National Academies Press: OpenBook

Critical Issues in Transportation 2019 (2018)

Chapter: Goods Movement

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Page 23
Suggested Citation:"Goods Movement." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Critical Issues in Transportation 2019. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25314.
Page 23
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Suggested Citation:"Goods Movement." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Critical Issues in Transportation 2019. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25314.
Page 24

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Goods Movement Our economy and lifestyles depend on an efficient system for moving freight, both domestically and internationally, and adequate public infrastructure for the private carriers that must rely on it. After completing the Interstate Highway System, expanding airports and ports in response to improved aviation and marine technologies, and deregulating the freight sector, the United States had a logistics and freight infrastructure system without parallel. More recently, however, rankings of U.S. logistics and freight infrastructure systems show the United States lagging behind its trading partners.122 Freight movement is expected to continue to grow dramatically in the coming decades to serve an expanding population and growing economy.123 Without a resolution to funding shortfalls for public infrastructure,124 however, additional freight movements will increasingly contribute to bottlenecks and capacity problems. Growing expectations about the rapid delivery of goods ordered online and the need to solve the complexities and costs of urban freight movements, especially the “last mile” problem, are particularly acute topics for the freight sector. Also pressing in light of labor shortages, especially in trucking, is whether, how, and how quickly greater automation of freight movements can be accomplished safely and cost effectively.125 A growing public policy challenge is how to reduce the freight sector’s large share of carbon emissions through technology, alternative fuels, and overall improvements in efficiency. Private companies deliver the goods that the public demands, but other than freight rail and pipelines, which are almost exclusively private, other freight modes depend on public infrastructure—roads and highways, airports and airways, and ports, channels, and waterways. Determining whether private carriers are paying their fair share for public infrastructure and the costs they impose, as well as whether existing regulations provide for a level playing field for modal competition, are important and never-ending sources of debate and controversy. Determining what the public role should be in helping private carriers make transformational changes in goods delivery through new technologies and services, and how private carriers can do so safely and while reducing environmental harm, have become new sources of concern and debate. 48. Growth in demand for goods movement in excess of infrastructure supply will create impediments to the efficient flow of goods to producers and consumers. Automation in freight may move ahead faster than in passenger transportation because of private incentives and competitive pressures and may increase throughput on existing corridors. Freight railroads and pipeline owners can be expected to continue to invest in capacity in response to market signals. The ability of the public sector to expand capacity as freight demand grows is less clear, particularly in densely developed urban areas. How can society provide adequate capacity for the anticipated volume of future freight in the most cost effective and responsive way? How might freight demand change in the future from such varied influences as fundamental changes in trade policies to innovations in manufacturing such as three-dimensional (3D) printing?126 To the extent that automation can provide greater service on existing highway corridors, how can regulators at the federal and state levels respond most effectively to the potential that critical issues in transportation 2019 23

automated technology offers while protecting the public from additional risk? How can policy makers ensure that any public infrastructure required for the automation of long-distance trucks does not provide indirect subsidies to motor carriers at the expense of other private freight modes? 49. Electrification of freight movements through improved batteries and fuel cells can potentially play a significant role in reduced emissions, as can shifting urban freight deliveries to nighttime hours.127 Also important for reducing emissions are continued improvements in overall freight efficiency to maximize asset utilization and reduce empty backhauls. What policies and strategies can make freight equipment and vehicles less polluting and less reliant on fossil fuels? How much additional emissions reduction could be achieved through automation? 50. Trucking, rail, aviation, and maritime companies are experiencing labor shortages that are projected to continue into the future as the wave of Baby Boomer retirements passes through the economy. What is the potential for automation to ameliorate these worker shortages128 and reduce the high occupational disability rate in long-haul trucking? How quickly can automation occur? (Dislocation of transportation workers because of automation is discussed in the Institutional and Workforce Capacity section that follows.) 51. The overall efficiency of freight movement can also be enhanced through technology and innovative business practices. However, a lack of data and quantitative measures hampers the management of supply chain performance and resiliency. How can public agencies partner with the private sector to use proprietary data to pinpoint critical infrastructure bottlenecks to efficient freight flows that the public sector could address? Efficiency gains can also be achieved through such varied approaches as regulations that provide for strong intra- and intermodal competition as well as continued improvements in freight logistics systems. What are the potential logistics efficiency gains over the next decade from strategies such as the “Uberization” of the last mile of deliveries; AI applications; blockchain distributed ledgers; and increased robotics and automation of warehousing?129 52. Transformational changes in goods delivery may place new burdens on public infrastructure. a. The growing public expectation of same- day delivery in urban areas could further increase the number of small freight delivery vehicles in operation and thereby increase congestion and emissions, but goods ordered electronically may also be reducing consumer shopping trips by personal vehicle. What are the net effects on traffic and emissions of increased e-commerce? If overall trips and emissions are increasing, how can and should the public sector manage this problem? b. Delivery vehicles themselves may transform from package trucks and vans to drones that trb | transportation research board24

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The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and equity issues will be included soon in

Critical Issues in Transportation 2019

. In this report, which is updated periodically by the TRB Executive Committee, a series of challenging questions are posed to explore issues and opportunities that may arise 10 to 20 years into the future. These questions, 63 in all, have been organized into 12 topic areas and provide a way to frame future areas of research, policy analysis, and debate.

Critical issues identified in this report deserve attention because of transportation’s central role in serving individuals and society. This document serves to sharpen society's collective understanding of transportation and its ramifications, while informing decisions by individual citizens and officials in both the public and private sectors. The issues have been identified and documented from a U.S. perspective, and are also common across developed nations.

Download the executive overview, Critical Issues in Transportation: Policy Snapshot and or visit from your mobile device.

On March 5, 2019, TRB and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) cohosted a webinar that covered TRB’s Critical Issues in Transportation 2019 report and the 2019-2020 NTSB’s Most Wanted List. Presenters focused on issues of safety and security across all modes of transportation.

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