The whopping cost of congestion: $121 billion and growing

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 2/5/2013

Being stuck in traffic costs billions in fuel, lost time and productivity, and that presents its own set of problems for truckers and anyone waiting on just-in-time loads. Researchers say congestion costs the U.S. $121 billion per year, and about $27 billion is wasted fuel, time and productivity for truckers, manufacturers and shippers.

Researchers at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute say congestion cost American travelers 5.5 billion hours and 2.9 billion gallons of fuel in 2011, and it’s only going to get worse. Unless something is done, congestion will lead to 8.4 billion hours and 4.5 billion gallons of fuel wasted in the year 2020 – costing the average commuter about $1,000.

In its latest Urban Mobility Report, the institute uses a formula to measure the extra time travelers are forced to build into their trips to avoid being late. The so-called Planning Time Index, or PTI, helped researchers identify cities with the worst congestion. According to the study, the index identified Washington, DC, as having the worst congestion, followed by Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Boston.

For trucks, being delayed can have consequences for the trucker, the motor carrier, the manufacturer, shipper, receiver, on down to the consumer. The researchers say a portion of the congestion cost makes its way into the price of products.

The study used formulas to measure the amount of truck delay as well as the value of the commodities being transported in a given region. When added together, the cost of congestion costs the chain about $27 billion.

“Trucks are a key element in the just-in-time (or lean) manufacturing process; these business models use efficient delivery timing of components to reduce the amount of inventory warehouse space,” the report authors stated. “As a consequence, however, trucks become a mobile warehouse; and if their arrival times are missed, production lines can be stopped, at a cost of many times the value of the truck delay times.”

The federal government is seeking input from stakeholders on how to improve freight efficiency, as commissioned in the 2012 highway law known as MAP-21, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century.

OOIDA is among those providing input, saying that small-business truckers care as much about efficiency and the congestion issue as large carriers and shippers do.

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