This morning I attended the Freight Transportation Planning and Logistics Committee meeting. Their committee awards a best paper award each year and this year's topic was the Value of Reliability. Xia Jin of Florida International University presented results from a state preference survey of freight system users. The research was conducted in collaboration with Florida DOT.
There has been increasing attention paid to the importance of reliability for both passenger and freight transportation. However, we don't always have enough real-world data to support more quantitative analysis. This research demonstrated the importance of differentiating both commodities and freight user types when seeking to understand freight behavior. For example, the data show that perishable products have higher values of time and values of reliability than do non-perishable products. Additionally, carriers and shippers (with and without their own transportation) show markedly different sensitivities towards travel time savings and reliability improvements.
Other lessons learned on the pragmatic side of research design from this project: when seeking to connect to industry, it really helps to collaborate with industry associations. Also, make sure your research questions make sense from a practitioners perspective! The paper authors worked closely with freight system users to come up with easy ways of describing reliability. For example: your shipment will arrive on time 3 out of 5 times, with a possible delay of 2-4 hours.
While the research world can be intriguing, and the "geekiness" can certainly be a bit of fun at times, TRB is a great place to remember and consider our committment to making sure technology is successfully transfered between worlds, with learning on both sides.