Trucks, Traffic, and Timely Transport:
A Regional Freight Logistics Profile (RFLP)

Improving Community Understanding
Of Trucking’s Place in the Urban Transportation System

By John Niles
With Dick Nelson, Marilyn Easter, and Ehvan Tran

Regional Transportation Plans in America are required by Federal law to cover the transportation of freight as well as the transportation of people. In reviewing examples of such Plans, we found that freight transport in trucks – the way most freight moves in an urban area – is not usually described comprehensively in such Plans at even a gross level of detail. Basic metrics such as the fraction of trucks in daily traffic streams and simple descriptions of where and how familiar trucks like those in the fleets of FedEx and Safeway move during the day are not available. The proportion of blocking accidents on major highways that can be attributed to trucks is not measured and reported, nor are the results of monitoring air pollution from the diesel engines that characterize large trucks. Further, all of the significant impediments to freight mobility are seldom acknowledged. Specifying these and other elements in a simple yet comprehensive description of urban trucking would foster a more constructive dialog between government transportation leaders who decide on infrastructure investments, shippers and truckers who are directly concerned with performance levels of freight movement, and the general public who perceive trucks more as an environmental impact than as support for economic sustenance and the quality of life in their community. We took on the task of designing what such a comprehensive description could look like, which we call the Regional Freight Logistics Profile (RFLP). Our focus is intra-urban trucking, the bulk of truck movement in an urban area. We reviewed literature describing the characteristics and policy issues bearing on freight, and designed a series of quantitative measurements that provide a linkage between the characteristics of local delivery trucking and the public policy issues that stem from and influence these characteristics.

We found the design work challenging because of our intent to balance coverage of the variety of public and business concerns relative to freight against the costs and other practicalities of collecting data. We develop and recommend a concept of iterative incrementalism in the execution of the suggested measurement areas within the RFLP. We build expansion potential into the RFLP to anticipate and accommodate the data streams potentially available in the next few years from private telematic and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) equipment installed on fleet trucks. We reach the conclusion that priority action by government to relieve the increased travel times and lack of reliability in hitting delivery windows can be guided by measuring truck volumes and congestion levels on key road segments. We found reluctance on the part of private companies to reveal performance information, so we have designed an institutional approach to gathering truck fleet performance data that does not compromise confidential performance data from competing carriers and shippers. Metropolitan Planning Organizations should review the RFLP and decide if devoting resources to using it would contribute to a better understanding of urban freight. State and Federal freight mobility offices with responsibility for technical assistance to MPOs would also benefit from examination of the RFLP for potential adaptation and adoption.

See Full Report from Mineta Transportation Institute  ...pdf    ...html

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