Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A High-Tech Route for Freight Efficiency

FHWA turns to the information highway to help reduce truck congestion on the Nation's roadways.
According to the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) recently released report Freight Facts and Figures 2005 (FHWA-HOP-05-071), international trade is growing faster than the overall U.S. economy. Between 1980 and 2003, the U.S. economy, measured by gross domestic product (GDP), doubled, while foreign trade quadrupled in real value, reflecting unprecedented global connectivity. Ocean, rail, and air carriers use trucks and highways for some component of almost every shipment. Already tight infrastructure capacity will be stressed further by limited new construction and the growing demand from freight transportation. In fact, the FHWA Freight Analysis Framework indicates that by 2020 freight volumes will increase by 70 percent from 1998 totals, and freight volumes through the Nation's primary gateway ports could more than double. Finding ways to improve the operational efficiency of moving this freight is critical to the Nation's economic vitality and global connectivity.
Officials at the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) recognize that moving freight involves moving information as well as the goods themselves. Although excellent information management can increase freight efficiency, poor information management can add costs, slow handoffs, open security gaps, create delays at gates, and even lead to erroneous freight movements.
Given the important and growing role that goods movement plays in the U.S. economy and the impact that it has on the transportation network, USDOT's ITS Joint Program Office and FHWA recently launched the Electronic Freight Management (EFM) project. EFM aims to improve the "information highway" that moves critical business information and facilitates the multimodal movement of airfreight, generating benefits for both private and public stakeholders. In particular, the project addresses weaknesses in freight data exchange processes that add costs, create security gaps, and, over time, contribute to congestion.
"It is well accepted that technology systems and electronic data represent one of the few remaining tools for improving both productivity and security," says Margaret Irwin, director of customs and cross-border operations for the American Trucking Associations. "In addition, regulatory costs can be successfully managed in the long term only by replacing labor-intensive paperwork with electronic systems. Given that international trade now represents 25 percent of our country's GDP, it is particularly important for ports and borders to operate more efficiently."
EFM advances several concepts, but the single key concept is to promote electronic data exchanges along a supply chain in an end-to-end manner more robustly than is currently being done. Typically, freight movements are supported by point-to-point communications, either paper-based or electronic, between parties who agree to such communications. Using the Internet to make data available broadly to any authorized and authenticated user in near real time is key to enabling freight transportation networks to operate more efficiently and securely. This type of data exchange provides buyers and other authorized parties with open visibility into supply chains. Program officials expect that these improvements will help to reduce unnecessary traffic on the transportation network and mitigate congestion.

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