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Transportation, Supply Chain & Logistics Trends Analysis, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

¹ Video Tip
For our brief video introduction to the transportation, supply chain and logistics industry, see
Transportation is one of the world’s largest industries. Its sectors range from taxis to trucks, airplanes, trains, courier services, ships, barges, warehouses and logistics services.
In total, during 2015, core transportation revenues in the U.S. will be a projected $974.4 billion according to Plunkett Research estimates. Worldwide, these revenues will be a projected $4.8 trillion. This includes air, rail, water, pipeline, courier and warehousing segments.
At about 6% of total economic activity, transportation’s core sectors add up to a remarkably efficient industry, considering the fact that transportation is a vital service to nearly every other sector of the economy. In fact, thanks to increasing use of advanced information systems and such strategies as intermodal containers (sending freight via containers that are easily transferred from ship to rail car to truck as needed, without repacking), the transportation industry’s productivity is excellent.
Over recent years, globalization placed intense new demands on the transportation and supply chain sector. FedEx, for example, provides a wide variety of freight and package delivery services in 220 nations worldwide, processing 9 million packages daily. Its global fleet includes over 660 aircraft and 100,000 trucks.
Transportation continues to evolve, no matter whether the type of transport involved is on the road, on the sea or in the air. For example, China had only about 200 kilometers of expressways in 1989. Today, it has a massive system of state-of-the-art highways surrounding the nation’s largest cities, in addition to a vast system of new high speed railroads and 100 new airports. India, the world’s second most populous nation, is woefully behind in transportation infrastructure, especially highways, but it has hopes to dramatically boost construction in this regard, with some funding to come from partnerships between public and private entities. Other developing nations, including Brazil, need to place more focus on infrastructure development as well, including ports and airports, or risk seeing their economic growth derailed. Brazil took steps in 2012 to improve its aging major airports by selling a majority stake in three of them (in Sao Paulo, Campinas and Brasilia) to private operators who promised massive investments to modernize them in time for Brazil’s 2016 Summer Olympic Games. The growth in Brazil’s transportation needs has been typical of that in other rapidly emerging nations. Brazil’s air traffic rose by 118% from between 2003 and 2010, nearly three times the global average.
Business and technology trends have driven immense changes in the transportation sector over the past three decades. The information age, with its introduction of sophisticated databases that can track inventory levels and shipments on a global basis via the Internet, has created vast transport and logistics efficiencies. As a result, supply chain technology has been one of the fastest-growing segments in the information field.
Next, the rapid adoption of outsourcing has led many companies, when shipping is vital to their businesses, to turn to logistics services providers for all manner of shipping support, including warehousing, scheduling and distribution services. (These services are sometimes described broadly as “3PL” for Third Party Logistics.) The sectors of transport, supply chain management and logistics services are permanently intertwined, creating efficiencies once undreamed of in the transportation arena.
All nations worldwide face a daunting task in maintaining airports, seaports, highways and railroads that can handle commerce and passenger traffic efficiently. The amount of government funds available for roadway development is never enough to keep up with long-term needs. For example, researchers at Texas A&M University’s Texas Transportation Institute estimate that traffic delays cost the U.S. economy $121 billion in 2011 alone, thanks to billions of man-hours lost to frustrating traffic slowdowns, as well as 2.9 billion gallons of gasoline wasted.
One of the biggest challenges facing the global transportation sector over the mid- to long-term is a focus on lowering carbon emissions and enhancing energy efficiency. Airlines have placed immense orders for fuel-efficient jets like Boeing’s new 787, which promises fuel efficiency gains of 15% to 20% per passenger mile, as well as engines that are quieter and burn fuel in a cleaner manner. Container ship operators are under intense pressure to reduce contamination and emissions while in port and at sea, and the latest designs, such as Maersk’s massive new Triple-E class of ships, are making huge strides in this regard. Automobile and truck manufacturers are struggling to respond to demand for fuel-efficient vehicles.
Tremendous strides in green technology are also being made throughout the transportation services and transport equipment sectors. Lee Schipper, a Senior Engineer at the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center at Stanford University, pointed out that air transportation in developed countries today uses 50% to 60% less energy per passenger-kilometer travelled than it did in the early 1970s, while trucking uses 10% to 25% less fuel per ton-kilometer.
Additional developments in transportation include the use of natural gas or electricity to fuel public transportation, as well as the development of energy-efficient light rail. Natural gas is also slowly becoming a viable fuel alternative for large trucks.
Meanwhile, consumers and government transportation agencies worldwide have a renewed interest in high speed trains and other forms of rapid transit. Trains in many parts of the world are enjoying booming times, particularly in China as well as parts of Africa and Europe. Ridership of public transit is soaring in many cities due to several factors, including traffic congestion and costs of private car ownership, as well as the launch of recent light rail (such as the system in Denver, Colorado) and subway systems (such as new projects in New Delhi and Mumbai, India). The American Public Transportation Association estimates that transit ridership grew by 37% from 1995 to 2013, compared to only 23% in vehicle miles traveled. For 2014, Americans took 10.8 billion trips on public transit, the highest number ever recorded, representing growth of nearly 1% over the previous year. The largest growth for 2014 was seen in light rail, up 3.58%.
Another massive change is the growing interest of governments in outsourcing their transportation infrastructure to private operators and private ownership, often in public-private partnerships. Governments are short of cash. In some cases, they are selling or leasing toll bridges and highways to private operators, reaping cash windfalls in the process. Elsewhere, governments are outsourcing their long-term highway development needs to private operators who build new toll roads, relieving government of the investment burden while potentially creating large profits for the private operators.

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