The need to reduce energy consumption, cut pollution and fight climate change while also making transportation systems more efficient is becoming an ever greater challenge, requiring closer cooperation among shippers, carriers and the builders of highway infrastructure.
And it's a challenge not limited to the U.S. The International Transport Forum (ITF) held a series of online debates during which transport ministers from some 50 countries discussed problems and solutions with industry leaders and top researchers. This was in preparation for its global meeting titled “The Transport Sector and Climate Change,” which was to be held in Leipzig, Germany, on May 28-30.
“The transport sector is responsible for a significant and growing share of greenhouse gas emissions, and most indications are that transport activity and emissions will double or more in the next 30 years,” said Jack Short, ITF secretary general. “On the other hand, political objectives have set global emission reductions of the order of 50% by the middle of the century. The stark conclusion is that we do not have the policies in place or planned that can stabilize, let alone reduce, transport emissions.”
Going hand in hand with pollution reduction efforts is the need to reduce the transportation industry's energy consumption — energy that, in the form of oil, is getting extremely expensive. In the U.S., petroleum represents 97% of all fuel consumed by transportation, according to the Dept. of Energy, which includes the diesel burned by trucks, trains and ships, as well as aviation fuels and gasoline for cars.
The rapid rise of oil prices to over $120 per barrel this year is affecting the U.S. trucking industry's ability to sustain itself from a business perspective, much less attempt to increase pollution reduction activities. According to the American Trucking Assns. (ATA), trucking companies are on pace to spend $141.5 billion on fuel this year, some $29 billion more than in 2007 and $89.5 billion more than in 2003.
“Our industry can't simply absorb this rapid increase in fuel costs,” said Mike Card, a state vp with ATA and president of truckload carrier Combined Transport. “We must pass some of these costs through to our customers, which ultimately translate into higher prices on the store shelves.”
In testimony before Congress, Card called for more incentives to speed the introduction of auxiliary power units to reduce main engine idling, establish a 65-mph national speed limit, and greater fiscal support for the EPA's SmartWay program. Not only will such efforts reduce pollution, they could also help carriers survive the impact of high fuel costs, he notes, adding that his 400 truck family-owned company expects to spend more than $21.7 million on diesel fuel this year, a 26% increase from 2007.
The issue is that “sustainability” efforts take time to develop in trucking — and the high cost of fuel doesn't allow for them to take root, Bruce Stockton, vp-maintenance for Con-way Truckload, told Fleet Owner.