Research Output

The economics of motorways of the sea.

  The last several decades have witnessed very substantial public sector investment in roadway and railway infrastructure throughout the EU. The seaway has tended not to be supported to the same degree, possibly due to the mistaken assumption by policymakers that the seaway represents some kind of free highway, and is therefore not deserving of public subsidy in the same way as roadways and railways. To a limited extent, the evolving EU Motorways of the Sea policy appears to recognize these distortions, and mechanisms are now being put in place to enable short sea shipping to develop further. Acceptance by the European Commission that short sea shipping offers the potential to hold back the dramatic growth in road freight transport throughout the EU reflects the fact that policy is now beginning to move more positively in favour of maritime intermodal transport solutions. Recent EU-funded research on the subject of Motorways of the Sea as well as increased EU grant aid reflects this shift and highlights the important role of the EU in this regard. Analysis of sea motorways in practice demonstrates the substantial modal shift that can be achieved by innovative carriers using advanced ship technology supported by appropriate policies, and/or due to specific environmental circumstances. However, there continues to be a mismatch whereby transport policy throughout Europe accepts the continued state financing of roadway and railway infrastructure but not seaway infrastructure. It is argued in this context that the seaway-equivalent infrastructure of roadways and railways is the deck of a ship. This argument is convincing for a number of reasons, not least because it is relatively easily demonstrated that the sea itself is anything but a free highway (if indeed it is a highway at all), whereas ports simply act as nodes, not as transport platforms. Acknowledgement of what actually comprises seaway infrastructure could have far reaching implications for the future attractiveness and competitiveness of maritime transport vis-à-vis subsidized land transport alternatives in Europe, and should result in more adequate policy mechanisms being introduced to help overcome market distortions and ensure a level playing field between sea and land transport.

  • Type:


  • Date:

    01 August 2007

  • Publication Status:


  • Publisher

    Taylor & Francis

  • DOI:


  • ISSN:



Baird, A. (2007). The economics of motorways of the sea. Maritime Policy and Management. 34, 287-310. doi:10.1080/03088830701538976. ISSN 0308-8839


Marine transport; Short ferry crossings; EU subsidies advocated; Equivalent trreatment; Infrastructural costs;

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