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Performance Metrics Used by Freight Transport Providers - page 28 / 35





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W. Cottrell

Cal Poly Pomona


The performance measurement practices of local messenger and small delivery services were not identified during the research conducted for this study. Only one publication, by IBISWorld (an industry think tank), addressed this sector of the freight transport industry. The IBISWorld measures focused on industry performance, and were generally financial. A few measures that might be specific to the sector were discussed in the report, including:

  • Disposable income levels in market service area

  • Number of households in service area

  • Number of businesses in service area

  • Reliability of delivery (particularly critical in this sector)

  • Speed of delivery (also critical in this sector)

  • Accuracy of delivery (also critical; the concern is with correct-address delivery)

  • Internet connections (a measure of competition with traditional messengers and delivery)


Performance measurement in freight transportation is practiced on a broad scale. No uniform guidance on performance measures in freight transport exists, so the measures and applications used in practice lack uniformity. This issue is currently being addressed, in part, by the NCFRP initiative described in the opening section of this report. One finding is that the performance measures used by freight transport providers are not the same ones in use by or of interest to the public sector. A fundamental reason for the different interests is that the industries surrounding the various freight transportation modes were deregulated some time ago, enabling open competition. Although the Surface Transportation Board, Federal Maritime Commission, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and other federal and State agencies regulate some aspects of the freight transport modes, the operators are generally free to function as businesses in a market. Thus, many of the performance measures used by the providers are financial and customer service oriented. Load and haul measures are also commonly used. Employee-related measures are used, as well, although there is little similarity in their forms. Travel speed measures are used, although some providers seem to use financial performance as a consequence of delay, rather than direct measures of delay. Nonetheless, the FHWA has identified average travel speed and travel time reliability as the two key freight transport performance measures. It is anticipated that these measures will “catch on” in the industry, in all of the modes. Now that the measures have been identified, the FHWA has diverted its attention to the data collection technology needed to develop the speed and reliability measures. It is likely that the technologies will need further development before there is widespread implementation of speed and reliability measures.

A second finding is that there are modal differences that, by necessity, require different performance measures. For example, ports keep track of marine vessels that are specific to the type of cargo transported; thus, performance measures such as crude oil tanker calls and dry bulk cargo vessel capacity are used. In contrast, the trucking industry does not similarly record cargo by truck type – the emphasis is toward weight, distance and value. A third finding is that a handful of measures are used by many, if not most, of the providers in nearly all freight transport modes:

  • Average length of haul

  • Operating ratio

  • Revenue per ton-mile

  • Tonnage (total, all loads)

  • Ton-miles or barrel-miles

  • Terminal dwell time or empty miles factor


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