Max Kvidera and Todd Dills | November 01, 2010

What can be done to combat congestion?

Osterberg: Bottleneck issues are due to new infrastructure needs. The trucking industry has been very clear about what is the best funding mechanism for roadways. It’s clear we need an increase in the fuel tax — that’s job No. 1. We can also consider higher-productivity vehicles, traffic pattern assessments — essentially, today, we have to be able to detect incidents and be able to dynamically reroute our drivers around congestion areas. I would argue that the data elements exist for those to work today. Now, we have to get those elements efficiently into the hands of the decision maker, the commercial driver.

Wood: Unfortunately, there’s not a one-size-fits-all, easy answer. Raising fuel taxes or any taxes certainly doesn’t thrill me right now, but fuel tax increases will probably be part of the answer. Let’s just not make the trucking industry shoulder the entire burden. Intermodal options certainly make sense, especially in the long-haul lanes that are destined to metro areas, but make much less sense for regional, suburban shipments.

How do you view the perceived dearth of available parking in high-traffic lanes — part of the congestion problem or a separate issue?

Wood: I think it’s all part of the same problem. There’s a lot of cars and trucks on the road. Our culture in America is one of mobility and convenience. People drive cars because of the freedom and convenience it affords us. Shippers use trucks for the convenience and service it affords. This equals a lot of vehicles on the roads and in the rest areas.

Osterberg: Truck parking is inadequate. Many of my drivers have told me, “If I’m not looking for a safe, secure spot by 6 p.m., I’m going to have a problem.” One of the things we need to think about as we think about infracture development is the need to invest more in safe and secure parking. The commercial infrastructure can support some of that. But we’ve got to stop the trend [of dwindling rest area spaces].

What can shippers do to help carriers?

Erskine: Understand CSA [Comprehensive Safety Analysis] 2010 and be proactive in scheduling and reduce driver detention times.

Wood: We’d like more evening and weekend shipments. This would help immensely. They’re already doing a lot more of this in major metropolitan areas.

Osterberg: In light of the projection of congestion getting worse, my belief is that historical levels of service are not going to be sustainable. Ask the critical question, “When do you really need the product there?” We’ve been through a period of just-in-time logistics … to make the supply chain more efficient. [Congestion, combined with CSA 2010 and a broad move to electronic logs, will force all] supply chain players to come together and address the issues of a different standard of service. You need to add some flexibility — allow for some safety stops… We can’t always rely on the infrastructure to support timely delivery. Give us delivery windows rather than exact times. I really view this as a supply chain challenge, not just a carrier challenge.

What would you most like to see from the upcoming highway reauthorization bill?

Erskine: Personally, I would like to see the return of the split sleeper time. New rules force drivers to use continuous hours of service regardless of the need for personal rest or common sense to avoid rush hour congestion.

Wood: I can only hope that there will be consideration of “truck-only” lanes. I think [a move to more intermodal shipments] is one of the possible solutions to the problem; however, railroads need to step up and shoulder some of the blame for traffic congestion as well. Who among us haven’t sat in the car during prime business hours while a freight train has traffic backed up as far as the eye can see. Just like truckers, they need to look at the construction of overpasses/underpasses and scheduling improvements.

The Participants

Don Osterberg, senior vice president of safety and security for Schneider National

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