COST OF WAGON TRANSPORTATION.
The effect of bad roads upon the cost of wagon transportation has been the subject of much discussion and many estimates have been made which have arrived at widely different conclusions. Many of these discussions have failed to take account of all the factors entering into the problem and have arrived at wildly extravagant results. Efforts have been made by the Road Inquiry Office of the United States Department of Agriculture to collect statistics con cerning the volume and cost of hauling farm produce to market for the whole United States. These statistics include estimates of the average length of haul and the cost per ton-mile, with a view to basing upon them some conclusion as to the saving to the country in general which would result from the improvement of the roads so that larger loads may be carried, and less labor be required for moving the crops. Statistics of this kind are very difficult to gather, being altogether dependent upon the judgment of the man who collects them in each locality, and representing only very approximately the average conditions. They are of value as giving information concerning the traffic to which the roads are subject in various localities and the need for road improvement, but they do not contain data upon which any reasonable estimate can be based of the actual saving. which might be effected by road improvement. Such general estimates are not of any particular value other than that of showing something of the size of the problem when applied to the whole country.
Many palpably erroneous and exaggerated estimates of the saving in cost of transportation by road improve-. ment have been published and have often seriously injured the cause of good roads. They aim to show the large saving which may be effected by the farmer through reducing the cost of moving his crops to market, but their fallacies are evident to the farmer who reads them and applies them to his own conditions, and in many instances lead him to doubt the good faith of the whole movement for good roads. These estimates commonly treat the subject as though the whole of the crops were hauled to market in full loads by teams kept by the farmers for that purpose alone, and which could be dispensed with if the roads were so improved as to require a less number of loads, and con sequently less teams to transport the crops, which is clearly not the case.
The effect of the condition of the highways upon the cost of wagon transportation depends upon the character of the traffic. Where this consists of the transportation of some product which is hauled in full loads, with teams which are employed for this purpose only, the cost of transportation is readily ascertained, and the saving due to any improvement which increases the load carried by each team may be found by esti mating the cost of the decreased number of teams required. If an earth road in poor condition be re placed by a good macadam surface, the load which can be taken over the road may easily be doubled if upon light gradients, while where a traffic of this character must be taken over an earth road in bad or muddy condition, the construction of an improved road surface may result in loads four or five times as heavy as before. In this case the number of teams is
inversely proportional to the maximum load which may be hauled and the cost is proportional to the number of teams. This condition soemtimes, though rarely, occurs upon wagon roads, the traffic usually being of a mixed character, with varying percentages carried in full loads, and with teams kept for other purposes and only incidentally used for transportation upon the roads..
For the purpose of estimating the cost of trans portation upon ordinary country roads it is necessary to separate the traffic into classes and determine what portion of it is carried in full loads. This is always a matter of difficulty where the traffic is varied and can only be done in a very roughly approximate manner. The light portion of the traffic will, of course, be benefited by improved roads, but the saving in cost of conducting the traffic, while existent, is usually comparatively small and practically indeter minate. It consists in saving time of men and teams through greater speed of travel, and in less wear upon teams and vehicles. When such traffic must be conducted over muddy and bad roads these items may be of considerable importance, although they can not be evaluated, but commonly they are of slight importance.
The heavy portion of the traffic is more directly affected by the character of the roads over which it passes. This traffic is carried in full loads, which are limited in amount by the condition and gradients of the roads. In some localities this constitutes the main portion of the traffic; in others it is a comparatively small part of the whole. No generalization concern ing the value of road improvement as reducing the cost of transportation can therefore be made with any approach to accuracy; but in a particular instance where data is obtainable concerning the heavy traffic, it is possible to roughly estimate the saving in labor of transportation through road improvement. If we can determine the cost of using teams for this purpose, an approximate estimate may also be made of the saving in cost of transportation through such improve ment. The cost of using teams for highway trans portation is often difficult to obtain on account of the fact that such teams are commonly kept for other purposes and only incidentally used for road work, and in some instances it is possible that the trans portation is done when there is no other work which could be done by the team. In general, however, it is fair to assume that the cost of the work is proportional to its amount, and that if the teams were not employed in transportation on the highway, they would be other wise usefully engaged. In estimating the cost of work of teams, the actual cost to the farmer of keeping the team should be used and not the rental value of teams in the vicinity.
A careful examination of the local conditions sur rounding the traffic is essential to any reasonable estimate of saving to be effected in cost of transpor tation upon highways. Such estimates are not of much value at best as giving actual amount of savings, but studies of this kind may be of value in giving a better conception of the economics of the good roads problem.