Measuring Improvements in the Movement of Highway and Intermodal Freight
Unfortunately, tracking total costs instead of unit costs can be highly misleading. Total costs would be expected to increase due to increased population and economic growth (benefits would also increase: mobility, economic activity, etc.). As a result, rising total costs would be normal effects of an expanding economy. A composite measure of total travel costs is also analytically complex and difficult to develop.
A number of State DOT efforts identified funds expended on highway maintenance on roads of importance to freight or intermodal traffic as an indicator of freight performance. Although investment clearly signifies that priority is being placed on these routes, it is not a measure of freight productivity. It is not clear whether higher or lower maintenance costs is good or bad. More spending on highway maintenance does not necessarily indicate an improvement in road condition; it could indicate wasteful spending.
Safety or Damage Measures
A number of efforts identified safety- or damage-related measures as indicators of highway performance. These include:
insurance cost (for freight)
Loss and damage to cargoes provides a measure of the quality of freight service. A number of earlier efforts identified loss and damage of goods through accidents and pilferage as important aspects of relevance to the productivity and efficiency of freight service.
Accident / Fatality Rates
Accident and fatality rates are general safety measures that are tracked by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) and are already included in FHWA’s performance plan. Most data related to safety focus on the number of fatalities or injuries. The most important concern in regard to freight productivity is the value of goods damaged or lost due to accidents, and potentially greater insurance costs associated with accidents that cause loss of life or injury. Data on these costs are limited.
Cost of cargo insurance could provide a useful proxy for loss and damage. From the shipper’s perspective, loss and damage is an important aspect of quality. As a result, insurance cost is a potentially useful performance measure. There are certain limitations: it reflects factors other than road conditions, e.g., level of driver experience and levels of theft. The proper metric (e.g., cost per ton of cargo) would need to be developed and data