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Old June 18th, 2020, 01:52 PM
pzmcgwire pzmcgwire is offline
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Default Real Life Tramp Freighters

The merchant campaign is a big part of Traveller canon, but on Terra Y-2499, does anyone want to sail a tramp freighter around the world picking up and selling cargo and transporting passengers?

Obviously with air travel, there's no little need for passenger transport, other than for cruises, which have a purpose all their own separate from transportation, and low bulk high value items and some high bulk items are routinely transported by air.

Is it economically feasible in today's world to run a tramp freighter as a sole proprietor.

Conversely in Traveller universe, what elements make a tramp freighter potentially profitable?

More flexible schedules and routings
More people traveling as passengers

What else?
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Old June 18th, 2020, 03:36 PM
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A franchise and independent contractors.
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Old June 18th, 2020, 03:55 PM
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+1 for Uber analogy, but even closer to the OTU tramp trader is today's owner operator trucker. The big guys may haul the vast majority of the goods, but there remains space for small operators to fill - during booms to carry excess demand, or to haul to smaller routes that aren't significant enough to get big carrier attention.

At the the end of the day, it is rarely profit maximizing to try to service 100% of demand, so the big guys leave some untouched
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Old June 18th, 2020, 04:32 PM
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Tramp freighters still ply the worlds oceans today...
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Old June 18th, 2020, 05:09 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pzmcgwire View Post
The merchant campaign is a big part of Traveller canon, but on Terra Y-2499, does anyone want to sail a tramp freighter around the world picking up and selling cargo and transporting passengers?

Obviously with air travel, there's no little need for passenger transport, other than for cruises, which have a purpose all their own separate from transportation, and low bulk high value items and some high bulk items are routinely transported by air.

Is it economically feasible in today's world to run a tramp freighter as a sole proprietor.

Conversely in Traveller universe, what elements make a tramp freighter potentially profitable?

More flexible schedules and routings
More people traveling as passengers

What else?
low labor costs: a free trader can run with only half a dozen crew, no need for permanent ground staff, no sales teams, just the ships crew. people aren't cheap, and few people means fewer headaches with wages, medical issues, family issues, finding experienced applicants, etc. The existence of the Imperial forces as a factory for churning out trained crew is something that shouldn't be overlooked, given the proportion of pilots who learnt to fly in the military (both in traveller and in the Real World)

low maintenance costs: traveller ships are, relative to modern aircraft, effectively magically reliable, having great uptimes, parts are easy to come by and can be fixed pretty easily and cheaply in most places you might go, all of which make operating a free trader more viable.

demand in the market: a deliberate conceit of the setting, true, but critical, nether the less. quite simply, their is a demand for people able to move a dozen or two tons of goods between planets close by on a ad-hoc or semi-ad-hoc basis, and therefore its possible to find just about enough work to make a free trader possible.

Backwaters setting: it's worth reminding people that the viability of free traders in the Spinward Marches is not proof that those free traders could also be viable in, say, Vland or Sylea, or other core sectors with big, well established economies. the Marches are a backwater, with a lot of small, underdeveloped planets, and by extension, a lot of trade routes too small to justify a permanent shipping line, but, again, their is still demand that a free trader and eke out a living on.

implicit trust: a cultural thing, basically the willingness to climb onboard this ship, operated by a company you have no knowledge of, no real way to check up on, and fairly little way to redress grievances with, and just expect they will actually do what you want them to. And that is works well enough to be routine.

low time pressures: the timescales of interstellar travel mean that people are willing to wait on a free trader rather than make great efforts to charter a timely arrival of their goods or people. Free traders routinely turn up at a startport unplanned and find at least some goods that are just sat around waiting for a ship to transport them.

supportive regulatory framework: the 3i apparently enacts price controls and other regulatory mechanisms that ensure that free trade (and free traders) are able to operate. free traders are not competing with the megacorps for price, and are not facing being undercut by those corps using economics of scale to force them out of the market.
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Old June 18th, 2020, 05:11 PM
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Between containerization and cheap air fares, as the OP says, I'd imagin tramp freighters are really a disappearing breed. By comparison, indy truckers are ~10% of the US fleet. (Probably much more in other locales.)

But either way the point remains; it is hard for the big guys to be 100% of anything, so there can always be scraps for the little guys to make a living off of.
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Old June 18th, 2020, 05:20 PM
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Subsidized merchant is also an official campaign mode - so much so that it is the focus of The Traveller Campaign; the March Harrier is a subbie, not a free trader. No mortgage in play anywhere.
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Old June 18th, 2020, 05:49 PM
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Pretty sure independent smuggling is still a busy business in the modern world as well.
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Old June 18th, 2020, 07:08 PM
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There are small tramp container ships moving about in the Caribbean, and then you have the tug and barge combinations operating in the Hawaiian Islands, and a lot of them in Southeast Asia and the Mediterranean and North Sea area. There are a limited number of ports that can handle the very large container ships, so the smaller ships pick up there and deliver to the smaller ports.

Some of the tramps also have passenger cabins for those who simply like to wander around a bit with no particular destination in mind.

Large landing craft are popular in the South Pacific as they do not require a dock, just an acceptable beach for unloading.
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Old June 18th, 2020, 11:27 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pzmcgwire View Post
More flexible schedules and routings
I would say this is the biggest one. Even today you have 'Corporate Inertia' where the bigger an outfit, the longer it takes to respond. And in this delay time the smaller and more responsive one can make his meal ticket.

This is even more the case when the Corp has probably scheduled its deliveries/passengers weeks in advance, and any sudden change will result in disruptions down the all line. The resulting loss of profits and penalty fees may not even be worth the trouble in the first place. Whereas the indie - provided they are not under contract - can simply shift routes on a whim and wear the risk.

While everyone at the starport may hear that Arglebargle IX has a urgent need for widgets, the tramp can be loaded and on its way while 'Delivery Corp' is still arguing how this will affect their monthly scheduling and costings.

Of course if it doesn't work out, the indie loses his shirt whereas the Corp would use it as a tax write off. Risk vs Response.
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