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Public-Private Freight Planning Guidelines

Ship at the pier

I. Introduction

The world of freight has changed dramatically over the past several decades. Since the advent of intermodalism in the mid-1950s, freight transportation has undergone significant changes which have increased the efficiency of goods movement. Intermodalism has created a system of goods movement in which containers can be moved from one mode to another without "breaking" and repacking crates. Deregulation of motor carriers and railroads revised freight rates and led to greater competition and lower shipping costs. The advent of integrated logistics and supply-chain management have led to just-in-time delivery of goods and the need for transportation networks which can enable quick and reliable delivery of freight.

Due to such innovations and efficiency improvements, total logistics costs dropped from 15 percent of the U.S.'s gross domestic product in 1980, to just 11 percent in 1990. These cost savings are passed on to consumers throughout the economy, which translates into direct economic gains for almost all members of society. In the interest of further lowering operating costs, the "footloose" firms of the 1990's often seek out and move to regions with superior transportation facilities. Improving the efficiency of our national and regional transportation networks will result in cost savings and ultimately increase economic competitiveness.

In response to the ever-changing world of freight transportation and its implications to our economy, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) amended the metropolitan planning requirements and established statewide transportation planning requirements to consider freight and goods movement. Although many States and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) had considered freight in their transportation planning efforts, ISTEA was the first time that freight planning was required by the Federal government.

These guidelines are derived from research conducted for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) by the American Trucking Associations, the Pennsylvania State University Center for Logistics Research and the Pennsylvania Transportation Institute. The guidelines are intended to provide MPO staffs and interested private-sector personnel with important information, based on real-world examples of public-private freight planning efforts, on what can be accomplished, and how to initiate and maintain freight planning efforts.

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II. Examples of Public-Private Freight Planning

In keeping with ISTEA's themes of flexibility and decentralization, the planning regulations promulgated in response to ISTEA did not prescribe what MPOs had to do to meet the new requirements. After a period of learning and "getting up to speed" on what planning agencies could accomplish with the new powers ISTEA granted, many MPOs initiated new and innovative efforts for incorporating freight needs into transportation planning. The following are just five examples of how different MPOs are incorporating the input of private sector firms in transportation planning. Although this is not a comprehensive list of MPO efforts, the examples do highlight some of the creative ways the private sector participates in planning.

Examples of Freight Advisory Committees:

In addition to efforts initiated by MPOs, the private sector has involved itself with transportation planning for freight. In an attempt to make private-sector needs heard in a systematic process, the Freight Stakeholders National Network has been formed. The Freight Stakeholders National Network is a consortium of eight national industry associations whose collective goal is to promote freight mobility through private-sector-initiated "Freight Stakeholder Coalitions" throughout the country. The eight member associations are the Air Freight Association, the American Association of Port Authorities, the American Trucking Associations, the Association of American Railroads, the Intermodal Association of North America, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Industrial Transportation League, and the National Private Truck Council. To date, the Freight Stakeholders National Network has helped to form Freight Stakeholder Coalitions in Kansas City, Detroit, and the State of Minnesota, with other potential sites at various stages of planning.

Examples of Freight Planning Activities:

Freight advisory committees are involved to varying degrees in an assortment of planning activities. Planning organizations across the country are tapping the professional knowledge and resources of the private sector to assist in transportation planning efforts. The MPOs studied indicated that their freight advisory groups were involved in one way or another in generating lists of short-term improvements, conducting/assisting in large-scale corridor studies, working on specific projects, and collecting data or assisting in modeling efforts.

Lists of Improvements - Freight advisory groups can oftentimes provide valuable information on bottlenecks or other inefficiencies in the freight network which can be easily remedied. Brainstorming and prioritizing sessions can often identify lists of cost-effective efforts which can be easily implemented and provide immediate benefits for the freight community and others. When such improvements are quickly implemented, the MPO generates a positive "track record" which encourages the private sector to continue participating in public-private planning efforts.

For example, in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the first tasks posed to the private-sector members of the Freight Advisory Council was to identify the top ten major bottlenecks in the Bay Area. However, MTC was surprised when the Council submitted a list that eventually exceeded 40 projects. This list included some proposals that required relatively little expense: signal timing adjustments, fixing the turning radii of certain off-ramps, and truck parking management and enforcement. The "Top-40" list was created from input and suggestions from the Council members, as well as from a survey of truck drivers conducted by the California Trucking Association (CTA) which was completed in two weeks. CTA asked truck operators to identify the eight to ten worst "pinch points" in the system. The Council and the MTC went through the list and categorized suggestions according to the amount of time and money required. Projects identified in this effort were put through the MTC's scoring process to compete with other proposed projects for inclusion in the TIP.

In a strategy similar to MTC, PSRC considered it important to put out a list of freight projects within the first year of the Roundtable. This list of "timely and essential actions" was called the Regional Freight Mobility Action Packages, published on September 6, 1994. Each action is described in terms of who should do it, what is to be done, timing, and resource requirements. Actors discussed include PSRC, cities and counties, the Port Authorities, shippers, carriers and related third parties, WSDOT, the Washington Utilities and Trade Commission, and the U.S. DOT. The list is organized as an "Action Matrix." The actions are organized into four categories:

The Action Packages have three principal messages. First, the report has a "collaborative and action-oriented focus," which reflects the Roundtable's efforts to have the public and private sectors get acquainted at the beginning of the planning process. Second, the report has both systemic and project-level actions. For the process to be effective, both sectors must share the same performance expectations, which will help to identify the crucial issues and develop practical solutions. Third, although the report satisfies the private freight sector's need to be action-oriented, the Roundtable recognizes the need to collect information to create a framework for identifying and understanding goods movement issues.

Similarly, the Freight Stakeholders National Network process recommends holding a "Freight Town Hall Meeting" to kick off a Freight Stakeholders Coalition. Following a key note address and discussion of the purpose and goals of the Coalition, the Town Hall Meeting then breaks participants into groups of eight to ten, preassigned to achieve a mix of transportation modes, manufacturers and shippers, and public sector representatives. Each group, facilitated by a member of the Coalition's organizing committee, identifies needed freight mobility improvements and the means to achieve them. In Kansas City, for example, the Heartland Freight Coalition's process identified a number of "jump-start" projects, including improving signage to intermodal facilities, improving signal timing to mitigate freight bottlenecks, and distributing disposable cameras to freight operators to document bottlenecks and pinch points.

Corridor Studies - Following the identification of bottlenecks, several MPOs have utilized their freight advisory groups to direct and consult on large-scale corridor studies. The PSRC's Freight Mobility Roundtable identified the need for a rail-highway separation program for the Kent Valley, South Kingdome, and Tacoma Dome areas. To undertake this project, the PSRC and Washington Department of Transportation sponsored a multimodal study of the I-5 corridor. A work group to direct the study will be formed in consultation with the Freight Mobility Roundtable.

Ad Hoc Working Groups - The TMACOG advocates a "task force" rather than advisory group approach to the RRTF. In order to mitigate grade crossings, TMACOG grouped all crossings into six priority rail corridors. Each corridor was assigned to a local study team comprised of the affected railroad, rail shippers, local government and emergency service providers, the school district, the Ohio Department of Transportation, the FHWA and local residents. Teams study the corridors and generate implementation strategies for improving traffic safety, reducing delays and congestion at crossings, and to promote economic development along rail corridors. As ofthis writing, two of the studies are complete.

Modeling/Data Collection - An effective freight advisory effort can help to direct modeling efforts and provide access to important data. As trust develops through cooperative planning efforts, private-sector participants become much more willing to provide data or to help in the collection of data. The CTA assisted the MTC's Freight Advisory Council by conducting a survey of bottlenecks. The private sector can do much to improve the quality of modeling efforts by providing specific information on freight flows. The PSRC utilized its Freight Mobility Roundtable to correct inadequacies in its passenger traffic model to include freight and its associated logistical aspects. When the private-sector executive knows and trusts his or her public-sector counterpart, they are much more likely to provide sensitive data. And when a freight advisory group assists in directing modeling efforts, they can assure the data is not misused and that unnecessary data is not collected.

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III. Freight Planning Organizational Issues

MPO staffs need to address several organizational issues in preparation for freight sector involvement. One of these is the need for MPO staff to become better acquainted with private sector management of freight. A sound understanding of the type of business decisions transportation carrier and firm logistics managers must make on a daily basis will improve the staff's appreciation for the role of transport infrastructure in the region's goods movement system. How the staff is able to gain this understanding will vary from region to region, but one approach is to personally visit logistics managers of some of the major employers in the region. The staff will benefit not only from the education, but may also find that these managers become strong supporters of MPO planning efforts because the staff made the effort to personally gain better understanding of these firms' logistical and business concerns.

In addition to understanding how firms manage freight decisions, MPOs should consider what the goals of the MPO freight planning effort are, the structure and duties of a freight advisory committee, the different perspectives of the public and private sectors, and private sector motivation for involvement in the planning process.

Organizational Issues:

Goals - The first step MPO staff must take is to determine the overall focus of their freight planning effort. Determining this focus at the outset will help MPOs with deciding which activities will be conducted, which private sector representatives to contact, and what types of data and information to collect. The goals of a freight planning effort can include fulfilling ISTEA requirements, establishing communications with the freight community, assisting with economic development efforts, addressing specific regional problems, or generating inputs for planning or other analytic processes.

Structure - An MPO will need to consider how a freight advisory council fits into the MPO's organizational structure. This depends upon the unique characteristics of any particular area, such as the MPO's authorizing legislation and planning philosophy. In addition, the actual structure of the freight advisory committee should be considered, including the size and composition of the freight committee, actual responsibilities of the freight committee, whether they will make policy and planning recommendations, whether or not private sector committee members can submit projects directly to the MPO for consideration, whether or not freight council members from the private sector sit on the MPO's Executive Committee or Board ofGovernors, and whether the committee is a permanent or temporary organization.

In addition, the MPO staff must determine what aspects of goods movement planning the freight council will address. From the mission statements of the five MPOs examined for this report, some possible freight council duties could include serving as an information resource on freight issues and concerns for the MPO staff and elected officials, drafting the freight and intermodal elements of the long-range transportation plan, reviewing data and information used in freight analyses and planning, educating the private sector freight community about the MPO freight planning process, assisting the MPO in securing the necessary financial resources for certain infrastructure projects, developing project evaluation criteria, and participating in project evaluation and programming.

These factors should be considered by MPO staff prior to initiating a freight advisory process, but the MPO should remain flexible to allow changes recommended by committee members once the process is begun.

Perspectives - The goals of the public and private sector participants of any freight advisory committee should be the same, namely the efficient movement of goods. Significant differences exist between the two sectors however, and MPO staff will be well served to better understand the corporate culture of the private freight sector. First and foremost is the issue of varying time frames. While the MPO may consider 20-year time frames in long-range planning, private firms view the long term as lasting six to 12 months. This length is also shortening as product life-cycle decreases and firms try to operate more leanly and efficiently. Related to this is the fact that most private-sector executives' availability is severely constrained. In an effort to maximize the use of available time, the private sector will want to see results from any time devoted to freight planning. If results are not forthcoming, private-sector representatives will spend their time in alternative, profitable endeavors. As the saying goes, "time is money," so the MPO should attempt to implement "quick-start" type projects using freight advisory council input. Another important issue is that those who work primarily in the private sector often do not understand planning procedures and regulations, let alone understand the profusion of acronyms used by the public sector (e.g., TIP, STIP, STP). And finally, since private-sector firms are motivated by profit and operate in competitive environments, they often are unable or unwilling to share proprietary data which would be very useful to planning efforts, but which might compromise a firm's competitive situation.

Motivation of Players - Private-sector representatives cite a number of reasons for participating in freight advisory efforts. These include raising transportation planners' and policy makers' awareness of freight, improving the general public's knowledge and appreciation of the importance of freight, working to minimize the impact of existing transportation problems which impact business operations and operating costs, having a voice in setting alternatives for actions and policies which are undertaken to mitigate transportation problems, and networking with the freight transportation community - both public and private sectors. In addition, many areas in the U.S. have firms with long-standing ties to the particular region. Such firms often participate in planning efforts as a form of good "corporate citizenship." Understanding and building upon these motivating factors can help MPOs to attract and retain the participation of private sector representatives in freight planning.

Locating Private-Sector Participants - According to the experience of the MPOs studied, the first step in putting together a list of private sector representatives to a freight council is to consult the principal members of the freight community. These include staff from local planning agencies, port authorities, major carriers (railroads, trucking companies), package delivery companies (UPS, Federal Express) and the region's major shippers. Having the region's major transportation players on the freight council's roster increases the council's credibility and helps to attract other companies to participate. In addition, MPO staff can develop their knowledge of their region's freight system by first visiting prospective members at their workplaces. Staff could ask to tour a company's facilities in order to observe firsthand the conditions the company operates under. These personalized on-site visits demonstrate the commitment of the MPO to the freight process and require little time commitment from private-sector personnel.

It can also be very helpful for the MPO staff to enlist the help of a private sector association such as a chamber of commerce or economic development agency. In Seattle, the Puget Sound Regional Council's (PSRC) partnership with the Economic Development Council of King County (EDC) helped with forming its Freight Mobility Roundtable. PSRC thought prospective freight sector members would be more likely to participate if the pro-business EDC was seen as spearheading the effort. Additional freight sector members can be found by MPO staff through several possible secondary sources, such as Port Authority tenant and client directories, mailing lists of previous freight planning efforts conducted at the local and/or state level, mailing lists and journals of professional freight associations, traffic clubs and honor societies, local freight service directories, or even the local Yellow Pages. MPOs should make concerted efforts to recruit as many shippers as possible.

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IV. Long-Term Viability: Maintaining Private Sector Interest

The number and composition of participants in public-private freight planning efforts will change over time. People get transferred, the nature of a firm's business might change, economic conditions change, or particular activities on which the freight advisory committee worked might be completed. In the MPOs studied, participation typically declined after an initial period of high interest that followed the kick-off of the group. This decline may be a signal that the freight council's structure or processes need to be altered, or it might just be simple human nature. In any case, it is critical for on-going partnerships that the participation of a core group of private sector members continue. The following discusses several of the factors which can contribute to effective, long-term freight planning processes.

Maintaining Private Sector Interest:

Time Management - Private-sector executives who are essentially donating time to public service will respond more favorably to meetings which are productive, well planned, and convenient for them to attend. In response to this, the MPO staff must assure that the council and its meetings begin and end at specified times, stick to a pre-approved agenda, and are held at a location convenient to most participants. If meetings are poorly structured or run over time as participants raise tangential issues, private-sector executives will be less likely to participate down the road. In addition to holding efficiently run meetings, a freight advisory committee can be highly productive by organizing into sub-committees which study and work on side issues, which are reported on and discussed briefly at the regular council meeting.

Education/Communication - Effective communication is important to the longevity of freight advisory efforts. Channels of communication must be opened and maintained between the public and private sectors. The MPO staff must clearly and effectively educate the private sector about transportation planning processes, policies, proposals, acronyms, and so on. The private sector can also improve the understanding of their needs by educating public sector people about their day-to-day business operations, perhaps by inviting visits to their freight facilities or explaining the logistical problems they face. In addition, both sectors will benefit by improving the general public's understanding of the role and importance of freight. The PSRC's Freight Mobility Roundtable, for instance, sponsors a "Speaker's Bureau" of members who will go to address the public on freight--at schools for example--in order to raise understanding of freight's role in daily life.

Short-Term Results - As discussed above, there is a fundamental difference in how the public and private sectors perceive time. If private-sector executives do not see quick results of their actions, they are likely to turn their attention to those activities which provide higher pay-offs. While many of those who have participated in freight planning efforts are satisfied that their input is being used by their MPOs, others have expressed frustration over taking valuable time and resources to provide MPOs with information which is not used. Thus, it is critical that the MPO attempt to generate a number of "quick-start" projects which generate a positive track record that private-sector participants can point to as tangible results. Several MPOs studied used their freight advisory efforts to generate lists of "bottlenecks" or "pinch points" impacting freight transportation. The MTC's Freight Advisory Council identified and prioritized a "Top-40" list of easily implemented and cost-effective improvements which would improve freight efficiency through such actions as altering signal timing, improving curbside management, and facilitating overnight truck and container parking. Chicago and Seattle also undertook efforts to identify improvements that provided inexpensive short-term results.

Consideration of Participant Interests - Several freight council members in different MPOs expressed concern over public involvement in advocating policies that steer freight traffic from one mode to another. An MPO freight council, particularly in its early stages, runs the risk of splintering and politically immobilizing itself if it tries to tackle such controversial issues. It is probably better, at least initially, to address matters that help to improve freight movement overall. If a particular freight issue must be addressed but runs the danger of splintering the freight council because of competitive reasons, the MPO should involve local trade associations to work with the affected companies over the issue.

Review of Group's Focus/Purpose - As with any process, the systematic and intermittent review of performance and need of the freight advisory group will provide the MPO staff with important information about the efficacy of the process, or even the need for continuing the group. A freight advisory council might accomplish its original goals and tasks and face a transition period. At such a point, the public and private sector participants should reevaluate the groups mission and identify any other areas of concern to the group. Upon reviewing continuation of the freight advisory process, the PSRC's Freight Mobility Roundtable members responded by identifying long-term issues--such as a need to keep the freight sector continually apprised of Transportation Improvement Program proposals--which warranted the groups continuation.

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V. "How-To" Freight Planning Principles

ISTEA required that MPOs consider the movement of freight as a factor in the transportation planning process. MPOs should consider whether a particular region's freight planning activities should include a freight advisory committee. The following are general "how-to" principles for establishing and/or running a public-private freight planning partnership.

"How-To" Principles:

Set the Scope of the Committee - The MPO staff or a steering committee of the freight advisory group's participants should set the scope of the groups and its efforts. This is just an initial scoping and will likely change over time. Whoever takes the lead on the scoping should receive input from the relevant major players. If a public-private freight planning effort is initiated by the private-sector, they should contact the MPO director and any MPO staff working specifically on freight issues. If initiated by the MPO, a specific person should be designated as the contact for freight issues, and they should contact the major players in the region's freight movement (see "Recruit/Locate Participants" below) to determine the following:

Recruit/Locate Participants - Whether initiated by the MPO or someone in the private sector, special attention should be made to include the region's major freight transportation interests.

Hold Successful Meetings - First impressions matter, so it is critical that the initial meeting held for the freight advisory council generate interest among all relevant parties.

In addition to the first kick-off event, subsequent meetings should aim to be productive. Several factors contribute to the success of meetings and the public-private freight planning process. These include:

Build a Positive Track Record - The MPO should attempt to generate a quick-start project using input from the freight advisory committee. Projects such as improving curb-side management, easing turning restrictions, re-timing signals, or creating parking lanes for trucks outside of terminals are examples of low-cost improvements which can be quickly implemented. A positive track record will facilitate buy-in from participants and other private-sector executives.

Communicate - Communication is critical to the effectiveness and longevity of a public-private freight planning partnership.

Review Performance - As with any process, a regular and systematic review of performance should be conducted. The freight advisory council should examine whether it is effective and/or what can be done to improve the group's performance. Certain public-private planning ventures which have been organized on an ad hoc basis have been continued permanently after the group recognized its efficacy.

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VI. Summary

Involving the private sector in transportation planning for freight can be very beneficial to the metropolitan planning process. In addition to the planning requirement to consider freight movement, the private sector can make public-sector planners aware of issues and bring a new perspective to transportation planning. The private freight sector can provide first-hand insight on bottlenecks and infrastructure, can apprise planners on how passenger-oriented improvements may affect the flow of freight, can provide information helpful to planning efforts (e.g., data), and can help leverage financial and political resources for implementing needed improvements. Although public-private freight planning partnerships must be targeted to meet the needs of individual areas, the general rules of thumb presented in these guidelines can be helpful to implementing and continuing a successful process.

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Updated: 3/31/2011
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