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Traffic congestion: A costly conundrum for truckers

May 16, 2017
According to a new study, traffic congestion dinged the trucking industry for $63.4 billion in extra operating costs in 2015.

Sitting in traffic is no picnic for any truck driver, whether in company employ or an independent. On top of that, the impact on a trucker’s bottom lime due to traffic congestion is growing as well, totaling $63.4 billion in extra trucking operational costs in 2015, according to analysis recently conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI).

The group tapped into a variety of data sources, including its unique truck GPS database, and figured out that delays on the U.S. National Highway System (NHS) totaled more than 996 million hours of lost productivity in 2015, which equates to 362,243 commercial truck drivers sitting idle for a working year.

To calculate the cost of congestion, ATRI said it applied the 2015 national average operational cost per hour (CPH) metric of $63.70 per commercial truck to the 996 million hours lost to traffic delays – that results in an over $63.4 billion in added industry operational costs due to congestion.

Distributing this cost across the 11.2 million registered large trucks in the U.S. results in an average congestion cost per truck of $5,664, the group noted.

While the actual cost for any one truck is dependent on a variety of factors such as location of operation and operating sector, ATRI stressed in its report, the group said it is possible to extrapolate congestion delays on a per truck basis using the number of miles driven annually.

Using the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) 2015 total truck vehicle miles traveled (VMT) figures and the 2015 total cost figure, congestion costs were calculated to have increased by an average of $0.23 per VMT for large trucks.

"Congestion-related costs continue to rise and impact our supply chains. A five minute delay for each UPS vehicle, every day, costs UPS $105 million annually in additional operating costs,” noted Rich McArdle, president of UPS Freight, the LTL arm of United Parcel Service, in a statement.

McArdle, who was appointed to ATRI’s board of directors in May of last year, added that this new report “quantifies this drain on the economy [due to traffic congestion] which must be addressed through targeted infrastructure investments.”

Other traffic congestion-related data points discerned by ATRI include:

  • Spreading the total congestion cost figure across the entirety of the NHS network resulted in an average industry cost per mile of $129,919, a 6.4% increase from the $111,578 per mile found in 2014.
  • The top 10 states in the group’s analysis experienced traffic congestion costs of over $2 billion each in 2015, with Florida and Texas leading with over $5 billion each. 
  • As expected, traffic congestion tended to be most severe in urban areas, with 88% of the congestion costs concentrated on only 17% of the network mileage, with 91% of the total congestion cost occurring in metropolitan areas. 
  • The report also calculation that there’s been a “dramatic increase” in traffic incidents, including a 3.8% increase in police-reported crashes and a 7.2% increase in fatalities from motor vehicle crashes in 2015 on U.S. roadways – the largest percentage increase in nearly 50 years.
About the Author

Sean Kilcarr | Editor in Chief

Sean previously reported and commented on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry. Also be sure to visit Sean's blog Trucks at Work where he offers analysis on a variety of different topics inside the trucking industry.

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