Improving Freight System Performance in Metropolitan Areas                                                         

National Cooperative Freight Research Program - NCFRP 38


Welcome to the website of the Improving Freight System Performance in Metropolitan Areas Study (NCFRP 38 Project)


Summary of Research Work

During the initial phase of the project, the research team finalized Tasks 1, 2 and 3. These tasks are: 1) Identify and Summarize Applicable Research; 2) Identify Initiatives and Initiate Stakeholder Engagement; and 3) Identify Obstacles and Successes. The research conducted showed that there are significant interrelations between tasks 1, 2 and 3, as the work conducted in Task 1 produced critical inputs to Tasks 2 and 3. To avoid duplication, the results of the three tasks were combined into a single document that was submitted as supplemental material with the interim report. The supplemental report provides a summary of the literature review process and classification of the public sector initiatives identified, the chief findings from the review and a descriptive summary of the initiatives. In addition, the report provides one-page summary or reference forms for each initiative.

To conduct the review process as part of Tasks 1, 2 and 3 the team adopted a holistic view of the urban freight system (UFS) to ensure proper consideration of: the role played by the different economic agents; all the freight vehicle types used in urban areas; and the interconnections between the urban core, and the rest of the metropolitan area. In this context, the report synthesizes and builds on the past efforts, such as those from the related NCFRP and NCHRP research; as well as research experiences from other countries, particularly from the European countries (which were thoroughly reviewed to ensure applicability to US conditions). The comprehensive review of the literature led to the identification of about 43 public sector initiative, which were classified into eight (8) major groups and sixteen (16) subgroups.

To provide a rational way to access the material, the groups were organized as part of a continuum, with supply initiatives at one end, and demand initiatives at the other. Operational initiatives are found in between these end cases. A group of Governance initiatives was included because it provides the framework under which decisions are made and projects implemented. The major groups are:

Infrastructure Management initiatives focus on improving the supply side of freight systems. The group is divided into two sub-groups, major and minor improvements, which differ in the size of the investment required.

Parking/Loading Areas Management includes initiatives that could improve the way the urban spaces used by freight vehicles to pick-up or make deliveries, are used. Both the on- and off-street cases are considered.

Vehicle-Related Strategies consider the role that regulations of vehicle-characteristics could play in a holistic strategy of improvements. The main goal of most of these initiative is the minimization of the externalities produced by freight vehicles. 

Traffic Management initiatives work to improve traffic flow, including those concerning traffic regulation, and traffic control. These initiatives organize or regulate the conditions under which vehicles transporting cargo are allowed to circulate. 

Pricing, Incentives and Taxation considers initiatives using economic/financial mechanisms (pricing, incentives, taxes). In most cases, these initiatives manage demand, improve traffic conditions, or minimize the externalities produced by freight activity.

Logistical Management are the set of emerging best practices that alter the way in which private sector logistics take place, so that commercial activity is more consistent with livability and sustainability goals. 

Freight Demand/Land Use Management initiatives focus on changing the actual demand for freight deliveries, leading to improvements in sustainability and efficiency. This is the freight counterpart of transportation demand management, which aims to reduce passenger traffic. 

Governance discusses best practices concerning outreach to the private sector, collaborative decision-making, and the like. This critical group of activities enables and facilitates the implementation of all of the public sector initiatives identified in the project. 

A one-page summary for each initiative is provided to serve as a quick reference guide. These one-pagers provide: a brief description of the initiative; the targeted mode; geographic scope; group and sub-group of the initiative; objective; expected costs and level of effort to implement; advantages and disadvantages; examples; and references. Examples of the type of objective include:

Reduce Congestion: Public agencies seek to reduce delays by either increasing capacity (which may induce demand and a return of congestion in the long term) or managing demand. This is an important objective because congestion delays are correlated with air pollution externalities, as well as economic inefficiency. 

Environmental Sustainability: The desire is to minimize environmental impacts, e.g., emissions, associated with freight activity. Often correlated with congestion reduction, it is not necessarily a cause and effect relationship, for instance fostering the use of alternative fuels, efficient engines, and electric trucks reduce environmental impacts without impacting congestion.

Enhance Safety: The main intent is to reduce the risk/severity of accidents. This is an important objective, particularly for local communities that tend to think of freight activity as the cause of traffic accidents.

Enhance Security: In this case, transportation decision makers are looking to improve the ability of the freight system to repel security attacks that may compromise life and property, and to enhance the resiliency of the system to manmade or natural threats.

Enhance Economic Competitiveness: The desired intent here is to foster economic activity in the study area. For instance, by means of freight-friendly land use policies, or by enhancing the efficiency of freight related economic activities.

Revenue Generation: Increasingly transportation agencies are seeking to use fees and other forms of payment transfers to generate funds that can enhance the capabilities of the metropolitan area to perform its duties.

Enhance Livability: These considerations seek to preserve the community culture, foster a positive synergy between business and residents, and seamlessly integrate freight activity into the fabric of the local communities.

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