Striking back

| September 01, 2006

In the East, Norfolk Southern and several states plan to spend $300 million on an intermodal project that will link the Port of Virginia in Hampton Roads to distribution centers in Ohio.

ATA’s Costello believes that intermodal will be a small part of the solution to congested highways. ATA’s most recent forecast has intermodal tonnage growing at the fastest rate, 78 percent, of all freight transportation modes between 2005 and 2016. But 10 years from now, intermodal still will represent only 2 percent of the nation’s freight tonnage, compared to 69 percent for trucking, Costello says.

Such incremental changes in transportation modes, along with changes in scheduling and technology, might be the most achievable options as the industry continues its struggle to operate amid increasing congestion.
- Aaron Huff contributed to this article.

Congestion creates more than enough trouble for carrier executives: higher fuel costs, lost revenue, service failures, extra insurance claims from increased wrecks.

Owner-operators bear most if not all of those same burdens, as well as the stress of being the ones who have to endure rush hours, wrecks, construction zones, bottlenecks and road rage. Many have found ways to cope with congestion, but at the cost of lost productivity. When that occurs, owner-operators soften the personal frustrations, but not necessarily the financial hits.

“This very subject came up in our weekly operations meeting last week when discussing driver irritants and turnover,” says Steve Gordon, chief operating officer of Gordon Trucking of Pacific, Wash. “Some folks wanted to discuss it as a big issue; some felt it was largely out of our control.”

Indeed, most truckers know there is only so much they can do to cope with congestion.

“I try to drive off-peak hours through the major cities,” says Desmond Rafeek, owner-operator of Rafeek Transport in Tucson, Ariz. “But if I’m going to be delivering in a city, there’s really no way to get around it.”

In addition to trying to schedule around rush hour, Rafeek takes loops around major cities instead of driving through downtown. “It adds miles to the trip sometimes, but it saves time,” he says. “You have to think about what’s more efficient.”

Christopher Hendrix, who is leased to CFI, fights congestion not only in the big metro areas such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., but also in cities such as Austin, Texas, which has no outer loop. “There’s only one way to get in and out,” he says. “You have to add an extra three or four hours to your trip.” So Hendrix often stops to eat, sleep or shower to avoid peak traffic.

Sue Lynch and her husband always stop between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. if they are about to go through Chicago. “We don’t want the hassle,” says Lynch, co-owner of Wisconsin-based B.S. Transport. “It burns more fuel, it’s more wear and tear on the brakes and mechanical components, and it’s a huge cause of road rage.”

To lessen the financial blow of congestion-related breaks, Lynch favors changing the hours of service to allow a two-hour break within the 14-hour driving period without having it count against on-duty hours.

A company driver for Transco Lines who owns several trucks himself, Barry Metzler doubts much can be done about congestion other than moving freight to other modes of transportation. “The major problem is the population density,” he says. “They keep trying to add more lanes, but those lanes fill right up.”

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