Dear HVTT subscriber,
In this issue of the newsletter, I offer some perspectives on road freight transport during the COVID-19 pandemic and point to two truck-related data sources of particular interest in the North American context.
Perspectives on Road Freight Transport during COVID-19
I receive regular emails from the local Manitoba Trucking Association, the voice of the trucking industry in the province of Manitoba, Canada. Throughout 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged and ultimately affected all aspects of societies around the world, those emails informed Association members of the ever-changing restrictions and requirements affecting the industry. They reflected the complexities and challenges facing the industry, the ever-evolving and multi-dimensional nature of the road freight transport task, and the critical role the industry plays in meeting essential consumer demands.
The complexity of cross-border freight transport
While personal cross-border travel between Canada and the United States has been restricted since March 2020, the trucking industry—deemed an essential service—has continued its cross-border operations. These operations cannot be described as “business-as-usual. Within the first month of the pandemic alone, the emails I received from the Manitoba Trucking Association described an industry dealing with a host of complex issues:
- Driver quarantine and self-isolation requirements and exemptions
- Hours-of-service exemptions for specific commodities
- The availability of public rest areas in Canada and the United States
- Fuel tax agreements and other cross-border credentials issues
Despite these complexities, the industry continued to deliver essential goods and services on both sides of the border. For a more detailed, data-oriented perspective on cross-border truck traffic trends, check out the TransBorder Freight Data products available from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics (see https://www.bts.gov/transborder/).
The ever-evolving nature of the road freight transport task
Shifting to a microscopic scale, it is apparent that the pandemic will continue to alter the nature of road freight transport demand, particularly the role of e-commerce. Consider the following items that arrived at my house (about 20 minutes from the nearest urban area) over the past few months: a box of fair trade coffee beans, school supplies, personalized greeting cards, and (of course) toilet paper. All of these items would normally have been purchased during a weekly shopping trip to a major grocery/household retailer and none were ordered from Amazon. Now consider how they arrived: via a UPS delivery truck or van, via a Canada Post delivery to the post office for pickup, or via a private automobile seemingly subcontracted by a larger courier.
Although this is obviously a very limited sample, from a research perspective, it begs the following questions:
- How do shippers decide which carrier service to use?
- How are all these logistics arrangements made? What types of information systems are being used to make those arrangements? How integrated are those systems?
- How could these deliveries be predicted or modelled? (I’d have a hard time predicting my own household’s activity.)
- Should a personal vehicle performing small package deliveries be considered a “truck”?
- How should such a vehicle or trip be classified in a database?
Indeed, the pandemic has highlighted the need to continue pursuing research and developing reliable data to help answer these questions.
A New Truck Data Source: Vehicle Inventory and Use Survey (VIUS)
Speaking of data, in the North American context, freight analysts look forward to the re-institution of the Vehicle Inventory and Use Survey (VIUS), administered by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The following quotation from the VIUS website describes this survey (see https://www.bts.gov/vius for more information):
“The VIUS has been the principal data source on the physical and operational characteristics of the United States truck population. Its primary goal is to gain an understanding nationally and statewide on how trucks are being utilized for various goods transport. The first survey was conducted in 1963. It was then conducted every five years beginning in 1967 through 2002.”
Amongst other applications, the survey is expected to provide critical inputs for truck size and weight studies, freight demand models, and air quality analyses. Results from the VIUS are planned for release in 2023.
To close, after a rather warm start to January, I am pleased to report that the past week has been more typical of the Canadian Prairies, featuring temperatures that reached a crisp -35°C.
A happy and healthy 2021 to all!
HVTT Vice President, North America