Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Intermodal Facts of Life

Things I learned from this Marketplace Money report on global shipping:

  • You can currently ship three semi-sized containers across the globe for no more than the cost of an iPhone.
  • Intermodal freight transport was invented 60 years ago. (I would have thought it was more like 40 years ago.)
  • Until now, ships were limited to carrying 5,000 containers, but now that a wider canal has been built through Panama, they can carry up to 14,000.
  • This increase in scale is coming on line just as global shipping has stopped growing, resulting in a glut in capacity (hence the iPhone cost of three containers).
Lots of fascinating stuff in that report, including this graphic (which wasn't on the radio, of course) showing how the ships have gotten bigger:

(Copyright © 1998-2015, Adapted from Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue, Department of Global Studies and Geography, Hofstra University.)

I'm grimly fascinated by the effect the switch to intermodal transport had on society. From stevedores losing their jobs (and the attendant decimation of the well-paid working class in places like Baltimore), to allowing for all of those cheap goods at Walmart, to the effect on our built environment, as warehouses changed from windowed, multistory buildings that stored crates or pallets to sprawling, faceless, one-story cinderblock canker sores with parking lots full of metal boxes...

No one voted for things to be this way, they just are, as a result of competition and innovation.

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