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Clark: How to mitigate the traffic congestion headache

July 8, 2024
The reality is, whether it’s due to weather, accidents, or simply too many cars on the road, congestion will continue to be an issue for trucking companies for the foreseeable future.

All of us who live in heavily congested areas know the nightmare of sitting in traffic and going nowhere fast. But for the trucking industry, delays are incredibly expensive.

According to a 2023 report from the American Transportation Research Institute: “This level of delay equates to more than 460,000 commercial truck drivers sitting idle for one work year, and the 2021 figure represents a 27% increase from the report’s baseline year of 2016; an increase that is twice the rate of inflation.”

In 2021, congestion cost the industry more than $94 billion, an increase of $20 billion from just five years earlier. Although some areas of the country are obviously worse than others, from an overall statistical view, if you distribute the $94 billion across all the U.S.-registered tractor-trailers, you’re looking at an annual cost per truck of more than $6,824 caused by congestion.

The only lull we’ve seen in recent decades was in 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when people stayed home. The ATRI report notes, “While year-over-year congestion costs decreased in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they rose sharply in 2021 with a total of 1.27 billion hours of lost productivity.”

Online shopping has definitely increased truck traffic (think Amazon, UPS, USPS, and FedEx alone). As if that weren’t enough, we are only beginning to experience additional delays as major highway infrastructure projects start. We know the roads and bridges desperately need repair, but the cost of delays will likely be staggering.

See also: NYC’s congestion pricing: What happened?

How fleets can mitigate congestion

Unless you go out, fill a pothole, and blacktop a road (not likely), there’s little you can do to change the traffic situation. As a fleet manager, you can try to make the pain and cost a little less severe. Truck technology will play a massive role in this:

Route optimization

Companies that use advanced route planning software and real-time traffic data can develop routes that avoid known traffic bottlenecks. This will increase efficiency, both in delivery times and fuel consumption, as well as reduce wear and tear on the trucks.

Telematics and GPS

Accidents happen. They’re unavoidable and tie up traffic. But if you know where every vehicle on the road is located, your dispatchers should be able to reroute trucks or provide them with alternate routes. Telematics and GPS technology provide you with the data your dispatchers will need.

Alternative delivery times

Obviously, there are peaks and lulls in congestion. If companies can shift deliveries to off-peak hours or on weekends, the worst traffic jams might be avoided. However, that means working closely with warehouse facilities and shippers to get them to comply without significant cost increases.

Ongoing maintenance

I may sound like a broken record, but preventive and predictive maintenance are extremely important. Well-maintained vehicles are more likely to navigate through congestion efficiently. Furthermore, improved engine technology upgrades and fuel-efficient features will help reduce costs.

Driver training

When it comes to traffic congestion, your drivers are your first line of defense. The more your drivers know about the local traffic conditions and alternate routes, the better they’ll be able to navigate through congested areas. Also, ensure your drivers are trained on the technology in the vehicles to assist them.

Of course, additional things can be done, but the five above are a good start. Congestion will continue to be an issue for trucking companies for the foreseeable future, whether it’s due to weather, accidents, or simply too many cars on the road.

About the Author

Jane Clark | Senior VP of Operations

Jane Clark is Senior Vice President, Operations for NationaLease. Prior to joining NationaLease, Jane served as Area Vice President for Randstad, one of the nation’s largest recruitment agencies, and before that, she served in management posts with QPS Companies, Pro Staff, and Manpower, Inc.

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