Performance measures for freight transportation

As a prelude to a national freight report card, researchers looked at 360 potential freight performance measures. They picked 29 that looked promising. The intent was to develop “a comprehensive, objective, and consistent set of measures to gauge the performance of the freight transportation system.” Not all of the measures are true performance measures. Because there are no programs or goals for important aspects of freight performance such as growth in freight volumes, changes in mode split, or travel time reliability, several of the proposed metrics simply track important trends, such as freight volume growth, rather than show movement toward a goal.

The report card is presented in three formats, each increasingly detailed. The first tier – the dashboard level – looks like this:

Freight Performance Measures Dashboard

(Black arrows indicate trends which are not necessarily positive or negative, such as growth in freight volumes. Green arrows indicate trends which are benign. They can be either downward trends, such as a decrease in crashes, or upward, such as increased levels of investment. Yellow arrows indicate performance which is not clearly positive and may be indicative of future problems. Red arrows indicate negative trends, that can either be increasing, such as emissions, or decreasing, such as the adequacy of investment.)

The second tier format consists of brief one- to two-page summaries that elaborate upon the performance of each measure. Finally, the third reporting framework provides links from each measure to more detailed reports.

Potential performance measures were screened on the basis of surveys of public- and private-sector freight stakeholders, by the quality of data to support the measures, and by their relevance to the project objectives. The summary of the report notes that “In general, the public-sector stakeholders were interested in less frequently updated measures to assist with policy, planning, and investment decisions. Private-sector stakeholders were interested in more continuously available measures to make daily operational decisions. Public-sector stakeholders were interested in policy and infrastructure issues, whereas private-sector stakeholders were more interested in cost, reliability, and travel time measures.”

No federal agency is currently set up or funded to capture detailed freight data. The report is an exploration of how a freight system reporting process could be started with existing data sources and how it could evolve with increasing sophistication over time.