The True Costs of Congestion for Commercial Transportation

The True Costs of Congestion for Commercial Transportation

As 20th century as it might seem, American commerce relies largely upon trucks to transport goods, in much the same fashion as the human body relies upon blood in the circulatory system to move nutrients. In fact, this reliance has become even more acute as the advent of ecommerce finds greater numbers of consumers picking up their purchases on their front porches rather than at the local shopping mall. However, America’s circulatory system has a huge cholesterol problem—traffic jams.

Which brings us to the true costs of congestion for commercial transportation.

360,000 Truckers Sidelined Annually

A recent study by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) found traffic congestion on U.S. highways imposed costs of more than $63.4 billion to the nation’s trucking industry in 2015. Further, some 996 million hours of productivity were lost as rigs sat idling in stop-and-go traffic. According to the report, this is the equivalent of 362,243 commercial truck drivers cooling their heels for an entire year. In other words, traffic congestion on American highways essentially sidelines more than 360,000 truckersannually.

When you realize this costs drivers some $63.70 for each hour driven, “You start to really understand what a drain this is on the trucking industry,” says Rebecca Brewster, president of ATRI. “It also has supply chain consequences for the entire U.S. economy.”

Higher Maintenance and Fuel Costs

“When I bid a job I take into account whether I will be going through Atlanta or another high-traffic area that may cause me delays,” Henry Albert, an owner-operator from Statesville, N.C. said in an interview with “Traffic definitely costs me, but I try to buffer in some time so delays don’t mess up my week.”

In fact, some experienced truckers will drive 100 miles out of their way to avoid going into areas known for heavy congestion. This practice frees the driver of stresses and reduces the risk of congestion-related accidents, which can drive up their ommercial insurance rates. But it also adds more time to their trips, increases wear and tear on their trucks and causes them to burn more fuel—all of which ultimately drives up the prices of the goods they transport.

The Psychological Ramifications

The study’s findings reveal Florida, Texas and California are the three most expensive states in terms of congestion. Combined, this trio accounts for more than 25 percent of costs. However, the penalties extracted extend beyond financial burdens. Drivers also incur psychological penalties.

“The traffic we have to deal with on a daily basis is insane,” Tim Philmon, a trucker from Middleburg, Fla., told “When you sit for hours in traffic and you run out of hours and have to stop for the night in a truck stop when you are 60 miles from home, that’s definitely frustrating.”

Drivers are required by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations to limit their time on the road to 11 hours per day after 10 consecutive hours off duty. While drivers can extend this to 14 hours under certain circumstances, drivers can hit their limit within miles of home and have to stop for 10 hoursto comply with safety regulations. Traffic congestion contributes to this because the clock is running whether drivers are moving at the speed limit or inching along at five miles per hour in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Ultimately, We All Pay

“Congestion-related costs continue to rise and impact our supply chains,” says Rich McArdle, president of UPS Freight. “A five minute delay for each UPS vehicle, every day, costs UPS $105 million annually in additional operating costs.”

And yes, these costs are passed on to consumers in the form of higher shipping fees.So ultimately, we all pay the true costs of congestion for commercial transportation.


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