Even in a down economy, transportation providers are working to improve service levels through new technology. Safety is one area where significant progress is being made, according to Douglas G. Duncan, president and chief executive officer of FedEx Freight Corp. Speaking in San Diego, Calif. at the annual meeting of the Transportation & Logistics Council Inc., he pointed to the use of collision-avoidance systems, utilizing Doppler radar, on every new tractor acquired by the company. Improved dock lighting and anti-rollover devices have further reduced accidents. But the biggest innovation in trucking, according to Duncan, might be the use of the so-called black box-an onboard recorder that monitors every aspect of operations, with the help of satellite communications and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. "We believe it's the wave of the future," he said. In the area of "green" initiatives, FedEx Freight hopes to convert most of its pickup and delivery fleet to electricity through plug-in technology. Solar power will provide at least half of the energy needs at hub facilities in Whittier and Fontana, Calif. The Oakland, Calif., hub of FedEx Express already runs on solar, he noted.
At the same time, said Duncan, the trucking industry faces some serious challenges. Spending on transportation infrastructure is not keeping pace with current needs, let alone projected growth in traffic. "We are not adding infrastructure capacity in any meaningful form and have not for 20 years." By 2020, he added, there will be twice as many cars and trucks on the nation's highways. The impact will be felt first in the supply chain, in the form of congestion, delayed shipments and higher costs for shippers. The worsening situation has already begun to offset many of the productivity gains achieved by logistics professionals over the last two decades, Duncan said. Yet legislators continue to view growing congestion as "an inconvenience, not a restraint of commerce." He called for planners and lawmakers to approach the problem from a multimodal perspective. "We need to coordinate the approach of all modes and include the customer," he said. Duncan also cited energy security and sustainability as issues that must be tackled. Since 1998, he noted, energy costs as a percentage of gross domestic product have doubled. He urged adoption of a national energy policy that would reduce the nation's dependence on fossil fuels, especially oil.
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