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Surface Freight Transportation: A Comparison of the Costs of Road, Rail, and Waterways Freight Shipments That Are Not Passed on to Consumers

GAO-11-134 Published: Jan 26, 2011. Publicly Released: Feb 28, 2011.
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Road, rail, and waterway freight transportation is vital to the nation's economy. Government tax, regulatory, and infrastructure investment policies can affect the costs that shippers pass on to their customers. If government policy gives one mode a cost advantage over another, by, for example, not recouping all the costs of that mode's use of infrastructure, then shipping prices and customers' use of freight modes can be distorted, reducing the overall efficiency of the nation's economy. As requested, this report (1) describes how government policies can affect competition and efficiency within the surface freight transportation sector, (2) determines what is known about the extent to which all costs are borne by surface freight customers, and (3) discusses the use of the findings when making future surface freight transportation policy. GAO reviewed the transportation literature and analyzed financial and technical data from the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), and the Environmental Protection Agency to make cross-modal comparisons at a national level. Data limitations and assumptions inherent in an aggregate national comparison are noted in the report.

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Comparative analysisCompetitionCost analysisCritical infrastructureFinancial analysisFreight transportationFreight transportation ratesPrices and pricingShipping industryStrategic planningTransportation costsTransportation industryTransportation planningTransportation policiesWaterways