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Understanding Route Choices That Truckers Make

Published: June 20, 2016

Route Choices That Truckers Make
PHOTO COURTESY OF JOSEPH KIM
Much of the field research for Joseph Kim’s study was conducted at gas and weigh stations, such as the one shown above.

CSULB civil engineering and construction management faculty member Joseph Kim is using a one-year $35,000 grant from USC-CALTRANS to better understand how area truck drivers choose their routes.

The primary goal of the research proposal, titled “Route Choice Characteristics of Owner-Operated Trucks in Southern California Freeways,” will be to enhance private decision-making regarding the route choices of owner-operated truck drivers, explained Kim, a member of the university since 2009. “The focus is on how private truck drivers decide what route they will take through the local highway system.

“The secondary goal of this research project is to provide agencies and truck operators with useful information for benefit-cost analysis of public investment or tolling projects so that current road options can be considered such as high-occupancy toll roads,” he added. “Therefore, the objective of this research initiation grant project is to develop a full research design.”

The focus was on private truck owner/drivers.

“What factors did they consider most in choosing their routes?” asked Kim. “Was it saving time or liability? Was their main concern safety or arriving on time? Is their concern for the road system itself? What factor is the most important to a truck driver when they consider their routes?”

There are many influences on truck drivers besides speed. Most drivers are interested in saving money.

“If our research explains how they can save money, if there is a way they can deliver their goods on time and safely, that is the best idea,” he said. “This is the stage where we hear their voices. Would they be willing to pay more money for that, even if it meant a toll fee? Would the drivers be willing to take a toll road?”

Based on the factors Kim analyzed from survey responses from area truck drivers, he designed a scenario that suggested how drivers choose their routes to the 710 freeway. “How much money would they be willing to pay for the development of a trucks-only road system or even a trucks-only lane?” Kim asked. “Eventually, I hope this report will help transportation planners or CALTRANS policy makers when they think about new road systems or even the allocation of a single lane for trucks. We are looking for a win-win situation where policy makers can develop new road systems so they can solve the traffic jam issue while, at the same time, make it possible for truckers to deliver their goods faster than before.”

Kim feels his USC-CALTRANS research initiation grant will support a project he believes will fill a gap in the literature. “There has been little value of time-oriented research around the choice problem of truck routing,” he said. “The findings of this study will form a foundation for conducting a large-scale research project by providing insight into truck travel patterns. The ultimate goal is to contribute the body of knowledge necessary for good benefit-cost analyses concerning toll roads.”

Compared with other factors such as price, travel time and reliability, the project team will examine whether the most significant factor for truck operators choosing a route is reliability of on-time arrival and whether the value of time is a higher priority in choosing a toll road over a freeway. As a result of this project, the team will expect to identify bottleneck locations by virtue of high travel times and delay, to measure arterial level of service using the average travel speeds and times and to provide travel time data for economic evaluation of transportation improvements.

Students play a big role in Kim’s research. “One of my students is a graduate who is writing his M.S. thesis based on our research,” he said. “Another student assistant is an undergraduate who is studying civil engineering. Students like these are the backbone of this project. Without them, I could not move on.”

Kim feels one of the strengths of his report is its emphasis on field research which was conducted at gas stations and weigh stations. “We would catch the truck driver while they took a break,” Kim recalled. “We would interview some while others filled out survey forms. One of the difficulties was the lack of time. Now we contact the truck drivers over the phone.”

He believes many will benefit from this research.

“For instance, look at the drivers,” he said. “Perhaps what we do will help a CALTRANS planner design a better road system connecting the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to the I5. Maybe this report will help to resolve the traffic jam issue. Truck drivers will be able to deliver their goods faster than before.”

It’s an advantage to be in Long Beach to research trucking, Kim said. “Because our research time is based at CSULB, the area gas stations that serve both the L.A. and Long Beach port truckers are more readily available,” he explained. “It’s an advantage to work in the field. Most of the planning for tomorrow’s roads happens from behind desks. We wanted to go out and meet the drivers. We wanted to listen to their voices. That is how we learned what they need right now.”