Factors Impacting Truck Traffic in Large Metropolitan Areas

Factors Impacting Truck Traffic in Large Metropolitan Areas

In several metropolitan areas in developed economies, the number of trucks circulating (excluding delivery vans) has experienced a stabilization and even a decline in some cases. For instance, since 2009 New York experienced an absolute decline of truck trips across the Hudson River bridges and tunnels. Similar to passenger transportation, there are indications of emerging peak mobility for trucks. This is the outcome of a conjunction of economic and operational factors related to truck freight distribution:

  • Economics. Many developed countries have been impacted by deindustrialization or at least from a substantial shift of the industrial base towards added-value activities. This results in fewer truck movements related to the distribution of raw materials and parts. Accordingly, the setting of global supply chains involves production taking place in other parts of the world, and the distribution more focused around major terminals (e.g. ports) and the road corridors connecting them. Several metropolitan areas have implemented various congestion pricing schemes (or restrictions for trucks), which includes higher tolls. The cost of using local roads is increasing. Although higher tolls may have limited impacts on truck routing, particularly where there are limited alternatives, they are inciting a more rational utilization of the vehicles.
  • Operational efficiency. Distribution centers were conventionally located in proximity to central areas, particularly transport terminals, and tended to be of small size. The setting of large and high capacity supply chains incited the relocation of many freight distribution centers to suburban areas, or areas completely outside metropolitan areas, where land was cheaper and more available. These distribution centers have favored cargo consolidation into larger truckloads, requiring fewer truck trips. Technical and regulatory changes have permitted the usage of heavier and larger trucks on highways and some local roads. For instance, trailers of 53 feet are permitted on the majority of American highways. The consolidation of loads is also associated with backhaul opportunities where more efficient trucking fleet management enables to have less empty return trips. For instance, several large retailers are using backhauls to transport recyclable materials (e.g. cardboard) from their stores.

Consequently, truck operators had several economic and operational incentives to improve the utilization level of their assets when circulating within or through metropolitan areas.