Jean-Paul Rodrigue (2017), New York:
Routledge, 440 pages.
Transport Technical and Economic Performance Indicators
Authors: Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue and Dr. Claude Comtois
1. Network and Operational Indicators
Multimodal transportation networks rest upon the combinatory
costs and performance of transport modes, or what is
referred to as economies of scope. For instance, a single
container shipped overseas at the lowest cost from its origin
can go from road, to maritime, to railway and to road again
before reaching its destination. For passengers, a commuter
may also undertake a journey involving a sequence of modes
such a walking, riding a bus and then a subway. Freight
shippers and carriers therefore require quantitative tools
for decision-making in order to compare performances
of various transport modes and transport networks. Time-efficiency
becomes a set imperative for both freight and passenger
transit in private as well as in public sector activities.
Performance indicators are widely used by geographers and
economists to empirically assess the technical performance
of differing transport modes, in other words their
capacity to move goods or passengers around.
They are ratios since a value such as traffic or
capacity does not express a performance but the ratio of
traffic over capacity is a performance indicator.
Technical performance should not be confused with economic performance,
which mostly relates to how much transport output (e.g.
traffic) can be supported with specific inputs (e.g.
capital or labor). Performance measures are relative,
implying that they mean little by themselves and must be
interpreted within a comparative framework, which can be
across space (e.g. systems or jurisdictions) or across
time (e.g. monthly variations). Basic technical
performance calculations can be particularly useful for
the analysis of global network performance as well as for modal
comparison, analysis, and evaluation by bridging both physical
attributes (length, distance, configuration, etc.) and time-based
attributes (punctuality, reliability, etc.) of
networks. Some indicators are currently used to measure
performance of freight and passenger transport:
More specifically, such indicators are of great utility
by allowing cross-temporal analysis of a transport
nexus or given transport modes.
Another fundamental dimension of technical performance concerns
operations and relate to specific parts
of the transport network such as a segment or a
terminal. The most salient indicators include:
- Passenger or freight density. A standard measure of transport efficiency.
- Mean distance traveled. A measure of the ground covering capacity of
networks and different transport modes. Used to measure the relative performance of
- Mean per capita ton output (freight) or
of trips per capita (passenger).
- Mean utilization coefficient. Especially useful with increasing complexity
of logistics associated with containerization of freight (i.e.
the problem of empty returns). Can also be used to measure transit
2. Road Traffic Performance
Technical performance indicators have dominantly been applied
to road transportation, although other modes such as air
and maritime transport are also increasingly monitored.
There are two major operational types of traffic influencing
the capacity of modern roads, which are
continuous and discontinuous
traffic. The capacity of a road is the maximal
hourly flow of people or vehicles that can be supported
by any link. This value is influenced by three major concepts.
- Transport time / speed / turnover.
An expression of the velocity of passengers or
freight along segments (speed) and at terminals or
distribution centers (turnover).
- Reliability. The consistence of
operations within defined parameters such as
capacity, safety, duration and punctuality.
- Punctuality. The on-time
performance of transport services. Particularly
important for scheduled services such as
flights, public transit, railways and
containerized maritime shipping.
- Load factor. The level of
transport asset utilization of modes and terminals
in relation to their capacity. High load factors may
be indicative of congestion.
Considering the above conditions, the capacity of a road
is about 1,000 vehicles per lane per hour for continuous
traffic roads and about 500 vehicles per lane per hour
for discontinuous traffic roads. The operational goal of
traffic planning is thus to make so that road, traffic and
control conditions insure an adequate, if not optimal service.
Several guidelines will favor such a goal such as wide enough
lanes for a safe maximum speed in both directions and limited
grades to limit speed differentials. The capacity of a road
is also linked to the level
of service, which is a qualitative measure of operational
conditions of roads and its perception by users. The spatial
distribution of bottlenecks, notably within urban areas,
also has a strong impact on capacity as they are the chocking
points of the whole road transport system. Traffic can be
valued according to three primary measures, which are speed,
volume or density:
- Road conditions. Physical attributes of the road
such as its type (paved, non-paved), number of lanes, width
of lanes, design speed and the vertical and horizontal alignment.
- Traffic conditions. Attributes of the traffic
using the road such as its temporal distribution and its
- Control conditions. Attributes of the control
structures and existing traffic laws such as speed limit,
one-ways and priority.
3. Economic Performance Indicators
Undoubtedly, transportation plays a considerable role in the
economy with its omnipresence throughout the production chain,
at all geographic scales. It is an integral constituent of the
production-consumption cycle. Economic impact indicators help
to appreciate the relationship between transport systems and
the economy as well as to inform on the economic weight of this
type of activity. Geographers should be familiar with basic
econometric impact indexes. Maritime transport is still the most cost-efficient way to transport
bulk merchandise over long distances. On the other hand, while air transport
is recognized for its unsurpassed time-efficiency versus other modes
over long distances, it remains an expensive option. Thus, vertical
integration, or the absorption of transportation activities by producers,
illustrates the search for these two efficiency attributes by gaining
direct control over inputs.
The relationship between transport systems and their larger economic
frame becomes clear when looking at restructuring patterns which carriers
and firms are currently undergoing. Structural mutations, best illustrated
by the popularity of just in time practices, are fueled by two
opposing yet effective forces: transporters seek to achieve economies
of scale while having to conform to an increasingly customized demand.
Factor substitution is a commonly adopted path in order to
reduce costs of production and attain greater efficiency. Containerization
of freight by substituting labor for capital and technology is a good
illustration of the phenomenon. Measures of capital productivity for
such capital-intensive transport means are of central importance; an
output / capital ratio is then commonly used. While the output
/ labor ratio performs the same productivity measurement but for
the labor input (this form of indicator can be used for each factor
of production in the system), a capital / labor ratio aims at
measuring which factor predominates within the relationship between
capital and labor productivity. The above set of indicators therefore
provides insights on the relative weight of factors within the production
More scale-specific indicators can also be used to appreciate the
role of transport within the economy. Knowing freight transport both
contribute to and is fuelled by a larger economic context, freight
output can be confronted against macro-economic indicators: an output
/ GDP ratio measures the relationship between economic activity
and traffic freight, in other words the traffic intensity. At the local
level, the status of the transport industry within the local economy
is given by a transport sector income / local income ratio. Still
at a micro-scale, finally, a measure of the relative production value
of freight output is provided by an output / local income ratio.
Underlying objectives of application of such indicators are as varied
as they are numerous. Efficiency indicators constitute valuable tools
to tackle project viability questions as well as to measure investment
returns and cost / subsidy recovery of transport systems. Input-output
analyses making use of some of the above indicators are also instrumental
to the development of global economic impact indexes and productivity
assessment concepts such as the Total Factor Productivity (TFP)
and to identify sources of productivity gains.
- Speed is a rate of distance covered per unit
of time. The average speed is the most commonly used measure
to characterize traffic on a road.
- Volume is the number of vehicles observed at
a point or a section over a period of time.
- Density is the number of vehicles that occupies
a section at any point in time. For example, a road section
having a volume of 1,000 vehicles per hour with an average
speed of 50 km/hour will have a density of 20 vehicles /