Stuck in traffic
Friday, February 22, 2013
By Jon Ross
Traffic congestion is a major cost for truckers in the current economy.
In its recently released 2012 Urban Mobility Report, researchers at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) found traffic congestion cost truck drivers $27 billion in 2011. The researchers also found that some of this cost was recouped by the shippers, as it was passed onto consumers in the form of higher prices.
The total cost of congestion for all transport totaled $121 billion, a $1 billion rise over the previous year. The small increase from 2010 belies a more alarming trend. In 2000, traffic congestion cost $94 billion, and 31 years ago, the total only reached $24 billion. Researchers predict the total cost of congestion will grow to $199 billion in 2020.
The total amount of fuel wasted due to congestion in 2011 remained unchanged from 2010 at 2.9 billion gallons. Carbon dioxide emissions attributed to traffic congestion reached 56 billion pounds in 2011.
The current results are at least better than TTI found at its peak in 2005, but researchers pointed to one large reason: the economy.
“While congestion is below its peak in 2005, there is only a short-term cause for celebration,” the researchers said. “Prior to the economy slowing, just 5 years ago, congestion levels were much higher than a decade ago; these conditions will return as the economy improves.”
Trucking issues aren’t limited to the nation’s highways. Trucks, the report found, only account for 7 percent of the miles traveled in urban areas, but account for 23 percent of urban congestion.
Zeroing in on Atlanta, a traditionally traffic-heavy metro area, provides a glimpse at the dire straits researchers found. Atlanta has grown from a region filled with 2.2 million people in 1985 to 4.36 million in 2011, according to TTI’s data. Annual congestion cost rose as the population grew, ballooning from $193 million in the 1980s to $3.13 billion in 2011. Truck congestion cost, starting in 2007, actually declined, overall, from $814 million to $775 million. This total actually seemed quite moderate compared to Chicago’s truck congestion cost, which in those same five years grew from $1.6 billion to $1.7 billion. Truck costs in Los Angeles dwarfed both cities, at $2.29 billion in 2011, while New York-Newark, N.J.’s 2011 total stood just a bit taller at $2.5 billion.
The New York City area ranked No. 1 for truck delays, with Los Angeles and Chicago finishing second and third, respectively. Atlanta came in tenth on the list.
A mix of more efficient traffic management, new construction and better public transportation would help reduce the money lost due to congestion, the report found. New roads, additional lanes on existing highways and developing truck-only lanes would help alleviate some congestion issues. Even promoting telecommuting and non-traditional work hours to lessen rush-hour traffic would help ease truck congestion. The effectiveness of these measures will, of course, vary from location to location. Regulatory changes could also help reduce truck congestion, the TTI researchers found.
Since traffic congestion is poison to the just-in-time supply chain, researchers saw a need for more truck capacity in the coming years, in combination with measures taken to ease the burden on U.S. highways.
The United States isn’t congested beyond repair. Researchers found the state of America’s transportation can be improved with a bit of dedication to fixing the problem.
“There are significant benefits from aggressively attacking congestion problems —whether they are large or small, in big metropolitan regions or smaller urban areas and no matter the cause,” they wrote in the report. “Decision-makers and project planners alike should use the comprehensive congestion data to describe the problems and solutions in ways that resonate with traveler experiences and frustrations.”
As an offshoot of the capacity analysis, researchers developed a reliable trip-planning tool. Using the planning-time index would allow truck drivers to sufficiently plan for delays caused by the nation’s massive congestion issues. On freeways, the index measurement varies from a relatively small delay of nine minutes in Pensacola, Fla., in light traffic to a three-hour addition for the same trip in Washington, D.C.