Source: Courtesy of the Panama Canal Authority (Autoridad del Canal
For fiscal years (October to September). A Panama Canal ton is
the equivalent of 100 cubic feet of cargo space.
Tonnage and Number of Transits, Panama Canal, 1915-2013
From the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 to the early 1980s,
the number of transits increased in proportion with the tonnage.
This process was impacted by economic and events such as the
Great Depression (1930-1936) and World War II (1941-1945).
During that phase, the activities of the Panama Canal were
closely related to the dynamics of the American economy since
most of it was related to trade between the East and the West
coast or trade between the United States and Latin American
from the 1980s, a new dynamic was set in place in which the the number of transits declined and then
stabilized around the 13,000-14,000 range. Traffic particularly
surged after 2002 with growing exports from China and the
usage of the all-water-route to the East Coast by shipping lines.
Labor issues along at American West Coast ports, such as the
2002 strike, were also an incentive to consider alternatives
relying more on the use of the canal. The usage of bigger
ships transiting the canal such as containerships specifically
designed to optimize cargo loads considering the dimensions of
the Panama Canal locks (ships dubbed Panamax Max) became the
norm. Yet, the
Panama Canal has size limitations and the growth of the tonnage
in the 2000s incited the decision to expand with a new
set of locks able to handle much larger ships. A similar traffic
trend is also observed for the
Suez Canal. It is thus
expected that the number of transits will not increase
significantly, but that the tonnage (and thus toll revenue) will
continue to increase.