Hours of standstill

Ten years from now, the trucking industry could be asking Congress to extend the home mortgage interest deduction to cover over-the-road truckers' rig loans. Drivers may indeed be spending as much time in their vehicles as their homes, mainly because rush hour will become rush day in all directions sooner than we think. Consider these facts. More automobiles and trucks will be produced in the U.S.

Ten years from now, the trucking industry could be asking Congress to extend the home mortgage interest deduction to cover over-the-road truckers' rig loans. Drivers may indeed be spending as much time in their vehicles as their homes, mainly because “rush hour” will become “rush day” in all directions sooner than we think.

Consider these facts. More automobiles and trucks will be produced in the U.S. over the next 20 years than people. While population growth is predicted to be 17% by 2020, the growth rate for motor vehicles is expected to be 24-28% in the same period. The number of private fleet vehicles is expected to more than double by 2020.

Motor carrier freight traffic is expected to double in 20 years, and triple in 50 years. But the nation's highway infrastructure system is expected to remain relatively static. About 85-90% of the roads and bridges that will be standing in 2020 have already been built.

There's more. The amount of freight moving between the U.S. and Mexico will rise dramatically. Trade between these two countries currently averages $750 million per day. By 2005 — or even sooner — this number could exceed $1.6 billion per day.

Trucks will probably carry 80-85% of these goods. Let's use Texas as an example. More than 80% of U.S./Mexico trade travels through Texas by truck. And 40% travels through Fort Worth, which is already considered a “worst case scenario” traffic jam at peak hours.

Texas spends 9¢ of every dollar for roads, down from 33¢ in 1960. Vehicle miles traveled in Texas have increased 4.1% annually over the last seven years — 16 times faster than the state's construction of new lane miles.

The costs associated with traffic congestion are huge. The Texas Transportation Institute estimates that we lose $78 billion in wasted time and burned gasoline or diesel. The latter adds up to 7 billion gallons of lost or wasted fuel. The national average for all passenger and commercial drivers is 36 hours wasted per year; for Los Angeles, the number goes up to 56 hours a year. These figures could more than double by 2011.

On a national level, new road projects face uphill battles. All planned or proposed transportation infrastructure projects in the U. S. are facing fierce opposition from anti-growth environmental groups and proponents of the “not-in-my-backyard” philosophy.

The private fleet industry must take a leadership role in finding answers to this enormous challenge. Private fleets now lead the way in collaborative optimization. In time, these efforts may be models for the rest of the trucking industry. Currently, 25-30% of over-the-road truck capacity is not being used. Among private fleets, the number is closer to 19%. Filling this empty capacity will be key to making the best use of the highway system that's already in place.

Innovations such as proposed commercial-truck HOV lanes linked to voluntary load optimization, and greater use of equipment that is environmentally friendly may well have implications for hours-of-service reform — which itself still looms large as unfinished business. Also, the argument for six-axle, 97,000-lb.-GVW vehicles is perhaps now more compelling than ever. Again, private fleets can take the lead in demonstrating the efficacy of new approaches.

But as our nation's highway infrastructure crisis worsens, the overriding concern of private fleets will not be hours of service, but something of a much greater magnitude: hours of standstill.

Gary Petty is president and CEO of NPTC. His column appears monthly in FLEET OWNER.

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