By Justine Hu and Finch Fulton

Hu was an External Affairs and Policy Intern and is a current student at Carnegie Mellon’s Public Policy and Management graduate program.
Fulton is Vice President of Policy and Strategy.

In today’s modern intermodal supply chain, there is no way for the government to tell what freight is being shipped where, and where all the major bottlenecks are in getting goods and products from “ship to shelf.” But, this may be changing due to a seriously under-reported development at the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). 

In April, the Department announced the creation of a freight data exchange system to track shipments using information provided by port authorities, ocean carriers, terminal operators, importers / exporters, trucking companies, and warehouses. 

Based on established data trust principles, the Freight Logistics Optimization Works (FLOW) will bring together supply chain participants to develop a proof-of-concept exchange system. The voluntary pilot program will facilitate sharing basic digital freight data to track shipments, measure chassis availability, and record the total dwell time of containers, among other features. 

Although FLOW will be a first in the freight industry, the USDOT is not new to data exchanges. The Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing Program (ASIAS) and the Maritime Safety and Security Information System (MSSIS) both rely on open information sharing to respectively advance aviation safety and shipping security.

The exchange would potentially bring far greater visibility into how freight moves from dock or warehouse to hub or final destination. Agency officials hope it will create big opportunities to ease supply chain congestion, especially for truckers who often waste hours waiting for loads. 

The announcement comes amidst a series of ongoing efforts by the White House to address longstanding challenges in the trucking industry. Recently, the USDOT released its Supply Chain Assessment of the Transportation Industrial Base: Freight and Logistics, a 141-page report detailing industry-wide growth and disruptions. And with the demand for freight expected to grow by 40 percent by 2045, the data exchange could be highly impactful for American trucking. 

“If…a truck driver doesn’t actually know when, in a seven-hour window, is the right time to hit the port gate of the warehouse, that has consequences in terms of shipping times, business costs, and very importantly, right now, in terms of battling inflation and prices people are paying,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Along with expected changes to driver overtime pay rules (see our previous blog post, Upcoming Driver Pay Changes Will Reshape the Trucking Industry and Locomation Customers Will Be Ready), the new freight data requirements—if they do become mandatory—will create costly headaches for truckload carriers and shippers. These moves could lead to a greater understanding of how much carrier and driver time is wasted waiting for cargo to be loaded and unloaded, as well as shippers being responsible for paying drivers by the hour. 

As with the new driver pay requirements, Locomation’s customers will find themselves heavily advantaged to handle these new standards because such information will already be collected and made available as part of our Digital Transportation System (DTS).

Despite the potential impact and demand for it in the broader industry, the DOT’s  Supply Chain Assessment does not include any mention of autonomous trucking or automation in general. Complementing the data exchange, Locomation’s human-guided autonomy solution and overall approach to increasing capacity—allowing twice as much cargo to go twice as far, twice as fast—will further help fix the broken supply chain. Nonetheless, we applaud the creation of FLOW, which will benefit autonomous and non-autonomous trucking alike.

As part of our approach to autonomous trucking, Locomation overhauls a customer’s traditional truck operation with a relay model that splits the long haul from local activities. We provide a proprietary freight scheduling technology—DTS—to optimize implementation of this model. We provide the initial assessment, restructuring guidance, data collection, software, and employee training. When implemented, our Digital Transportation System automatically collects and processes large volumes of data about the freight, the trucks, and the drivers in order to plan and schedule various loads running on its system. With this system implemented, the trucks can run nearly continuously over a 24 hour period, day after day, resulting in significant cost reductions and increased capacity. 

The future of trucking is being crafted from the top to overcome data inefficiencies in the supply chain. Locomation’s customers, who will have converted to a data-driven system of maximum efficiency, will have no problem succeeding in the new environment.

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