Where's your next roadblock?

April 1, 2005
Agile companies produce their profits by finding and exploiting new opportunities. Their logistics networks are fluid and responsive to allow them this

Agile companies produce their profits by finding and exploiting new opportunities. Their logistics networks are fluid and responsive to allow them this market advantage. It's a fast-paced world with short planning horizons.

In the world of urban planners, transportation needs are evaluated on the basis of historical volumes and predicted growth rates. It's often a slow, methodical process that attempts to plan a decade or two into the future.

There's a major disconnect when the users of critical infrastructure sit down with the planners and designers of those resources. The planners start talking about infrastructure projects to meet transportation needs in 2025. Logistics professionals don't have the luxury of looking 20 years ahead — they need to move freight now. If they're lucky, their planning horizon is 20 months.

The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are a case in point. Think about where we were 10 years ago when planners were projecting continued moderate growth in intermodal moves through the ports. Discussions about China mostly centered on what would happen in two years (1997) when Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule.

In 2004, the former director of the Port of LA admitted they could have seen a congestion crisis developing if they had paid attention to ship charters. The signals were clear that massive volumes of freight would be moving out of Asia. But even with that insight, there's little urban planners could have done but activate the crisis team a little earlier.

Logistics professionals were already reacting, developing strategies to shift around the roadblocks. You found capacity through the Panama Canal or shifted to Mexican ports or the U.S. East Coast. And when those alternatives become congested or break down, you'll have a Plan B already working.

On the commercial side, sourcing opportunities or market demand drive your logistics needs. Carriers typically see the changes after they've occurred — perhaps with a little advance warning as you negotiate your contracts.

Municipal planning organizations (MPOs) see the issues after the problems are well established. Your congestion problem develops while the MPO is projecting population growth and worrying about compliance with federal air quality standards. In that mindset, how can they project freight volumes for modes and origins that shippers haven't even considered? And how will they plan the infrastructure you will need when the next change occurs?

As recent trends become the historical base for planning, you might be shifting from China to sourcing in the U.S. or South America. Your demands on the domestic transportation infrastructure could shift dramatically while urban planners are building for the trend that just ended.

Logistics is full of regional and local decisions, but very little involvement with planners who will shape the infrastructure on that level. As the latest transportation bill works its way through the U.S. Congress, municipal planners are figuring out where to apply the funds they'll receive. You need to find a way to be involved in that process.

Perry A. Trunick,
[email protected]

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