Energy Policy Research

Listen to Andy Stone and I discuss the energy implications of self-driving trucks on the Kleinman Center's Energy Policy Now Podcast

Read my Policy Digest on Urban Truck Ports for the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy

My research on energy policy builds on my long-standing interests in climate change, which began with my time as a research associate at the Natural Resources Defense Council. I am supported in my current work on truck efficiency by the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. There I am working to understand ways to improve the fuel efficiency of trucks, particularly through improving overall operations efficiency and the adoption of new technology. I am currently exploring how my proposal for Urban Truck Ports dovetails with the potential of self-driving trucks.

Urban Truck Ports

My primary energy policy project is a proposal for what I call Urban Truck Ports, an idea I developed in 2011 as a National Science Foundation post-doctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin. I was housed by the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, a national "think-and-do tank" that aims to turn academic research into real-world solutions for a fairer and more sustainable economy. I focused on alternative ways to move freight by truck that could reduce fuel consumption and shipping costs, improve working conditions for truckers, and relieve traffic congestion.  

One of the most vexing challenges of the current truck freight model for the industry and workers is that many trucks must both navigate congested urban areas for pick-up and delivery and cover long distances between cities. The different operational requirements – driver needs, vehicle speeds, braking, acceleration, and maneuverability - in these different settings make the typical long-haul tractor trailer a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. While there are a variety of available vehicle and fuel technologies, as well as operational changes, that could dramatically increase the efficiency of trucks in urban areas and on long haul trips, in many cases, changes made to improve efficiency in one setting, degrade it or have little value in the other. The solution I came up with was to create a set of “truck ports” at the urban-rural transition to allow for specialization. Long-haul trucks for long-haul trips and short-haul trucks for short-haul trips, could dramatically improve adoption of efficient technology and operations - cutting the costs, emissions, and congestion impacts of trucking. 


A network of multi-purpose urban truck ports located outside of congested urban areas would facilitate a variety of operational and technological changes to improve efficiency, safety, and driver retention, yielding substantial benefits to private carriers, taxpayers, and society at-large.


Urban truck ports would:

• Help drivers avoid congestion by enabling loads arriving in urban areas during congested periods to be held for off-peak delivery,

• Improve fuel efficiency and safety by facilitating the transfer of trailers between tractors designed specifically for travel in urban or rural areas,

• Spur innovation by enabling the use of new fuels and technologies by acting as a central hub for fuel and maintenance,

• Improve vehicle utilization by allowing multiple driver shifts to use the same tractor,

• Improve driver retention by allowing long-haul drivers to avoid congestion and creating more regular route and short haul driving jobs that get drivers home more often,

• Reduce roadway expansion needs by removing trucks from urban highways during peak periods, and

• Cut overall emissions by reducing congestion on urban roadways and increasing truck fleet efficiency.


I have presented this idea to industry organizations like the North American Council on Freight Efficiency and more than a dozen State DOT Secretaries through the State Smart Transportation Initiative.  The idea has been endorsed by renowned energy alternatives advocate Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute in a book on the Institute’s ambitious Reinventing Fire campaign, which lays out a strategy for transitioning our economy entirely off of fossil fuels.  The idea was also included in the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters' road map to address the climate change crisis.


I worked with partners at University of Wisconsin research centers (the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, the Center on Wisconsin Strategy and the Center for Freight Infrastructure Research and Education) to develop the idea further.  We received a grant from the US Department of Agriculture to conduct a series of meetings in the mid-west, including freight-choked Chicago, to assess the viability of our approach with a range of government and industry stakeholders.  You can learn more about that effort here.

Check out these graphic representations of the Truck Ports Concept applied to food transportation created by Nancy Chacula and Julia Schilling (UW Department of Landscape Architecture)