Ferrying The Wrong Questions Without Data

leaving TrinidadPeople have been talking a lot about the new ferry between Trinidad and Tobago, the MV Galleon’s Passage. There’s been plenty of coverage in the media – some I’m certain I haven’t seen – but I ignored much of it because it was apparent that people talking about the ship and the one it had replaced didn’t know too much about ships.

I found myself staring at a comparison between the MF Panorama and the MV Galleon’s Passage on Facebook. Assuming the information is correct, there’s a lot to speculate on – but there’s not enough.

Ship Name MF PANORAMA MV GALLEONS PASSAGE
Built 1987 2016
Length 101.28 m 74 m
Breadth 17.54 m 22 m
Speed (Top) 14.6 knots (19 knots) 11.6 knots (22 knots)
# Passengers 1,000 700
# beds 45 0
# cars 145 100
Time to Tobago 5 hours 6-8 hours

Let’s assume for a moment that this is all correct – I’m not sure.

On the surface, this is a pretty clear comparison between two ships. In this comparison, the new ship, the MV Galleons Passage is smaller by length, yet wider. It’s maximum speed is slower. It carries less passengers. It has no beds, and it carries less cars. That’s all pretty damning, right?

Not really. Probably the most important aspect of a ferry is the displacement. You can have a ship that has lower length and breadth that has a higher displacement. I’m not saying that this is the case here, I’m saying that information isn’t available here and can’t be found easily on the Internet, if it exists at all. The draft of the ships could have hinted at that. A read of ship measurements might be revealing.

The point is, the data we have here really doesn’t demonstrate much except some decreases – the number of passengers, cars and beds have decreased – the beds all the way out of existence – but then we get into different things that should have been considered when looking at getting a ferry.

What does the ferry need to do?

The ferry needs to transport people and things back and forth between Trinidad and Tobago. We could leave it at that – in fact, it seems everyone has – but really, it’s more complicated than it has been framed in the media and by politicians.

When purchasing something, we should be looking not only at it’s capacity – it’s value, per se – as well as it’s cost. If you don’t know the difference between cost and value, hold your breath. The cost of air is presently free. The value of air is revealed the as you hold your breath. Take your time.

So, like everything else, there’s an initial cost. There are also maintenance costs. In the context of a ship, you’re looking at electromechanical maintenance, other maintenance (painting, et al), as well as the cost of the ship’s complement (the people who work on the ship) and their salaries. Where’s this data?

And while we’re here, while there are no beds for people to take naps in the new ships, this information is lacking something probably more important to businesses and people in Tobago: how much cargo can be packed in there? That isn’t mentioned at all – and the difference between the Loaded and Light displacement might tell us something. We don’t have that.

That can also be a factor in speed. Most people know that if you want to go fast, you get a sports car. If you have cargo, you want a heavier vehicle which is typically slower. We don’t know that the new ship is slower because of this, but it’s worth considering.

And that gets us into historical data, as well as present day demands.

Where’s The Historical Data?

How many passengers at most need to be transported at a time? How many vehicles at a time? How many people at a time prefer a slow boat over a short hop on a plane? How does that change throughout the year?

The short answer is, we don’t know. We simply don’t have that data, and we assume that the government has that data hidden away somewhere and we would hope that the best decision would be made that fits the requirements of the ship as well as affordability. But we don’t actually have any of that data available.

There’s no actual transparency here, and while we can hope that journalists asked these questions, we don’t have evidence of that.

Open Data

And this is where we can drag it to the Trinidad and Tobago National ICT plan. There’s supposed to be ‘open data’, allowing the general public of Trinidad and Tobago information in decisions such as this. All we’ve really had is a lot of guided conversation, without actual information that shows whether the decision is good, bad, or simply the best fit with the options available. Regardless of political stripe, this information would at the least allow more sensible conversation.

In essence, we’re asking for the government not just for the right answer, but to show it’s working. And that means not only do we have to ask the right questions – journalists and, failing them, otherwise – and we have to have access to the answers to those questions.

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