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Stuck in the Slow Lane: Traffic Composition and the Measurement of Labor Productivity in the U.S. Trucking Industry

  • Boyer, Kenneth D.


    (Michigan State University)

  • Burks, Stephen V.


    (University of Minnesota, Morris)

Mirroring the railroad industry of the 1940’s and 1950’s, the trucking industry today appears to be achieving impressive productivity gains. But it is easy to confuse true productivity advances in transportation industries with changes in ton-miles per unit of input that are due simply to changes in the composition of traffic, as initially happened with the mid-20th century U.S. railroads. This is due to the fact that transportation has vastly different productivities in different settings – for example, when moving long haul versus short haul traffic – and the measurement of changes in physical productivity can be overwhelmed by even subtle changes in the traffic mix. After controlling for endogenous changes in the composition of truck traffic, we find that trucking has in fact been a lagging sector of the U.S. economy over the period of our data, 1982-1997, with observed productivity changes much more likely due to changes in speed limits and the dimensions of vehicles than adoption of information technology. Our finding of a slow improvement in the physical productivity of trucking inputs does not deny the real improvements in the quality of trucking services (reliability, predictability, speed, order tracking, etc.) that have taken place in the last quarter century. But as in other service industries, true physical productivity improvements in trucking are hard to find.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 2576.

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Length: 33 pages
Date of creation: Jan 2007
Date of revision:
Publication status: published in: Southern Economic Journal, 75 (4), 2009, 1220-1237
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp2576
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  1. Michael H. Belzer, 1995. "Collective Bargaining after Deregulation: Do the Teamsters Still Count?," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 48(4), pages 636-655, July.
  2. Baumol, William J, 1972. "Macroeconomics of Unbalanced Growth: Reply," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 62(1), pages 150, March.
  3. Thomas N. Hubbard, 2003. "Information, Decisions, and Productivity: On-Board Computers and Capacity Utilization in Trucking," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(4), pages 1328-1353, September.
  4. John G. Fernald, 1997. "Roads to prosperity? assessing the link between public capital and productivity," International Finance Discussion Papers 592, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  5. Michael H. Belzer, 1995. "Collective bargaining after deregulation: Do the Teamsters still count?," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 48(4), pages 636-655, July.
  6. Dale L. Belman & Kristen A. Monaco, 2001. "The Effects of Deregulation, De-Unionization, Technology, and Human Capital on the Work and Work Lives of Truck Drivers," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 54(2), pages 502-524, January.
  7. John E. DiNardo & Jörn-Steffen Pischke, 1997. "The Returns to Computer Use Revisited: Have Pencils Changed the Wage Structure Too?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(1), pages 291-303.
  8. repec:oup:qjecon:v:112:y:1997:i:1:p:291-303 is not listed on IDEAS
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