Next big thing in shipping: Passenger transportation

5 min read
22 Oct 2018
Saana Kallioinen

The maritime transport industry is gearing up to keep pace with the changing needs of a growing world population. Wärtsilä’s Vesa Marttinen explains what is in store for the industry and why passenger transportation will be the name of the game.

It is no surprise that the world’s growing population is increasingly being drawn towards cities. According to the UN, by 2050, around 6.6 billion people, or 68% of the world’s population, will be living in urban areas, which is a considerable rise from the current 55%. And this rise puts immense pressure on the transportation industry, because it will not only have to quickly adapt to the changing needs of its urban dwellers but also improve connectivity between urban and non-urban areas to ensure smooth movement of people.   

“The passenger transportation ecosystem needs to welcome the changes necessary to survive in the future and support the ever-increasing importance of cities, urban as well as remote areas,” says Vesa Marttinen, Director of Cruise, Ferry and Superyachts at Wärtsilä.

Marttinen predicts that public transportation (when compared with private means) will be more commonly used for commuting in the future, with more focus on rails, wheels, and even water.

“I believe the next big thing in shipping will be the movement of people,” says Marttinen.

“When talking about high value consumer goods transport, we see Amazon and Alibaba taking disruptor roles together with start-up communities on land, air and sea, but what about the transportation of people?” Marttinen quizzes.

He believes the ferry industry is still waiting for someone to offer a solution to meet the demand for transporting people between their homes and work places in a flexible and sustainable way.

“Someone will fix this as there are sufficient socio-economical and business benefits involved,” he adds.

Marine transportation offers sustainability

Marttinen has a point. When compared with the overland transport ecosystem, marine transport has significant opportunities for environmentally friendly practices.

“We have the best overall material effectiveness, total environmental impact, and zero emissions opportunity,” says Marttinen. “For instance,” he continues, “the steel hull, used in ferries today, has the potential to be recycled, the ship interiors can get a new lease of life on board, and ship systems can be made using a circular economy approach.”

The circular economy approach has a wider implication too. The marine industry, Marttinen points out, can ensure its vessels and terminals are developed, engineered and constructed in sustainable ways.

Change is inevitable

To be able to ride the wave, the marine transport industry will have to act fast though.

“Change is needed to secure the survival of our business in the ecosystem we operate,” says Marttinen.

Luckily, change is not new to the marine industry. The 1970s saw the development of intermodal cargo (using trailers, RoPax, and container ships) in short sea shipping along with efficient cargo handling and new port arrangements. By the 1990s, industry standards had matured and the key actors heavily optimised speed, frequency, CapEx, Opex, and reliability further in the intermodal shipments of high value consumer and investment goods on liner operation models.

Then came the 2007-2008 economic crisis, which had a strong impact on international trade, transport and logistics. In maritime transport, the demand for bulk cargo shipments dropped significantly, due to the substantial reduction in bulk carrier rates. The industry had to make rapid changes in order to survive. It reviewed and established new methods to optimise its processes.

The industry has come a long way since then.

The way forward

“Autonomous shipping dominates the trade media today and it is the way of the future,” Marttinen says. Short sea shipping has jumped on board already, with big business such as ocean-going fleets sure to follow, pushing freights forward with further automation of vessels, cargo handling, ports and conveyers, pipelines and trains.

Marttinen says that vessels, ports and land side transport will be digitally connected, and fleets will be operated with shared situational awareness of authorities, operators and maritime-tech companies. He believes there will be a totally new combination of a single actor fleet with a fixed schedule, fixed port liner operations and on-demand flexibility with dedicated ports operation.

“The change will not be easy, but let’s remember the odds are on our side when compared with other passenger transport ecosystems. We can even be disruptors ourselves and start to treat aviation and land transport passenger transport with open minds,” he says.

“With holistic thinking and courage to act we can secure the maritime passenger transportation for years to come,” he concludes. 

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