Case Study 1: 1996 Olympic Games Delivery Experiment

The 1996 Summer Olympics took place in the Atlanta area. This sudden influx of traffic created peak-level congestion throughout the region during daylight hours. The region successfully planned for and implemented daytime delivery bans to mitigate congestion levels. After the games concluded, the majority of deliveries returned to daytime

Planning Guide Strategies Discussed:


As Atlanta prepared to host the 1996 Summer Olympics, traffic volumes were projected to increase substantially, as did concerns over safety, congestion, and the ability of freight carriers to conduct business to support increased demand. Numerous travelers to the events would not be familiar with the region’s roadways, and increased automobile mass transit and pedestrian traffic were expected to add to the congested transportation network. Congestion levels that normally appeared only during peak periods were expected to occur throughout the day.

With the sudden influx of visitors, urban freight demand would substantially rise, as deliveries to hotels, restaurants, and tourists spots increased. These additional truck trips would add to the congestion and cause delivery delays, reducing productivity and increasing the need for additional trucks on the roadway. Decreases in productivity would result in rising costs for the carriers, which would be transferred to the shippers and receivers of the goods, and ultimately to the customers.

Economic Impacts

Lost wages and increased labor costs are two of the economic impacts generated by congestion and delays. The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), in its 2013 update of annual marginal costs, calculated the routine cost to operate a commercial vehicle in the United States at $65.29 per hour. To accurately capture the impact of delays, it is important to consider that this cost may be expanded by the addition of many other hourly costs. In illustration:

  • A delay in delivering a shipment of materials or parts for an assembly line may produce a work stoppage. This results in additional costs associated with wages paid to the assembly line workers awaiting the shipment.
  • A delay in shipping may extend the shipment’s loading or processing beyond normal operating hours of the shipper. The costs for additional time and wages paid by the shipper must also be considered.
  • Known delays may require one or more additional vehicles and operators to service a series of shipments. This results in additional charges for each additional truck trip and hourly operating costs.

 The expansive nature of the Atlanta region amplifies the effects of congestion and delay on the freight industry. It speaks to the need for additional distribution centers to service the region, as opposed to companies having only a single terminal. With the introduction of a second facility (or possibly more), carrier capacity productivity can be regained; however, this regained productivity comes with the additional capital costs of buildings, vehicles, equipment, and wages.

Narrow roadways—present in urbanized areas where land costs and aged infrastructure curtail expansion—combined with additional traffic, parked automobiles, and lack of off-street parking, result in the need for specialized equipment to move goods. If operations typically involve larger tractor-trailer combinations, a carrier may be required to purchase smaller units. Distribution centers also are affected as they engage these smaller units. The lowered capacity of each truck results in additional loading activity, increased truck trips, and potentially slower responsiveness to outlet or receiver locations.

Regional Approach/Initiative

To help mitigate the anticipated impacts of the Summer Olympics, a temporary OHD program was instituted in Atlanta. The program required all commercial vehicle-based pick-up and delivery services to take place during overnight hours, when overall traffic volumes were decreased.

By alleviating daytime truck trips, normal traffic levels were maintained throughout the games. Motor carrier operational productivity was impacted to a lesser degree than if freight operations had continued during the day. Operational changes were experienced beyond those in the local area. Because many carriers used the same equipment—usually during the day—to support nighttime over-the-road or line-haul operations between other cities and markets, significant changes had to be made to patterns of equipment utilization and work force scheduling outside the region and state.

Transit times between cities were affected, disrupting supply chains. The business models adopted by carriers vary, as they support the necessary amount of time required to transport a shipment from one location to another. Transit time is one component of modal selection within the practice of supply chain management. Calculating the inherent and indirect costs for the transportation of goods and materials, a supply chain adopts appropriate modes to minimize those impacts. As carriers responded to concurrent local and over-the-road operations, temporary transit standards were adopted. The temporary nature of these made it possible for supply chains to make corresponding temporary changes. When conditions returned to normal, supply chains made a sharp return to normal operations.

Stakeholder Engagement

Local jurisdictions hold much of the decision-making authority to improve local roadways and the built environment to enhance urban freight performance. As the MPO for the region, the ARC provides guidance and encourages programs, regulations, land use, and design features conducive to efficient goods movement at the local or regional level. Leading planning efforts at the regional level, the MPO serves as a resource to assist the local jurisdiction.

Local jurisdictions observe local conditions, forecast future needs, and respond through regulations and policies to meet the needs of goods movement. With limited funding levels, the city establishes design standards (such as 11-foot travel lanes), evaluates access-management requirements, and maintains and protects industrial land use designations, especially where these meet the combined needs of the local citizenry and freight. In Atlanta, freight stakeholders were involved with local jurisdictions throughout this process to ensure that supply chains could adequately shift during the short period of the 1996 Summer Olympics. When the games were over, however, there were significant challenges to overcome regarding permanently altering supply chains.

Emerging Issues

Interviewed freight system users and service providers identified the lack of sufficient capacity and resulting congestion as the leading freight impediment in the Atlanta region. The increased presence of automobiles and other vehicles on the roadway, traveling or parked, decreases mobility for commercial trucks. This translates into reduced access, and the inability to service businesses without additional cost. This issue is further influenced by the lack of infrastructure support to provide loading or unloading off-street, or at a dedicated dock or dedicated on-street delivery-only parking area. As a result, commercial vehicles stop in the roadway, generating congestion and delays to the overall traffic flow.

Concluding Observations

OHD programs require participation across the users and providers of the freight transportation system, with sufficient volumes of goods to warrant the disruption of business models and to offset costs and the inconvenience of conducting operations outside standard business hours. These factors challenged the extension of the program beyond the duration of the 1996 Summer Olympics. Key supporters of the program, such as Coca-Cola, found receivers and shippers available in greater numbers during hours with less congestion and street-side parking, and realized significant productivity gains. Prior to the OHD program, many of these carriers had implemented numerous incremental improvement processes, and they supported other similar strategies but without sufficient participation by the shipping and receiving community.

Because providers and the driving public are seen as the beneficiaries of such programs, even the calculated or operational benefits, such as lower operational costs, that are enjoyed by carriers have not induced them to change staffing and other operational functions to support off-hours programs. Users of the freight system generally view higher operational costs as the cost of doing business, similar to the costs of tolls. Increased costs of doing business are expected to be factored into the invoiced price for the services provided by the carrier or supplier. A concurrent potential belief of system users is that a reduction in cost, experienced by the carrier or supplier at the user’s expense, will not be reflected in decreased pricing. The reduction in cost will be realized as profit by the provider. With shippers and receivers establishing when goods are shipped and received, carriers lack the ability to significantly alter these conditions or to promote a program of this type.

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