GAO: Trucking the Least Efficient Mode of Freight Shipping

Freight transportation, which accounts for nearly a quarter of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, doesn’t get as much attention as passenger transportation because most people don’t feel it affects them as much. But more than 15 million trucks deliver 70 percent of the goods this country consumes – and the GAO says that’s a mistake.

Safety is one of many externalized costs of freight trucking. Photo: ##http://www.truckaccidents360.com/blog/583/dallas-semi-truck-accident-involving-budweiser-big-rig-on-i-20/##Truck Accidents 360 Newswire##

The Government Accountability Office published a study finding that the costs of freight trucking that are not passed on to the consumer are at least six times greater than the equivalent rail costs and at least nine times greater than the equivalent waterways costs. Many of those are externalized costs passed on to society – like congestion, pollution, and crashes – as well as public costs, like infrastructure maintenance.

These externalized and public costs are just another way that taxpayers subsidize highways. The GAO implies that the country’s highway-centric transportation policy could be damaging the economy.

“When prices do not reflect all these costs, one mode may have a cost advantage over the others that distorts competition,” writes the GAO. “As a consequence, the nation could devote more resources than needed to higher cost freight modes, an inefficient outcome that lowers economic well-being.”

The report goes on to say, “If government policy gives one mode a cost advantage over another, by, for example, not recouping all the costs of that mode’s use of infrastructure, then shipping prices and customers’ use of freight modes can be distorted, reducing the overall efficiency of the nation’s economy.”

The GAO didn’t make recommendations in this report but did say that policy changes that make prices align with the true costs of freight shipping would provide a great economic benefit. Less targeted changes, like charging user fees, subsidizing more efficient alternatives, or applying safety or emissions regulations – could be helpful as well. The report acknowledges that “the current configuration of transportation infrastructure can limit the shifting of freight among modes.”

After all, we’ve been building a lot more highways than railroads lately.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Trucks and Cities Are Like Oil and Water. Is There a Solution?

|
About 350 pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists are killed each year by large trucks in this country. Big freight trucks are incompatible with cities in many ways, bringing danger, pollution, noise, and traffic congestion. They park in bike lanes and have shockingly big blind spots, putting everyone around them at risk. And yet, most cities haven’t […]

Freight Panel Chair Says House Will “Balance Out” Transportation Modes

|
This article was adapted from an earlier report on Streetsblog NYC. A Congressional road show on freight arrived in New York last Friday afternoon, bringing together air, trucking, and rail industry representatives to testify before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s freight panel. While the House is holding hearings like this one, U.S. DOT is working toward […]

Will the Nation’s First Strategic Freight Plan be Multi-Modal?

|
Congress is joining U.S. DOT in committing more resources to a national freight plan, a more strategic way of moving goods than the current haphazard and fragmented current approach. As mandated by MAP-21, U.S. DOT is working on a strategic plan for a nationwide freight network, and last month, Congress kicked off its contribution, holding […]

Will DOT’s New Freight Council Focus on More Than Trucks?

|
On Thursday, DOT Secretary Ray LaHood announced the creation of a new Freight Policy Council, which is charged with coming up with a freight strategic plan. This is a first step toward a sorely lacking national plan around freight. The movement of goods accounts for about a quarter of all transportation-related emissions. Every American is […]

Don’t Believe the Hype About a Boom in Freight Traffic

|
U.S. DOT estimates that total freight volume in the country will grow 45 percent by 2040. If that sounds like a reasonable guess that will help plan for the future, think again. Predictions about freight growth usually turn into justifications to widen highways. David Levinson, an engineering professor at the University of Minnesota, says at his blog the […]