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A Taxi Driver's Story

It is interesting living close to an airport. You get to see quite a few aircraft. I like looking at airplanes—the sleek exteriors, the shapes—and I’m amazed at how we have the technology to put a machine in the air.

We live close to Dulles Airport in Northern Virginia. On cold mornings the winds blow the smell of jet fuel and exhaust through the air. To paraphrase a line from Apocalypse Now, it smells like travel. We live close enough that I take a cab to the airport whenever I fly. The cab fare is less than the parking. cab drivers are always from "somewhere else." India, Pakistan, Iraq, South Africa—it is a large collection of players. In all cases they speak English very well and drive like the average DC metro-area driver, and in many cases they are fairly well educated. One driver this summer spoke forcefully about economics, like a professor would.


Christmas Package Fun

Every year, millions of people buy gifts, wrap the gifts, box up the gifts, and make the annual journey to the post office, UPS Store, or FedEx Office to send the parcels to their loved ones. One driver of the growth of e-commerce is the added convenience of avoiding the wrapping, the packing, and the standing in line.

In past years, I go online to order my gifts for my family in Missouri. We would order from various sites, request the wrapping, and the gifts were on their way. It works, but it is kind of impersonal. I found that I missed the fun of the wrapping and the packing. And there is nothing like actually holding in your hands the gift you are going to give. So this year I went back to the old way of doing things.

I don’t regret it. It was fun to get the gifts, to be in the crowds. Shopping in advance, we picked out gifts from the lists we had been given. It gave me time to come up with the right packaging to protect the gifts and minimize the dim/weight charges (and if you don’t know what dim/weight is, we need to talk). I even used the computer and color laser printer to come up with festive shipping labels to personalize the packages. Just some added effort to show some love while the packages moved along their way.


That Strange Sinking Feeling

"Aye laddies, the sea, she be a Mighty Witch!"

It is not unusual for ships to run into rough seas. And it is not unusual for container ships to lose a few cans to Davy Jone's Locker in the rough stuff. But it is unusual for rough seas to break the back of a container ship, which is exactly what happened to MOL Comfort on June 18, 2013. Enroute from Singapore to Jeddah with a load of 7,041 TEU, the 8,000 TEU ship cracked in half about 200 miles from the Yemeni coast. All 26 crew – made up 11 Russians, 1 Ukrainian and 14 Filipinos - escaped the sinking ship on two life rafts and a lifeboat.

The reports are sketchy and conflicting, with early reports that the ship sank, it now appears that both  the fore and aft sections are afloat and adrift.  At about noon JST on June 18, (07:00 local time), the fore part of the hull was drifting around 13'00"N 60'40"E, and the aft part was about 19 miles southwest from that position.  Both parts of the ship were drifting in an east-northeast direction.


UPS Says They Love Logistics, but Do They Love You?

This morning I got a call from a parcel shipper who is troubled by the lack of competitive service they get from their carrier, UPS. This shipper primarily uses parcel service to deliver their product to their customers, but they have some LTL and air express too under a one-stop exclusive agreement with UPS. Listening to this shipper I got the feeling they were chained to the desk by their UPS contract. In fact, they are.

In the parcel industry there are now only two major players, UPS and FedEx. Sure there are other players, but they are much smaller and do not have the international presence of either UPS or FedEx. If you want large-scale coast-to-coast service, the choice is between these two giants.

The two companies have grown in the past decade to become fully integrated transportation/logistics companies. With the purchase of Overnight Freight by UPS and Watkins by FedEx Freight, the companies provide a super-broad mode selection: air parcel express, ground parcel, less-than-truckload, selective truckload, international ocean through brokerage, and third-party distribution services. Both have become monstrous one-stop shops.


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