Freight is an essential part of the world economy, and goods are largely moved with fossil fuels. But wait times, congestion, idling, and other factors all lead to wasted fuel and air pollution. With U.S. domestic freight expected to double and international freight to triple by the year 2035, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) is spurring development of information systems to improve the efficiency of moving goods.
Thanks to one such system, under development for USDOT by Cambridge Systematics, the Freight Advanced Traveler Information System (FRATIS), truckers from Port Logistics Group visiting L.A.’s busy Yusen Terminal will now get up-to-the-minute information to better time visits. Before using the system, truckers could be left to idle for more than two hours as they wait to receive containers from colorful Rubic’s Cube-like stacks.
The FRATIS L.A. demonstration intends to provide an end-to-end information support system to improve the efficiency of moving freight in Southern California’s “Gateway Region,” so-called because 40% of the nation’s imports and 25% of its total exports pass through the region’s ports. Early testing in the Dallas/Fort Worth area has demonstrated that such “Intelligent Transportation Systems” (ITS) significantly reduce wait times and cut emissions by freight operators. That means savings for freight operators and consumers and safer, less congested highways—all quality of life factors for the 10% of the U.S. population that lives within 100 miles of Yusen Terminal. Pilot programs are also undergoing demonstration in Dallas and South Florida.
The L.A. FRATIS project hopes to reduce fuel consumption and its polluting effects by 15 percent and thus boost the global competitiveness of one of the nation’s busiest ports. This includes minimizing un-needed or half-empty trips for the trucks that move shipping containers. The new software collects, shares, and crunches both public domain and privately collected data—from traffic and weather information to specifics on loads, arrival times and delays—to identify trends and patterns and coordinate the moving parts of a vast freight network to run at peak efficiency. “With the advance information, terminals can pre-plan their moves,” Mike Johnson, president of the Harbor Trucking Association and director of intermodal operations at Port Logistics Group, told the Long Beach Press Telegram. “When you come to a gate, it will direct you to a lane to get you in and out faster.”
Truckers already use technology to get information to avoid delays and identify the best routes. But access to reliable, real-time information is limited because ports have until now only shared information with trucks fitted with matching equipment. The FRATIS pilot project uses Bluetooth, GPS, and other wireless technologies to stream data between travelers, dispatchers, and infrastructure. The software, developed by Productivity Apex, models and predicts patterns by centrally processing data. Most importantly, information will be shared through Web and mobile interfaces with operators and dispatchers throughout the supply chain.
FRATIS is being hailed as a groundbreaking public-private partnership aimed at reducing fuel waste and congestion while improving air quality at one of the nation’s busiest ports. Public-private partnerships, as well as technological solutions, are critical to increasing the efficiency of our transportation infrastructure. And increasing efficiency moves us toward Sustainable America’s goal to reduce oil consumption in the U.S., so we’re hoping this project is a success and can be expanded to more of our country’s busiest ports.