CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
October 15, 2018
Forward Thinking

Commentary: A suggestion for congestion

Comment
Congestion wastes time, fuel, and productivity. There must be a better way to manage our infrastructure.

All of us have found ourselves sitting in traffic thinking there must be a better way to travel than inching along staring at the bumper in front of us.

With populations increasing and migrating to cities, the problems brought on by traffic congestion are only getting worse. Last year, auto and truck drivers in North America logged an all-time high of 3.2 trillion miles, much of that in traffic. Congestion wastes some 2 billion gallons of fuel annually. It adds to pollution, raises the risk of accidents, and increases insurance rates for cars and trucks alike.

According to Inrix Research, congestion on our roads last year cost Americans $305 billion. That's $10 million more than the price tag in 2016. If you live in Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Atlanta, or Miami, you know firsthand what it's like to sit in traffic. Those are five of the 10 cities with the worst traffic congestion in the entire world.

Of course, trucks must also travel in that traffic. With about 12 million trucks on U.S. roads, congestion causes an estimated 996 million hours of delay in moving our goods annually, according to financial services specialist Express Freight Finance.

Distribution trends also contribute to congestion. As companies move their DCs closer to population centers to reach customers faster, their goods must move on the same overburdened roads.

So, is there a better way? I think the answers lie in automated vehicles and wired networks.

Imagine a system where traffic flow is controlled automatically. Cars talk to a central network that routes them to their destination along the most efficient and direct travel path. Sensors in the roadways exchange data with each vehicle to aid in regulating travel.

The cars would also network with each other, so that they can adjust speed, make turns, and travel with much less distance between them than would be possible with manually operated cars. Traffic would flow seamlessly, with very few stops.

Yes, I realize there will be pushback from drivers who do not want to turn over control of their vehicles to computers. Yet we have landed airplanes for years by computers. Our railroads are now being equipped with Positive Train Control technology to regulate their speed and positioning. The same can happen for our highways.

I wonder how far we could get if we were able to take some of that $305 billion we waste annually sitting in traffic and invest it in technology that has the potential to save lives, time, and fuel, while making our overwhelmed infrastructure vastly more productive.

David Maloney is editorial director of CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly.

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