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Case Study: Improving Mobility in the Puget Sound Region

Cars halted at railroad crossing


The Puget Sound Region of Washington State was selected as a major case study for the following reasons:

This case study is intended to describe the environment for freight mobility in the Puget Sound region, to describe the structure and efforts of the PSRC and the Regional Freight Mobility Roundtable, to chronicle the achievements of these organizations, and to capture key lessons that transportation planners might apply to other locales.

Demographic Overview of the Puget Sound Region

The Puget Sound Region encompasses the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area. Included are the counties of King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish, along with the cities of Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, Bellevue and Bremerton. The region's population, estimated at 2.7 million (1990), is projected to increase 50 percent to 4.1 million in the year 2020. Over the same period, employment is forecasted to rise 53 percent, from 1.4 million (1990) to 2.2 million (2020).

The region's major industries include automobiles, forest products, dairy products, grain, produce, cellular phones, computer equipment and software, and clothing. Boeing Aircraft Company is also an integral part of the local economy: in 1990, the company delivered more than $15 billion worth of aircraft and parts to foreign buyers, accounting for 60.1 percent of the state of Washington's foreign exports.

Transportation Volume and Infrastructure

The Puget Sound Region is a major point of entry for Pacific Rim shipping traffic, handled primarily by the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma. The Ports have several advantages that help them to attract container traffic: natural deepwater harbors, they are one day sailing time closer to the Pacific Rim than the Port of Oakland, and the Ports are subsidized by considerable ad valorem property tax revenues. In 1990, the Ports held a 27 percent share of the West Coast container traffic, up from 23 percent in 1980.

The Ports have a very balanced flow of container traffic: in 1992, they handled 1.01 million TEU's inbound and 1.09 million TEU's outbound. Over the next decade, the Port of Seattle expects a 50 percent increase in the number of containers it handles. The Port of Tacoma also expects a similar increase, mainly due to improved ground transportation access.

Intermodal rail is also crucial to the region's foreign trade, with a role distinct from moving international maritime containers. In truckload equivalents (TLE's), the region averages 2,675 TLE's of inbound movements daily, along with 2,067 TLE's outbound. In fact, intermodal trailers and containers account for a larger volume of the region's longhaul movements than longhaul trucking.

More than 304,000 truck movements occur in the Puget Sound Region annually. The vast majority of those movements, approximately 75 percent, are involved in wholesale distribution -- including local distribution and shorthaul trips.

The manufacturing sector receives approximately two-thirds of the region's total freight tonnage. The commodities that have the region's highest volume of freight traffic are lumber and wood products. In descending order, the next highest commodities are stone, clay and glass; food products; motor vehicles and parts; groceries; and paper and paper products.

A copy of the map of the Puget Sound Region's freight infrastructure is included in the Appendix.

Freight Mobility Issues

The key problems and possible solutions surrounding freight mobility were captured in an early meeting of the Roundtable. These were as follows:

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The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) is the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and the Regional Transportation Planning Organization (RTPO) for the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area. PSRC currently operates under three mandates:

The provisions of the Growth Management Act are mandatory for all MPO's and rural areas in Washington State with a growth rate over a certain threshold. PSRC's specific responsibilities under the GMA are:

However, for practical purposes, the PSRC constructs one document -- the MTP, which meets requirements for both documents.

The PSRC is governed by the General Assembly (all the elected officials in the region, convened annually) and the Executive Board. The Executive Board has 28 positions, including representatives from the counties and cities; the Ports of Seattle, Tacoma and Everett; Washington State DOT (WSDOT); and the Washington State Transportation Commission.

Two major advisory committees serve the Executive Board: the Transportation Policy Board and the Growth Management Policy Board. The Transportation Policy Board consists of the same kinds of members as on the Executive Board, but also has private sector businesses, environmental groups, transit operators and other groups. Elected officials are the only ones with voting power, but the non-voting representatives can express their dissent in writing. Under the Policy Board are several working committees, including the Regional Project Evaluation Committee, made up of regional public works and planning directors, which reviews competing projects under the TIP process. The MTP is reviewed by both advisory committees and the Executive Board before being presented before the General Assembly.

Currently, PSRC devotes the equivalent of one full time employee as staff support for freight concerns. However, the PSRC staffer also works with staff members of WSDOT and a member of the Economic Development Council of Seattle and King County (EDC) on several freight issues.

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In 1992, WSDOT solicited the freight industry's advice during the creation of the State Transportation Policy Plan. A private/public consortium called the Freight Policy Ad Hoc Committee (FPAC) was formed to develop the statewide freight policy. FPAC included representatives from PSRC, the Port of Seattle, UPS, American President Lines, Safeway, the Washington Railroad and Trucking Associations, and the Washington State Transportation Commission. In 1993, among other directives, FPAC recommended:

One member of the private freight sector who participated on FPAC was Daniel O'Neal, of Tolan O'Neal Logistics. Mr. O'Neal, well known and respected in the Seattle public and private sectors, presided over the Interstate Commerce Commission during the deregulation of the trucking industry in 1978. Since then, Mr. O'Neal had held several important private sector positions. Mr. O'Neal was nominated by the Seattle Chamber of Commerce to sit on the PSRC Transportation Policy Board as an ex-officio member.

While Mr. O'Neal was involved with the Transportation Policy Board, he started to raise the issue that many planning discussions taking place were ignoring freight considerations. Along with representatives from the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma, as well as Peter Beaulieu, a PSRC staff member, Mr. O'Neal was influential in getting PSRC staff to focus more on freight and goods movement issues.

To decide the state of freight planning in their region, PSRC commissioned Transmode Consultants in 1992 to conduct a study on their planning practices. The report found that PSRC needed to improve its regional freight movement data, and that there was a need for regular input from private freight sector representatives in the planning process.

In 1993, the Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (RTA) was attempting to solicit the input of the freight industry. However, the group had only convened once. The list of invitees for the RTA effort was in the custody of the EDC, a nonprofit public/private coalition with members such as Boeing, King County, the Port of Seattle, and Microsoft.

Formation of the Roundtable

Therefore, as part of the effort to update the Metropolitan Transportation Plan, PSRC decided in 1993 to form the Freight Mobility Roundtable with the assistance of the EDC. PSRC believed prospective freight sector members would be more interested to participate if the EDC was seen as a viable co-sponsor. A list of invitees was crafted based, in part, on the previous efforts of WSDOT and the RTA. PSRC also solicited advice from their consultants, Tom Harvey of Harvey Consultants and Paul Roberts of Transmode.

On December 17, 1993, the co-sponsoring agencies sent members of the private freight sector an invitation to attend the first meeting of the Freight Mobility Roundtable. The invitation stated the expressed purpose of the Roundtable was to develop the regional "freight and goods" element of the Metropolitan Transportation Plan for Regional Council adoption in March 1995. The invitation also laid out a preliminary work schedule that ran through September.

The PSRC Program Manager to the Roundtable sent a memo on January 4, 1994 to prospective members that cited the opportunities the Roundtable effort presented. These included creating new public/private partnerships, helping to develop the IMS and CMS, increasing private freight sector influence on how transportation funding is allocated, and increasing the public sector's responsiveness to the private freight sector's needs.

The Freight Mobility Roundtable convened for the first time on January 14, 1994. Daniel O'Neal was selected as Chair of the Roundtable. The Roundtable meets once every two months at a legal firm that donates space to the Economic Development Council, starting at 7:30 a.m. and ending at 9:00 a.m. The bimonthly meetings are for special interest topic presentation, discussion and debate, and decision making. The Roundtable also has several working task forces that meet by teleconference. Since the May 18 meeting, these working groups focus on near-term issues raised at the Roundtable meetings. Some working groups include the TIP Task Force, a task force to help define the Roundtable Mission Statement, the Communications of Education Working Group, and the Mainline Railroad Task Force.

Roundtable Membership

Table 1 shows the breakdown of public and private freight sector members at the time of this study. To illustrate the makeup of the private freight sector participants, Table 2 breaks down their membership by category. Figures for these tables were taken from the Freight Mobility Roundtable Mailing List.

Table 1. PSRC Freight Mobility Roundtable Membership

Variable Frequency Percentage
Private sector 67 68.4
Public sector 30 30.6
Other 1 1.0
Total 98 100.0

Note: Private freight sector reqpresentatives include carriers, shippers, associations, Chambers of Commerce, specialty transportation service providers and private consulting firms. Public sector representatives are defined as people representing government agencies, "Other" includes academic and non-profit institutions.

Table 2. PSRC Freight Mobility Roundtable Membership, Private

Variable Frequency Percentage
Carriers 23 34.3
Shippers 25 37.3
Associations 7 10.4
Service Providers 3 4.5
Consultants 9 13.4
Total 67 99.9

Notes: Because of rounding, the cumulative percentage is less than 100 percent. Associations include industry associations and Chambers of Commerce. Service providers include drayage firms, logistics firms and stevedores. Mission and Objectives of the Roundtable

As created and approved by its members in February 1995, the Roundtable's mission is:

The objectives of the Roundtable are to:

Roundtable Role in the Planning Process

As a group under the EDC, the Roundtable has no direct decision-making authority in the MPO transportation planning process. Through its meetings and discussions, the Roundtable can advise PSRC staff on the significance of certain projects and their impact on freight movement. The Roundtable also plays a role in prioritizing projects. Therefore, in its advisory role, the Roundtable can influence policy and provide input on freight issues to the PSRC Transportation Policy Board. As mentioned previously, several Roundtable members sit on this Board and the Executive Board. These include Daniel O'Neal, chair of the Roundtable, and representatives from the Ports of Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett.

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During the first year, the Freight Mobility Roundtable had three main initiatives: establish a dialogue and a communications vehicle for the private freight sector, data development, and review and recommendation of regional freight policies. Dialogue with Private Freight Sector The most valuable outcome of the Roundtable effort has been the voice the private freight sector has gained in the MPO planning process. PSRC wanted to know from the private freight sector what the area's major transportation problems were. However, PSRC also asked the private freight sector to suggest solutions for these problems, making the private freight sector involved in the formation of the regional transportation policy.

At the first meeting of the Roundtable, the three areas of greatest concern to the private freight sector were:

Concerns raised in this discussion, and others in subsequent meetings, were noted by Roundtable staffers and used to create a rough draft of the MTP freight element. One role of the staff is to record and retain all points brought up in the free-flowing discussions, so that if current issues make past comments relevant, the Roundtable can go back to those comments.

The Roundtable discussions were held in the presence of the region's major transportation implementation agencies, such as the counties and WSDOT. By doing so, the private freight sector could influence and educate the public sector agencies on goods movement issues.

To facilitate discussion, PSRC and its consultants strive to make Roundtable meetings as pleasant and convenient for its members as possible. The meetings are held in central locations in the city of Seattle. The bimonthly, 7:30-9:00 a.m. meeting time ensures the members can attend with minimal interference in their businesses' day-to-day operations. Such respect for the Roundtable members and their time has helped to ease discussion at the meetings.

Roundtable members, as well as other transportation groups, used the early meetings as a forum to enlighten the private freight sector on other major freight projects and actions being undertaken in the region:

Data Development

One of the Roundtable's first tasks was to assist Transmode Consultants in forming the PSRC technical planning process for freight movement. During the first year, Transmode and PSRC made several presentations at Roundtable meetings to solicit advice about potential data collection and analysis strategies, types of data to collect, and ways to measure performance. The process resulted in two major reports published at the end of the first year that outlined the PSRC data collection and analysis effort. Freight Information System

Consultants have proposed a relational database on freight movement called the Freight Information system. The system could consist of data from some of the following sources:

This strategy hopes to use these sources -- which use different scales -- to produce a "mosaic" picture of regional freight movements that correlates to and can be laid upon PSRC's existing passenger data analysis network. Using the County Business Patterns, Transmode creates truckload numbers based on the number of employees in a firm. These numbers become estimates of how much is being produced and will want to go on the road from one place to another. Then these numbers are compared with the Dun and Bradstreet database to identify where the movements are in the county.

Freight Shipper Survey

As part of the proposed Freight Information System, Transmode and OMG Consultants conducted a survey of eleven hundred shippers in the region in early 1994. The Roundtable reviewed a draft of the survey form at the first Roundtable meeting before the survey was conducted. To help improve the yield of the survey, Transmode also conducted interviews with companies who were part of the Roundtable: Boeing, Weyerhaeuser, and the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma. The results of the survey were presented to the Roundtable in May 1994. The input of the Roundtable members will allow Transmode to make design changes on future surveys. Modeling Efforts

Besides the Freight Information System, consultants also proposed a freight modeling element to complement its passenger modeling efforts. According to Transmode, PSRC's current passenger model inadequately measures truck traffic. The model estimates trip production of truck trips based on trips per acre, number of dwelling units, or total employment for the urban area as a whole. However, Transmode suggests trip production is in fact more closely related to employment category rather than land use.

As listed in the report, there are four different types of freight traffic:

Transmode and PSRC recognize that any new model should focus on local distribution traffic, with some attention paid to shorthaul extraregional traffic. Local distribution traffic is the most common type of freight movement in the area -- up to 70 percent of truck miles driven. Most local distribution traffic is radial in nature: trucks go from a distribution warehouse to manufacturers and retailers who buy their products, ending back at the warehouse. Other radial freight movements include the consolidation/de-consolidation of package carriers, airfreight companies and LTL, as well as draying cargo for rail and the pickup and delivery of ship containers. Performance Measures

In addition to consulting on the relational database and modeling effort, the Roundtable has identified several freight-related actions characterized by one or more of the following general measures:

However, PSRC and the Roundtable have not developed a regional consensus on how to use these measures, since each measure has different interpretations for each transportation provider and mode. Freight performance will be included in the PSRC's broader Performance Monitoring Program and Congestion Management System. Recommendation of Regional Freight Policies

PSRC and their consultants realized that the private freight sector is very results-oriented. Showing the private freight sector that PSRC could provide short-term improvements in service was important. Some problems could be acted upon immediately. For example, Boeing said it was having difficulty obtaining permits for transporting its oversized loads through the region. UPS mentioned the problems they had with several municipalities over curbside management. PSRC could act upon the curbside management problems, as well as put Boeing representatives in touch with state level officials to facilitate their permit process.

For issues that required further planning, the consultants 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 U.S. DOT. The list is organized as an "Action Matrix." A copy of the Action Matrix is in the Appendix.

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 in identifying the crucial issues and developing 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. Regional Freight Mobility Conference

In order to showcase the Action Packages report to a larger audience of transportation professionals, PSRC and the Roundtable co-sponsored the Regional Freight Mobility Conference in Seattle on September 13, 1994. The conference attracted more than 160 participants from all levels of government and the private freight sector. Four sessions were held during the conference: a regional "town meeting," led by leaders from the private freight sector; and three panel sessions held on the federal context, state and regional cooperation, and a synthesis section..

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The first draft of the MTP was sent to the PSRC Executive Board in December 1994. At its December 2 meeting, the Roundtable formed a Task Force to respond to the draft MTP at a public hearing to be held February 2, 1995. Janet Neely of USF Reddaway presented the Roundtable's testimony at the public hearing. Among their comments and concerns, the Roundtable expressed their desire to give freight projects more direct access to the PSRC project selection process, and that the Executive Board members and their technical staff could use the Roundtable as a "sounding board for policy and project proposals." Input on Regional Project Funding Procedure

Members of the Roundtable discovered getting funding for certain freight transportation projects was an uphill battle. Because there was no dedicated ISTEA "pot" of "freight money," freight-related projects had been competing for PSRC TIP funds. All TIP funding was thrown into one "pot," which transportation projects competed for under a list of criteria established by a combined staff group of the four counties.

However, projects with large geographically dispersed economic impacts did not score well according to the locally-oriented evaluation criteria. For example, an expansion project at the Port of Seattle may result in a large economic gain on a regional and national scale, but would have very little significance at the local level. The Port project, consequently, would be at a disadvantage against projects with significantly less overall, but more concentrated economic impact. Because these "regional" projects required large amounts of funding, and because the four member counties were trying to maximize the number of projects funded for their areas, regional projects were often pushed aside.

In 1995, PSRC changed the funding procedure. Under the new plan, TIP is split roughly in half. The first half of the money goes to a regional "pot," where projects with regional-level impacts could compete. Furthermore, there is no limit as to how much funding each project can request within the total funds available. The remaining half of the PSRC money is divided up between the four member counties, who then debate internally how to best allocate their funding. The creation of a regional "pot" allows counties to think more on a regional basis, and allows PSRC to develop corridor-level planning strategies.

The Roundtable helped to lobby the Transportation Policy Board and Executive Board for this change in funding. The Roundtable's TIP Task Force held a teleconference in late 1994 to create a recommendation to the Regional Policy Evaluation Committee. This issue was also raised in the Roundtable's testimony at the Draft MTP Public Hearing on February 2, 1995. Partly because of the efforts of the Roundtable and several other parties, the new TIP funding procedure was adopted for 1995. Speakers Bureau

At the May 12, 1995 Roundtable meeting, the Communications and Education Working Group presented the idea of a Speakers Bureau. Roundtable members would volunteer to give talks before various organizations in the region, such as Kiwanis Clubs and Rotarys, to educate them on freight movement policy and the Roundtable. This effort aims to "put a face on freight," creating a more visible, positive image for freight providers while facilitating two-way education between freight and the public.

The Roundtable drafted a presentation for members to present, which among other things, detailed the process of getting a box of Cheerios to the supermarket's shelf. During October and November 1995, Janet Neely of USF Reddaway made presentations before the Altrusa Club of Puyallup, WA, the South King County Advisory Transportation Board, and the Transportation Practitioners Group. However, Neely suggested that for future presentations, members should speak before some non-transportation groups. Presentations should also be conducted with two people -- a private freight sector representative and a staff member from either PSRC or the EDC -- to better field audience questions. Freight Action Strategy for the Seattle-Tacoma Corridor (FAST-Corridor)

The first action listed in the Action Package is to develop a rail/highway separation program for the Kent Valley, South Kingdome, and Tacoma Dome (D Street) areas. To fulfill this action, PSRC and WSDOT are sponsoring a multi-modal study of the I-5 corridor that connects Tacoma to Seattle and Everett, with the Roundtable in a consulting role. The FAST-Corridor will have both a project and a systems focus, and will foster new public-private partnerships. One of those partnerships will be an agency staff Work Group consisting of representatives from PSRC, WSDOT, the Ports, and the affected counties and cities. The Roundtable will be consulted on the formation of the Working Group. To help implement the findings of the study, PSRC is prepared to amend the MTP, the six-year Action Strategy and the three-year TIP element.

To begin, the study will determine the condition of freight movement in the Corridor. The Working group will address a long-term strategy for the Corridor and define roles for each of the travel modes and actors. As a result, the FAST-Corridor study will produce a list of project proposals to address the identified problems, ultimately resulting in a short list of project actions. PSRC hopes to help integrate the several freight projects that are currently underway into the FAST-Corridor process, such as the North Duwamish Intermodal Access Project and the Port of Tacoma's mainline rail study. The FAST-Corridor study has a three-pronged strategy:

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A primary purpose of this case study is a better understanding of the private freight sector's perspective on involvement in transportation planning and policy-making efforts of MPOs. Nine individuals from the Seattle area, most of whom are Roundtable members, were interviewed for this purpose. These nine indivuduals, listed below, represent several major Seattle-area shippers, water and motor transport carriers, intermediary transport service providers, and the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma.

A questionnaire was developed to guide each of the interviews. The questions sought to identify:

Factors Motivating Involvement in Public Sector Freight Planning Efforts

A variety of reasons were given by the private business sector interviewees for their participation in public sector freight planning efforts. While individual expressions varied, the most common themes motivating involvement were:

Improving Freight Awareness in the Public Sector and Among the Public At-Large

An overall perception among those interviewed was that in the early 1990s, the public at-large, including planners and elected officials, had little familiarity with or understanding of freight transport and logistics operations nor of the impacts public transport policies may have on those operations. Similarly, the freight community, in general, was not acquainted with the public planning, programming, and policy-making processes driving public investment in transportation infrastructure. With the exception of a few port and rail-crossing related issues, there traditionally had not been a voice for freight interests in these public processes. Thus, when the invitation came from the EDC and the PSRC to join the Roundtable, a large measure of the motivation for participating came from a desire to improve the visibility of freight interests in public forums. Opportunities mentioned for improvement included:

Assessing the impact or benefits of transportation infrastructure improvements from a goods movement perspective traditionally has not been a major concern of regional planners. Relative to other interests, such as, mass transit, elderly, cycling, and pedestrian groups, freight has not been well organized to have their interests heard or represented in public planning processes.

Most of those interviewed pointed, with some frustration, to the large level of funding channeled to bicycle facilities relative to the funding focused on improvements for freight mobility as an indicator of the need to be more involved in public planning. The importance of organizing to improve the effectiveness of that involvement became apparent to one individual who, after attending several meetings realized that when public planners were talking about "intermodalism," they meant passenger transportation. While there was philosophical and conceptual recognition from the planners that freight was important, their attention was almost solely on passenger transport because (1) they were generally unfamiliar with freight transport and (2) the people they had input from were passenger transport advocates.

The success of the bicycle community in securing infrastructure funding demonstrates the effectiveness of knowing how the MPO funding process works and of organizing effectively to be visible and heard in that process. Interests that don't participate and present their concerns in public processes will rarely receive proper attention from public organizations that have so many other interests clamoring for attention. Establishing an awareness for freight among major policy decision makers

Before the formation of the Roundtable, freight industry representatives involved with PSRC's Transportation Policy Board noticed that policy decision makers of the region simply did not talk about freight in the course of debating policy choices. There did not appear to be a deliberate bias against freight, just an absence of dialogue. Members of the Roundtable intend to change this situation by increasing policy maker awareness of freight issues important to the region and by educating public decision makers on the impacts public policy choices have on freight transport. It is hoped these efforts will produce a policy making environment such that in the course of policy debates, one or more members of the policy board asks, "What do the freight people say about that?" Educating the general public on the positives of freight

There was an expression of need to develop for public consumption the positive impacts a well-functioning freight system has on society, particularly from an economic perspective. Those interviewed generally believe that the public at-large does not have a clear understanding of the relationship between the ability to move freight efficiently into, out of, and through the region and the quality of life that the region enjoys. In contrast, the public is acutely aware of the negative side of freight, either from personal driving experiences or from the publicity truck and rail accidents receive. There also has been some negative publicity toward trucks as an alleged major cause of traffic congestion.

A desire to change this negative public image is another common factor motivating those interviewed to become involved in the Roundtable. These individuals want to convey freight's importance to the regional economy and its importance as an employer. For them, it is also important to raise the public's appreciation of the way infrastructure problems and regulatory decisions affect the private freight sector's cost and manner of doing business. Concern Over the Effects of Traffic Congestion

The Puget Sound Region, due to increased population growth and its topography, is experiencing very heavy traffic congestion, especially in downtown Seattle, over the major bridges and along the I-5 corridor between Seattle and Tacoma. Several trucking companies have adjusted their delivery schedules to avoid bottlenecks during peak hours. An employee of a major dairy mentioned a congested location named South Center Hill, where two major intersections meet. Deliveries are scheduled to avoid southbound traffic during the worst periods in the morning and evening. According to the member, when a delivery vehicle and its driver have operating costs of $70 per hour, why place them in a situation where it takes an hour to go three miles? Another Roundtable member from a delivery company concurs, saying that their drivers are making more night deliveries to malls and strip malls rather than having drivers sit in traffic.

However, not all businesses can afford the luxury of delivering at night. Many stores of a major supermarket chain are subjected to noise ordinances, meaning trucks can only make deliveries during daylight hours. According to a company representative, forcing trucks to make deliveries over the congested roads results in higher operating costs, higher labor costs, and reduced safety.

Concern Over Possible Public Actions in Response to Congestion

Commuter rail proposals

One possible way to provide travel alternatives to the region's congested roadways is building a commuter rail line that shares existing track currently utilized by the major freight railroads. This is part of a braoder mass transit, light rail and high occupancy vehicle ten-year plan approved by the voters on November 5, 1996. The rail system could affect some member companies in different ways. For instance, prior to the final proposal, the Roundtable representative of a major aircraft manufacturer said the commuter rail line would have exacerbated an already chronic problem by tying up more rail crossings during the day, affecting delivery times. The Port representatives needed to make sure their freight railroad customers had sufficient windows to operate within. According to some proposals, commuter rail operation on a portion of the Seattle-Tacoma mainline would result in headways of only thirty minutes, when most container trains would be fortunate to get underway in about forty minutes. The Ports wanted to avoid freight blackout periods. In contrast, an employee of a food delivery company was discouraged by an earlier rail proposal's defeat, believing that commuter rail would alleviate congestion more effectively than other "band-aid" measures such as buses and HOV lanes. In May 1996, at the invitation of the Regional Transit Authority, a Roundtable task force was formed to review and comment on the commuter rail proposal. Thses comments were supportive and helped set the stage for cooperative actions in the future.

Truck and container parking

The lack of adequate space to park vehicles and/or temporarily store cargo causes aggravation for several companies in the area. A truck operator talked about the difficulties in the Bellevue-Kirkland area, where operators may have to find a place to park one of their trailers while they deliver the other trailer to a customer. Drivers and trailers are frequently ticketed or kicked out of spaces. One solution is to rent space from various companies, but the land's availability is usually temporary. In addition, Port representatives mentioned the difficulty of truck and container parking around their facilities. Daytime truck ban

The city of Los Angeles, responding to concerns about congestion in the city, attempted to impose a ban on truck deliveries during the day. As a result, some members of the Roundtable wanted to prevent PSRC from trying to pass a similar measure for Seattle. The representative of a major dairy company emphasized such a knee-jerk reaction would wrongly victimize trucks as the easily-remedied cause of all congestion, which is untrue, especially because truckers make every effort to deliver around congested areas. Additional issues

Other company-specific concerns of Roundtable members include the following:

"Corporate Citizen"

Another reason why some members joined the Roundtable was to play the role of "corporate citizen:" fulfilling their civic duty to assist the public sector on goods movement planning. Some individuals and companies are involved in public activities by nature. In Seattle, this would include the Port representatives and the employee of the major liner company. Daniel O'Neal is an example of someone who is a major national figure and an experienced leader of national organizations. Other members are invited by the two previous types of people, either because they are friends with the members or their company plays a critical role in the region's freight movement. Examples of these people include the representatives of the major aircraft manufacturer (the region's largest employer and exporter) and a wood and paper company.

Opportunity to Network with Other Companies

Finally, some members liked the idea of interacting with other transportation providers and shippers in the region. The Roundtable would provide a forum for members to meet with and share problems, experiences, and best practices with other area transportation managers. Members could gain insight on different perspectives and find common ground on other issues with people they may not associate with during the course of their regular business.

However, the shipping line representative points out that although he enjoys talking with the region's other managers, he is wary about discussing his business with one of his competitors. The member says that one danger of participating with the public sector is that the government may interfere with competition, giving one business an advantage due to an infrastructure improvement. If another shipping company was present on the Roundtable, the member would be loathe to discuss his company's logistics or business strategy. Benefits of Involvement

If there is one major benefit the private freight sector has reaped from the Roundtable over the past three years, it is a change in perception. Freight transportation has reached new levels of understanding among the public, the regional decision makers, the regional planners, and the Roundtable members themselves. The Freight Mobility Roundtable is the vehicle which enabled this change of attitude to happen. Influence Over the Public

First, the Roundtable provides the private freight sector with a "soapbox" that can be used to educate the general public on why the freight sector operates as it does and when it does. The shipping line representative said the Roundtable helps to deflect some of the freight-inhibiting proposals that periodically arise in the public sector. For example, one proposal that sometimes arises is to load shipping containers at night, which would eliminate trucks from the roadways during the day and allow greater commuter movement. However, as the shipping line employee points out, the Port's longshoremen, draymen and stevedores prefer to work the same daylight hours as everyone else. Therefore, there would not be much point to deliver a container at night with no staff to unload it.

Roundtable members also appreciate the Speaker's Bureau, which allows members to communicate with businesses unaware of PSRC, the Roundtable, or the impact freight has on the local economy. As an example, according to an employee of a major supermarket chain, the Speakers' Bureau is a valuable mechanism for increasing public awareness about:

The Roundtable is trying to get their message out by talking with groups such as transportation clubs, the Council of Logistics Management, and the Transportation Practitioners. Influence Over Decision Makers

Until recently, the employee of the aircraft manufacturing company was disillusioned about the ability of the Roundtable to influence the region's policy decision makers. However, one day he turned on the radio and heard a local politician discussing how important it was to keep freight moving efficiently in and throughout the Puget Sound region. This showed that politicians do talk about freight as a top-priority issue, in a positive manner. Today, public sector transportation people rarely leave out freight when they talk about transportation.

One reason for the attention paid toward freight was the Transmode commodity flow study. By documenting the level of freight flow in the region and showing the impact freight has to the local economy, the Transmode study excited a lot of people who knew little about freight. To maintain and reinforce this new way of thinking, the political lobbyists of some of the members of the Roundtable are working to convince their political allies on the importance of freight movement.

The Roundtable itself is a valuable communications vehicle to carry the freight industry message to public sector decision makers. As a forum for exchanging information, problems, and ideas, the Roundtable is filling a necessary role in the public involvement process. Freight sector representatives can talk about subjects seldom discussed in the public sector, such as sensible logistical management. Therefore, according to the supermarket representative, the Roundtable should continue for as long as it effectively fills that role. Effect on Roundtable Members

The private freight sector members are quite pleased their efforts have made an impact on the members of the public sector. However, the education process has been a two-way street: several members of the Roundtable have gained a better appreciation of the way freight moves through the region and how the planning process works.

The employees of a major supermarket chain says that prior to his involvement in the Roundtable, he thought that few other companies had the same kind of problems his firm faced. By using the Roundtable as a discussion forum, the employee now realizes many other firms face similar problems. This discussion and networking has resulted in several proposed solutions to internal transportation problems, as well as new business opportunities. For example, the aircraft manufacturing employee and the wood and lumber company employee developed a dialogue that resulted in the lumber company bidding for the rights to haul away the aircraft manufacturer's recycled waste paper. The contract was eventually won by the lumber company.

The supermarket employee also gained a better appreciation for the public planning/political decision making process itself, particularly the longer time-frame for decision making and action required by the public sector. In order to keep the private freight sector involved in freight planning efforts, it is important for the private sector to understand why the planning process lasts as long as it does.

Another point discovered from the Roundtable is that passenger transportation and freight transportation are seamless components of the overall transportation system. For instance, even though freight providers bemoan the fact that $25 million is being spent on bicycle paths, Mr. O'Neal recognizes the Council is trying to provide a safe and alternative avenue for passengers, which will lead to better movement of freight along the roads. Roundtable Role in Project Selection Process

The member from the Port of Seattle was pleased when their North Duwamish project was listed in the 1994 MTP. However, for the most part, the planning documents produced from the freight planning efforts have not produced any direct benefits for individual companies. For example, the aircraft manufacturer was already aware of when the congested periods of the day occurred and had been scheduling around these periods. The planning documents have not helped this company to schedule better.

Instead, the benefits of the freight planning efforts are being realized in the sense that the impacts of potential policy changes, infrastructure capital improvements, traffic operations projects, etc. on freight transport are now evaluated in the planning process. For example, when the public planning organization evaluates the addition of an HOV lane, included in that evaluation is the impact of the project on freight movement in the region.

As a result, there will probably be changes made in some major transportation projects. For instance, some commuter rail proposals, which would involve 37 grade crossings between Seattle and Tacoma in an area that has very dense movement of both passengers and goods, would now be sensitive toward maintaining free flowing movement of both passenger and freight traffic, both rail and road. Instead of planners and Roundtable members thinking that passenger and freight transportation are separate enterprises, they realize the two systems are interrelated.

The Roundtable has also strived to change its point of entry into the TIP process. Mr. O'Neal believes it is important to get involved in the TIP process at an earlier stage, before the package comes before the Executive Board for a vote. Once a TIP list has been voted on, adjusting the list and changing priorities requires a major effort. Therefore, some Roundtable members now sit on a TIP committee, established by the Transportation Policy Board, that develops the Transportation Improvement Plan. Members include the wood and lumber company, some trucking firms, and the Ports.

Despite the influence over the planning process, a private sector company cannot singlehandedly propose a project and submit it for approval by PSRC. Sponsorship by some public sector organization is required. O'Neal believes it should be made easier to propose projects.

The exceptions to this rule are the Ports, which, as semi-public organizations, are capable of sponsoring their own projects. One Port representative believes the Roundtable still does not translate the needs of the truckers into projects submitted for evaluation. As a possible solution, the representative suggests finding a way for the region's three major ports to contribute some of their regional project development funds. Furthermore, the Roundtable should help convince the suburban municipalities affected to advocate these projects.

However, not all Roundtable members believe that private freight sector companies should have decision-making power in the planning process. One member is not sure if the Roundtable truly is representative of the regional freight community: they were not elected to their position. The shipping line representative believes with decision-making power, companies would tend to favor projects which benefit their specific company. The representative suggests the private freight sector should remain in an advisory role. Developing and Maintaining Freight Sector Interest in the Roundtable Barriers to Involvement Time

Many people in the private freight sector are deeply involved in the day-to-day running of their businesses, making it difficult for them to attend even bimonthly meetings. Two Roundtable members interviewed said they had stopped attending the meetings for this reason. Difference in Time Frames between Public and Private Sectors

Some private freight sector people are impatient with the public sector's long planning time frame. In an industry where long-term planning is six months, compared with a twenty-year plan, maintaining enthusiasm during the course of the planning and political processes is difficult. A representative from a trucking company laments the fact that no action has been taken on an issue he proposed when he first attended the Roundtable meetings.

Unaware of PSRC or the Roundtable

Some freight providers may not know of PSRC, the Roundtable, or the effect each can have on their operations. Competitive Considerations

The ease of serving on an advisory committee with competitors very much depends upon the issue. In some cases, competitors are attracted to protect their competitive positions, that is, participation is motivated by defensive considerations. If the issue is for the common good, then serving on an advisory committee is not a problem. For example, if one railroad had trackage rights over another, then improving grade crossings to allow higher operating speeds benefits both railroads. Harbor dredging is another example. However, it is easier for carriers to talk with shippers about improving operating systems than it is to talk to a competitive carrier. With the latter, or even with public entities such as port authorities, firms must be careful about sharing innovation information that might hurt their competitive position.

Keys to Sustaining Interest Effective Time Management

The fact remains that the public sector, by necessity, has a longer time-frame than the private freight sector. As one Roundtable member acknowledges, many issues discussed at the Roundtable cannot be solved in a single meeting. Therefore, the MPO has to utilize the private sector's time as effectively as possible. PSRC's decision to hold structured, early-morning, 90-minute meetings every two or three months has been accepted by many of the Roundtable members. Furthermore, new speakers are often invited to exchange information, which keeps the meetings interesting and fresh.

Support from the MPO

Because the private freight sector cannot usually spare employees, the burden falls upon the MPO (or an agency such as the EDC) to provide staff support for the Roundtable. Staffing is crucial to hold the entire freight planning effort together. The staff must constantly remain in contact with Roundtable members, informing them of issues, keeping them up-to-date on the progress of proposals, and answering their questions. Publicize Freight Efforts

It is important for the Roundtable to keep their colleagues in the private freight sector abreast of their freight efforts. In addition to the Speakers Bureau, one member suggests taking advantage of the fact that the region has an active Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Council, and Ports. By following the Roundtable's progress, these kinds of groups can keep their members informed and/or get them involved. The Roundtable should also consider publishing articles in trade and industry magazines.

The Roundtable can also lead by example. When asked why they continue to participate in the Roundtable, one member cites the presence of major shippers and carriers also on the Roundtable. Companies like the aircraft manufacturer and the lumber company, along with respected figures like Daniel O'Neal, lend political weight and credibility to the Roundtable. Several members also appreciated the fact that so many shippers were also members of the Roundtable -- their presence is believed important toward creating a truly comprehensive knowledge base of regional goods movement.

Respect Existing Competition

When necessary, the Roundtable and public sector need to carefully assess the impacts on relative competitive positions of the improvements they recommend or make. If a certain issue cannot be resolved because of competition, another option would be to involve local trade associations to work with on issues common to the competitors. Future Role of the Roundtable

At the time of our interviews, the Roundtable was approaching a transition point. According to one member, the Roundtable had about a year's worth of life left if it continued to work only on the current issues identified. After that, new members or new issues would be needed. Therefore, our study team asked the Roundtable members what direction the forum should take in the future. Several members agreed the Roundtable would fulfill certain needs that would remain in the future:

The shipping company representative believed that although major projects such as Stampede Pass project would be very beneficial, the Roundtable's focus should be on improvements that are relatively small in dollar value, but that combined would bring enormous improvements in operating efficiency. Examples include improved rail crossings to allow higher train speeds, as well as addressing weight limits and delays on drawbridges.

Some members had different opinions on how active the Roundtable should be as an advocate of certain projects. A trucking company representative would like to see the Roundtable use its collective political clout to clear up minor problems around the region. One Port representative would prefer the Roundtable to select specific freight projects to champion, then develop faster methods to include them in the TIP. Several large projects exist that the Roundtable may choose to take a position on, including the aforementioned Stampede Pass.

However, several other members of the Roundtable expressed caution over advocating certain projects. Coming off the initial success of the Speakers Bureau, members value the Roundtable's informational, nonpartisan, and non-confrontational role. If the wrong people were offended, the Roundtable's credibility could be seriously affected. The supermarket representative suggested the Roundtable should remain neutral in political debates and not adopt negative positions regarding certain projects or processes.

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The Puget Sound Regional Council, the Economic Development Council, its consultants, and the members of the Freight Mobility Roundtable have been very successful in creating a viable public-private partnership. For other MPO's around the country, many lessons can be garnered from Seattle to improve their own freight efforts.

First, an MPO must be sincere about improving goods movement in their region. MPO's should establish goals for their effort, identify the information they need for their planning process, and understand exactly how this information will be used. If the MPO does not know how they will use their information, they should not have asked for it in the first place. The MPO must also be willing to provide staff to support the effort.

Second, an MPO must realize that the private freight sector operates under fundamentally different time frames and constraints. However, the private freight sector does like several things about the process: networking and interacting with their peers, giving freight a voice in the planning process, educating the public sector about how their business works, and getting support for specific improvement projects. However, for the private freight sector to remain enthusiastic about the process, they must be able to see concrete results. Otherwise, their time can be better spent on their business.

Therefore, the MPO must show how the private freight sector can affect the planning process to improve their businesses. The MPO must also provide some short-term results to encourage the private freight sector to remain in the process, such as the Action Package.

The membership make up of the local Roundtable is a critical factor for success. First, a strong leader must be chosen. He or she must have a positive, balanced attitude about what might be achieved, the time and resources to devote to the group's efforts, and a reputation that will admirably appeal to prospective members. The group should be heavily weighted to private freight sector membership, with public sector or association members aboard only to advise the group. Private freight sector members should include both shippers and carriers.

Since the private freight sector has little time to spare, the MPO should strive to use that time efficiently. The MPO should have set goals and agenda for their freight meetings. PSRC satisfied the private freight sector by scheduling their meetings bi-monthly, before normal business hours, in a central downtown location. By providing an amicable atmosphere, such as having coffee and donuts, the MPO can improve the quality of discussion. If the MPO needs assistance in tracking down the major carriers and shippers in their region for their meetings, they can consult their region's Chamber of Commerce or another economic development agency.

The MPO and the private freight sector should constantly work together to make the freight group productive and beneficial to both sides. A change of focus or an added responsibility can help keep the process interesting and relevant.

Above all, education and communication are the keys to a successful effort. The MPO should help educate the private freight sector on the planning process itself, as well as the acronym-rich language of the public sector. The private freight sector should also be kept updated on the status of their proposed projects. The freight group should also strive to educate the shippers and carriers who cannot come to the meetings, such as what is being done with the Speakers' Bureau, as well as the local political leaders and other public sector representatives.

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1995 Metropolitan Transportation Plan: The Transportation Element of VISION 2020, the Region's Adopted Growth and Transportation Strategy. Seattle: Puget Sound Regional Council, 25 May 1994.

Analysis of Freight Movements in the Puget Sound Region. Seattle: Puget Sound Regional Council and Transmode Consultants, Inc, October 1994.

Freight Trends in the Central Puget Sound Region. Seattle: Puget Sound Regional Council, May 12, 1995.

Beaulieu, Peter. Puget Sound Regional Council, Seattle, Washington. Interview, 11 September 1995.

Beaulieu, Peter et al. Puget Sound Regional Council, Seattle, Washington. Interview, 19 June 1995.

Bennett, Peter. 'K' Line America, Seattle, Washington. Interview, 31 August 1995.

Bevers, Mike. Darigold Corporation, Seattle, Washington. Interview, 1 September 1995.

Chilcote, Paul. Port of Tacoma, Tacoma, Washington. Interview, 19 June 1995.

Economic Development Council of Seattle and King County (WA). Minutes of Meetings of the Freight Mobility Roundtable, 1994-95. (Typewritten.)

Economic Development Council of Seattle and King County (WA). "Regional Freight Mobility Roundtable Response to the Draft Metropolitan Transportation Plan." Testimony presented at the Puget Sound Regional Council MTP Public Hearing, 2 February 1995.

Elmer, Steve. Port of Seattle, Seattle, Washington. Interview, 16 June 1995.

Ficker, John. Weyerhaeuser, Tacoma, Washington. Interview, 19 June 1995.

Harvey, Thomas N. Thomas Harvey Consultants, Inc., Concord, Massachusetts. Interview, 21 December 1995.

Harvey, Thomas N. Two Cases in Metropolitan Freight Transportation Planning: Seattle, Washington. Prepared for the Federal Railroad Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, August 1995.

Linehan, Jack. Safeway, Bellevue, Washington. Interview, 31 August 1995.

Massey, Howard. Viking Freight, Mountlake Terrace, Washington. Interview, 31 August 1995.

O'Neal, A. Daniel. Greenbrier Intermodal, Seattle, Washington. Interview, 16 June 1995.

Planning for Freight Movements in the Puget Sound Region. Seattle: Puget Sound Regional Council and Transmode Consultants, Inc, January 1995.

Port of Oakland, California. Official Statement for the Port of Oakland, California: Revenue Bonds, 1992 Series E, 15 June 1992.

Puget Sound Regional Council and Washington State Department of Transportation. "Freight Action Strategy for the Seattle-Tacoma Corridor (FAST-Corridor): Draft Scoping Paper." Seattle, 16 November 1995.

Puget Sound Regional Council, Harvey Consultants, Inc., Transmode Consultants, Inc. and Ellen Kret Porter. "Regional Freight Mobility Action Packages." 6 September 1994.

Puget Sound Regional Council. Regional Freight Mobility Conference Proceedings. Seattle: n.p., 13 September 1994.

Questad, Gene. Boeing, Seattle, Washington. Interview, 31 August 1995.

Regional Freight Mobility Roundtable. "Regional Freight Mobility Roundtable (Mission Statement)." June 1995.

Regional Freight Mobility Roundtable. "Regional Freight Mobility Roundtable Action Agenda (and June 1995 Status Report)." June 1995.

Roderick, Paul. Nally's Fine Foods, Tacoma, Washington. Interview, 1 September 1995.

Volkert, Brian. WOSCA Freight Forwarding, Seattle, Washington. Interview, 1 September 1995.

"Washington State Transportation Policy Plan: Report to the State Transportation Policy Plan Steering Committee." Olympia, WA: Freight Policy Ad Hoc Committee, 5 August 1993.

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Updated: 4/1/2011
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