Congestion Hurts Truckers

I have yet to see an article describing truckers or their industry as supportive of congestion pricing. There are several reasons for this. First, “road tolls”, “road pricing”, value pricing”, “road-user-charging”, and “congestion pricing” all sound the same (they’re not) and they all sound like road taxes which is true of “road tolls” but not of “congestion pricing” (however much that may sound like semantics at this point). Second, the possibility that congestion could be reduced without building new roads is barely grasped by most of us and the full implications of congestion pricing are universally undervalued. Thirdly, truckers already pay more tolls than most of us do (and with precious little congestion relief for their dollars). Fourthly, some countries have begin nation-wide, trucks-only road-tolling which seems to single-out the trucking industry (Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Czechoslovakia, do it now and several others are looking at it).

I am not a trucker, so I’d be guessing to say that to many truckers this really has to look like a program with dubious benefits that targets them unfairly. Taken together the history of road tolls for truckers appears to have given them no relief from congestion and very few truck-only routes.

Trucking has been singled out for exclusive tolls for two reasons. First, a truck causes 10 to 400 times more road-bed damage than does a passenger vehicle. In fact, most roads are built to heavy-goods vehicle specifications, so indeed trucks should, and do, carry a heavier tax burden than a passenger vehicle. Second they represent a smaller number of votes than do private motorists. Us private motorists are always happy to see truckers carrying a larger, per vehicle share of the tax burden.

But this has nothing to do with congestion. Road tolls are a tax on the users to build/maintain roads (leave aside allocation of road toll and tax revenues to non-road budgets for this discussion). The German truck toll system is a toll, not a congestion charge. It is a distance-based fee (US 25.6 cents per mile at today’s exchange) and is rebated to German nationals who can show gas-tax receipts from German pumps. Hence, at bottom it is a usage fee (a “tax” if you must) for non-German vehicles for using German-paid highways. Seems reasonable.

In the U.S., there are about 3.4 million truckers (250,000 in Canada). In 2003, the average motorist in the US was delayed about 47 hours per annum during peak hour travel (Toronto’s annual average peak-hour delay is now over 70 hours per motorist). In 2004, the median US trucker salary was $16.11 per hour. If we made the ultra-conservative assumption that the average trucker spends the same absolute number of hours standing in traffic as does the average motorist, then these 3.4 million truckers will cost the industry in the U.S. over $2.6B this year in unnecessary salary (assuming no wage increase since 2004), plus some other sizeable number of dollars in wasted fuel.

But this May 2005 article describes a national (U.S.) shortfall of truckers at 20,000 drivers. If we could get rid of congestion we could offer as much as $130,000 annually to 20,000 men and women to drive trucks. Solves the driver shortfall and provides an astonishing salary package – about 3 times the current average.

Congestion certainly hurts the trucking industry and that industry would do well to start lobbying for congestion pricing and road use charging just to save itself from the automobile.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Driver shortages keep truckers on the road longer, and helps keep them driving faster. How many lives could be saved if the shortages and time pressures were removed? 5000 Americans die each year in accidents that involve tractor trailers, in 44% of these the trucker is to blame. Just cutting that 44% by 20% would save 440 lives. And if there are less cars on the road the absolute value of the number of accidents caused by driver would drop as well.

An acquaintance who is a senior manager in the logistics industry sent me this link. Why would he be noting this? I think old ways of thought are beginning to break up.

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