testata inforMARE

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3. The Role of the Port Factor

In the light of the above it becomes clear in the final analysis that the port, as a factor offered in the production of shipping transport service, operates with increasing costs in the unit of time considered: overtime, night shifts and the like; increasing amounts of work needed for a ship, which can cause difficulties and slow down operations on other merchant ships (a sort of congestion cost); plant and technology which are more advanced but able to offer higher rates of throughput per unit of time only at costs per ton handled which are higher than those for plant and equipment which would be economically efficient for the volume of traffic normally handled by the port. In any event, the ship's interest in supporting the economic weight of these increasing costs per unit of traffic handled in the time given is directly proportional to the burden of investment, passive interest, crew, insurance, maintenance, organization and network which weighs on every day (or hour). As is precisely the case for ships involved in intermodal transport in general and container ships in particular.

Where an increase in the rate of throughput is not possible because the equipment or plant ashore is specialized, and therefore cannot be arranged and utilized for the ship considered beyond a given extent, the increasing cost per voyage occurs since the time spent in port - and hence the duration of the voyage - is lengthened, together with all the associated costs. This extension of time is reflected in the average costs of the voyage per ton of cargo transported.

In all cases - supply of the port factor at increasing cost in general, the effects of congestion, advanced but uneconomical technology or limited space due to the effects of "rationing" - the above-mentioned drawbacks can be avoided:

  1. by means of the expansion of the port complex, its space and its overall infrastructure. But this may lead to diseconomies of scale of the port complex due either to the territorial impact - which may be curbed only by careful arrangement of port systems in the planning of coastal areas - or to the bureaucratization of the activity of the port complex. As is well known, diseconomies of the latter type can only be neutralized through an advanced productive decentralization, starting with the complete and systematic separation of the moment, or function, of planning and control (Port Authority) from the productive moment, or function, of the service and industrial activities in the port itself (licensees and terminal operators). In any event, a substantial financial commitment is needed and can only be offset by means of the intervention - if not the actual initiative - of those requiring the new infrastructures, plant and equipment (licensees and terminal operators), or by recourse to the capital market when the latter is interested and willing to risk in the venture;
  2. together with the above, by means of massive investments in new technology and associated plant, equipment, infrastructural parts and/or inland terminals and any associated transport systems. Also in this case, however, the process requires either the financial intervention of licensees and terminal operators interested in such innovations or recourse to risk capital, where this is available.
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Dipartimento di Economia - Sezione Trasporti

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