Nearly every single product you own or interact with was transported via air, rail, sea or road so that it could be shipped directly to you or the store where you purchased it.
While most don’t often ponder the ins and outs of transportation, it is a key facet of our everyday lives. Transportation enables us to move goods, trade goods and travel from place to place — three essential features of civilization. Without it, economies around the world would crumble.
The U.S. freight transportation system moved an average of 49.5 million tons of goods valued at $52.7 billion per day in 2015, according to the most recent available data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Trucks carried more than 60 percent of that weight and value.
From drivers and dispatchers, logisticians and techies and mechanics and engineers, hundreds of thousands of individuals are required to make sure the transportation industry keeps running smoothly. And as the global population increases, so will the amount of goods that need to be produced and transported. In meeting that need, some big realities face the industry that never stops moving, including:
Amid ongoing research and testing of self-driving trucks, questions remain for when and how the technology will be implemented. Some industry experts — including cofounder of leading autonomous-truck company Otto Lior Ron — said it could become mainstream in as little as 10 years, if safety and regulations challenges can be solved. Otto had its first success in Colorado in late 2016, when one of its trucks successfully made it from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs without a driver to deliver 50,000 beer cans.
Locally, the work has begun to transform a 35-mile stretch of U.S. Route 33 between Dublin and East Liberty into a Smart Mobility Corridor — a testing ground for autonomous driving technologies, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation. This will include tests with self-driving trucks and truck platoons, or two electronically connected trucks operating in tandem, which could also reduce the need for drivers.
“Truck platooning technology could bring less potential for human error and make the roads more efficient,” said Michael Ferrando, recruiting and training manager for ODW Logistics, a Columbus-based, third-party logistics company that provides transportation, warehousing and supply-chain support.
Curbing air pollution
Since 2010, new trucks come equipped with a system to accommodate diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), a solution sprayed into the exhaust stream of diesel vehicles to break down air-polluting nitrogen oxides into nontoxic nitrogen and water, Ferrando said.
“There’s also discussion of transitioning to a 30 or 40 percent electrical unit in trucks, which would help us greatly reduce emissions and get us further away from fossil fuels,” he added.
Changing consumer behavior
It’s no secret that the internet has rapidly changed the way that people buy, sell and physically obtain products. Today, long-standing retailers such as Macy’s and Sears have closed storefronts nationwide while Amazon is set to hire 100,000 new full-time and 30,000 new part-time employees over the next year or so.
In central Ohio alone, Amazon has opened two distribution centers and three data centers since 2015, providing roughly 2,120 new jobs to the region.
When products made by thousands of different manufacturers have to be shipped to millions of people’s doorsteps on an on-demand basis, tracking shipments and planning transportation becomes far more complex.
“In many cases we’re working with guaranteed delivery times, which makes it even more imperative to get the product where it needs to be,” Ferrando said.
Dynamic business models
The increasing complexity and fracturing of supply-chains means that carriers want more transparency in tracking their shipments and companies that can provide that will likely have the upper hand.
It also means that new, nontraditional transportation business models are emerging — like companies that use software to match deliveries with local available shippers, such as Convoy and Cargomatic.
There will undoubtedly be more industry transitions to address, such as constantly changing government regulations and technologies, but in the meantime, the transportation industry will keep on moving.