This work is meant to spur on US agencies to engage in interagency collaboration to characterize the actual impacts of freight transportation choices, public policies and investment in infrastructure that best serves a complex array of public interests.
Documentation and open source code for the this BETA version of the External Cost Calculator can be found HERE.
Many thanks to Huajing Shi for volunteering her time and skills to develop this prototype tool.
Additional background document from KansasDOT HERE.
Message to policy makers:
An External Cost Calculator is an Essential Tool that the US currently lacks.
In the US we have a number of sources of data and tools for visualizing that data. US government agencies and partnerships have the USDOT's Freight Analysis Framework that tracks volume and value of freight between origins and destinations and a variety of "distance bands." It is parsed by commodity type, weight, value and mode of transport. The USDA tracks agricultural transport and has used BTS and other data to create excellent visualization tools. The Texas Transportation Institute is funded by the US government to calculate the cost of congestion, and their user interface is excellent. The EPA has the SmartWays program to calculate the impacts of emissions for shippers and is actively partnering with communities and institutions to map health impacts from mobile sources. But these tools and data remain silo'd. They are not synced to "connect the dots" on inherently interconnected issues such as on wear and tear, congestion costs, public health and climate impacts. It is time to remedy this situation.
Now is the time to develop a tool to marshal our data and considerable capacities to assess transportation choices for their cumulative impacts, external costs, potential to delivery of public goods or their infliction of public harms. As the Infrastructure bill is going to unleash hundreds of billions on transportation infrastructure, public interest organizations, planners and policy makers ought to be able to assess the impacts of modal choices. We need to be able to target public investment to reduce harm and manage costs.
Solutionary Rail is particularly interested in the benefit/cost analysis of investment in moving freight by either truck or train. Since January 2021, we have been working with Huajing Shi, Principal Data Scientist for the Port Authority of NY/NJ to create a prototype External Cost Calculator
. Ms. Shi generously volunteered to create a prototype and it is now available HERE. The documentation and source code HERE.
Our prototype tool currently uses formulas from a Kansas DOT Benefit Cost Analysis tool
(developed by their Short Line Rail Assistance program) to process FAF4 data. Ours is an open source tool as should any public resource be. Though only in a "pre-BETA" form it should help others imagine what is possible for the USDOT and other agencies to accomplish were they directed to collaborate.
A fully developed tool (likely backed up by a study that determines formulas, variables, and user needs) would provide the basis for infrastructure decisions in the public interest. It would make impacts of public investment choices and private shipping choices easily measurable. Besides legislators, NGOs and planners, it could provide the basis for "True Cost" calculators to be embedded in online shopping carts and used by customers to assess the "True Cost" of same day and next day shipping choices.
Our request to Congress and the Biden Administration is concrete, achievable, and just makes common sense. The fact that despite all the data that is gathered, and all the studies and resources spent by the public that our federal government is not providing us such a public interest tool borders on inexcusable. The US public, planners, and policy makers deserve this work to be done and the tool available as soon as possible.
The time is now.