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A Guidebook for Engaging the Private Sector in Freight Transportation Planning

2. Background

Publication #: FHWA-HEP-09-015 | JANUARY 2009

Prepared for the
U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration

Prepared by
Wilbur Smith Associates
and S.R. Kale Consulting LLC

2. Background

Question. What are some of the recommended "best practices" for engaging the private sector in freight planning activities?

Answer. Best practices to follow will vary among jurisdictions depending on a variety of factors including agency commitment to obtaining input from freight stakeholders, resources available for obtaining input, and private sector interest in and availability for providing input. Section 7 of this guidebook provides examples of how selected state transportation agencies and MPOs have engaged the private sector. Additional examples are found in other guidebooks such as those referenced in Section 2 and in the "Other Guidebooks" section of Appendix 4 in this guidebook

This section of the guidebook summarizes:

The section is intended to provide guidebook users with background information that contributes to an understanding of how their current or future work fits into the bigger picture of engaging the private sector. The project summary report for this guidebook, available on FHWA's Freight Planning website, provides more information about the materials discussed in this section. Appendix 4 provides additional references.

Previous Work on Engaging the Private Sector

A literature review suggests that most of the previous work on engaging the private sector in freight planning has been conducted through the Federal Highway Administration and the Transportation Research Board (TRB). Other groups investigating this topic include the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (AMPO), and various other public transportation planning organizations in the U.S. and abroad.

Much of the previous work focuses on efforts of freight stakeholder groups to engage the private sector in transportation policy, planning, or programming. For example, several presentations made for the FHWA "Talking Freight" series (, summarize private sector input through freight stakeholder groups operating at the state or metropolitan level. Other "Talking Freight" presentations show the results of state transportation agency and MPO freight planning surveys, discuss the role of stakeholder involvement in freight planning, and summarize shipper or carrier perspectives on freight movement.

Two publications from the TRB about freight planning also discuss engaging the private sector as an element of freight planning: 1) National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Report 570 is intended to serve as a "road map" on how to initiate and implement freight planning in small- and medium-sized metropolitan areas; and 2) NCHRP Report 594 provides state transportation agencies and MPOs with techniques to incorporate freight in the planning and programming process, and steps for implementing freight improvement projects. The following discussion provides an overview of the stakeholder outreach discussion found in the two NCHRP reports. A more detailed discussion of these two reports is found in Appendix 4 (Resources).

NCHRP Report 570

Question. For what types of activities should transportation agencies seek private sector involvement and what groups in the private sector should be involved?

Answer. (See "Planning and Programming Activities in Which to Engage the Private Sector" in Section 5 of this guidebook.) At a minimum, freight shippers and providers of freight transportation services should be involved. For more information, see Section 4 of this guidebook: "Who from the Private Sector Should Be Involved?"

The Guidebook for Freight Policy, Planning, and Programming in Small- and Medium-Sized Metropolitan Areas ( includes an extended discussion on stakeholder outreach and partnerships. According to the guidebook, private sector participation helps MPO planning efforts by:

Common outreach/partnership hurdles include different planning horizons between the public and private sectors, personnel turnover in the private sector, time constraints, and proprietary issues. Potential solutions are identified, respectively, as creating quick-fix projects, focusing outreach efforts on major firms in the region, holding focused meetings and outreach events, and understanding and respecting competitive concerns.

The guidebook concludes by presenting case studies showing examples of how small, medium- and large-sized MPOs have addressed freight policy, planning, and programming topics. For a number of MPOs, this includes a discussion of how they worked with the private sector and other freight stakeholders.

NCHRP Report 594

The Guidebook for Integrating Freight into Transportation Planning and Project Section Processes ( identifies seven key elements of freight planning and programming integration:

The bulk of NCHRP Report 594 focuses on techniques for integrating freight within the transportation planning and programming process. Techniques are discussed with reference to four strategies of the transportation planning process: needs identification, plan development, programming, and project development. According to the guidebook, each element is characterized by several basic activities, each of which entails private sector involvement. Private sector involvement is most important for developing a freight industry profile; identifying needs, including hotspots or bottlenecks; and addressing land use issues affecting and affected by freight operations. As part of a "Freight Resource Tool Box," the guidebook provides twenty-three case studies identifying best practices of state and MPO freight planning and programming activities.

International Efforts

Question. What approaches should public sector planners use when trying to obtain proprietary private sector data for the purposes of freight planning activities?

Answer. Public sector planners should seek only those data for which there is a specific need for planning, programming, or project development and implementation purposes. Public sector planners should clearly and explicitly state how the data will be used and how having and using the data could potentially address freight mobility or other freight-related concerns and issues. Planners should not over-promise what will be delivered and should ask only for "need to have" and not "nice to have" proprietary data. Ideally, at some future point in time, the public sector will be able to show how the data helped decision-makers allocate resources better than they would have in the absence of the data.

Internationally, planning agencies in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom (UK) have also developed programs for engaging the private sector in freight. In Australia, several states have established modal freight advisory councils to provide input on the planning, regulation, and operation of freight services. Freight councils serve as conduits between shippers, industry associations, freight service providers, and governments on topics such as road transport efficiency, safety, community, and environmental issues.

A Canadian report—Integration Technologies for Sustainable Urban Goods Movement (—includes a summary of different freight stakeholder partnerships: freight advisory committees in the U.S., freight councils in Australia, and freight quality partnerships in the United Kingdom. The discussion includes a list of reasons why private sector representatives may wish to become involved in such partnerships, including:

In the UK, the national Department of Transport encourages local governments to develop Freight Quality Partnerships (FQPs) involving the freight industry, local businesses, community members, environmental groups, and other interested stakeholders. The Department of Transport has published several reports on the topic, including A Guide on How to Set Up and Run Freight Quality Partnerships ( Among the topics discussed in the guide are:

Much of the discussion is in the context of sustainable freight distribution strategies and the inclusion of freight considerations in local transport plans.

Surveys of State and Metropolitan Area Transportation Agencies

In 2005 and 2007, The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) conducted surveys to identify how states and MPOs were implementing freight planning. The Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (AMPO) conducted a similar survey of its membership in 2003. These surveys suggest that the percentage of transportation agencies with freight advisory committees (FACs) is rising. Surveys conducted in 2007 show that 30 percent of metropolitan respondents and 25 percent of state respondents engaged the private sector through FACs. A substantially higher percentage of respondents indicate they coordinated informally with the private sector, and only a few respondents report having no efforts to coordinate with private sector stakeholders.

Question. Do "best practices" vary by number of transportation agency employees, by population size of the area for which the agency conducts transportation planning, or by some other measure?

Answer. Generally, the larger the agency is, the greater are the availability of resources for engaging the private sector. Relatively more resources may mean that the agency can devote relatively more effort to engaging the private sector. If enough resources are available to enable freight staff to be hired, then over time the agency may be able to undertake a variety of activities to engage the private sector.

In support of developing this guidebook, in 2008 AASHTO and AMPO conducted a survey of state transportation agencies and MPOs. Additionally, the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC) invited its member agencies to participate in the MPO survey. Twenty-six responses were received from state transportation agencies and thirty-one responses were received from MPOs.

More than sixty percent of the respondents reported engaging the private sector in activities such as transportation planning, special studies, and/or networking (Figure 1). Some states and MPOs invite private sector participation through advisory committees or solicit private sector input when developing transportation plans. Private sector input is sought for special studies on a variety of topics including freight data development, multi-state corridor coalitions, truck parking, rail improvements, and intermodal connectors. Formal and informal networking occurs through a variety of practices including advisory committees, open houses, focus groups, feedback forums, listening sessions, town meetings, and one-on-one meetings with freight stakeholders. Networking takes place through formal public involvement processes for the development of transportation plans and improvement programs.

About thirty-five percent of state agency respondents and forty percent of MPO respondents report having some form of freight advisory committee. In some cases, transportation agencies establish formal or ad hoc committees for specific initiatives, which are disbanded when the initiative is complete. In general, freight-related committee meetings represent opportunities for the private sector to:

Advisory committee membership structure for state transportation agencies vary somewhat from the committee membership structure for MPOs. The following groups are the most represented for state agency freight advisory committees: shipper/carrier associations, public agencies, shippers, and carriers. For MPOs, the most represented groups are carriers, public agencies, port authorities/port districts, and shippers. Colleges and universities are among the groups least represented for state agency and MPO freight advisory committees. Several respondents noted they would welcome or are thinking about seeking greater participation from chambers of commerce or economic development organizations.

Figure 1: Reasons that States and MPOs Engage the Private Sector (As Indicated in 2008 AASHTO and AMPO Surveys)

Bar Graph - Click image for data table

About fifty percent of state transportation agency respondents and forty-five percent of MPO respondents said that in addition to committees and advisory groups they use other methods to engage the private sector in freight policy, planning, and programming. Examples include:

Reasons why state agencies and MPOs did not have freight advisory committees include the lack of a perceived need, insufficient funding or staff resources, insufficient interest among private sector stakeholders, and concerns about keeping advisory committee members engaged over time, due in part to differences between public sector and private sector timeframes. Several respondents indicated they were reviewing the establishment or re-establishment of a formal or ad hoc freight advisory committee.

Freight Stakeholder Feedback

Question. How should public sector representatives respond to private sector stakeholders asking why they should devote their time and energy to freight transportation planning activities?

Answer. Responses could include assuring private sector stakeholders that decision-makers will consider their input when developing plans and improvement programs. Private sector stakeholders may be more likely to participate if they believe their input is valued and if they see improvements made to address freight mobility and other concerns.

During 2008, the guidebook project team contacted twelve freight stakeholders currently or previously involved in public sector freight transportation planning activities. These freight stakeholders were asked about their experience with public sector freight transportation planning.

Of the stakeholders contacted, nearly all indicated they were members of a FAC, and several had been involved with transportation plan advisory committees, transportation improvement program committees, special study committees, and/or university-sponsored forums. Most respondents had been involved for more than five years with public sector freight planning efforts. Stakeholders were about evenly divided among shippers/receivers, carriers/service providers, third party logistics providers, chamber associations/economic development groups, and carrier/shipper associations. Stakeholders indicated the following were the activities or meeting topics of interest to them:

Reasons for attending and participating in public sector activities and meetings centered on providing input into the public planning process, making contacts with other freight stakeholders, and obtaining information about key issues or legislation affecting freight transportation, including project funding. Stakeholders reported that they were the most engaged in public forums for freight planning when topics affected their interests, especially their business interests.

Highlights for stakeholders participating in public sector freight planning include seeing their project ideas in planning and funding recommendations. Among the most disappointing aspects of participating in public sector freight planning were:

An underlying theme among the stakeholders was their ability to see their input recognized and taken seriously by public decision-makers. For their private sector colleagues thinking about becoming involved in public sector freight planning, the stakeholders advised them to be prepared to spend the necessary time and energy (which can be significant), keep an open mind, participate and speak up, and share their experiences with other participants. Sharing the experience should include discussion about whether the process was designed to take their input seriously and address topics of interest to freight stakeholders.

Updated: 1/31/2017
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