable insights, or even providing the wrong information.  Presenting this expert with new information may only lead them to become more entrenched to their position.
  • Finally, our research may not actually answer the question being asked!

I suspect the following challenges will remain with us for a long time, based on  NCHRP Active Implementation: Moving Research into Practice, posted at http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/docs/NCHRP_ActiveImplementation.pdf.

For the research community, the ghost of people not adopting our great ideas haunts the adoption of our “great efforts”.  But we must understand what the client may do with the research once it has been delivered, which may depend upon how we communicate before, during and after the research process!