Source: RITA/BTS. Table 1-38: Average Length of Haul, Domestic Freight and Passenger Modes. Commodity Flow Survey. In miles.
The average length of passenger hauls in the United States underlines a clear distinction between modes. The average haul length for air transport has increased to about 875 miles, underlining a growth of point-to-point connections despite the setting of regional hubs. The decline of the average length of passenger rail services (Amtrak) is indicative of the loss of market share over a longer distance, and a refocus of rail services along specific corridors such as Boston-Washington. The structure of intercity bus and commuter rail services has not changed much.
The average haul length for freight is longer than that of passengers. Modal and intermodal competition has substantially changed the average domestic freight haul length. The development of the Interstate highway system is linked with the doubling of truck haul length from 272 miles in 1960 to 485 miles in 2001. Trucking was able to carve itself a dominant market share for movements of less than 750 miles. Still, most truck hauls take place on short distances of less than 50 miles. According to the Commodity Flow Survey, in 2017 39% of the value and 65% of the weight of all goods carried by truck took place over a distance of fewer than 50 miles.
The growth of the average haul length for rail transportation is linked with increased competition from trucking as well as the establishment of landbridges between the East and the West coasts. Still, with the development of intermodal services, trucking is becoming increasingly complementary to rail.
The decline in the average haul length for air transport from the mid-1990s is mainly the outcome of the setting of hub-and-spoke networks by major parcel distributors such as UPS and FedEx. The decline in the length of coastal shipping is jointly the outcome of competition from rail and cabotage regulations (Jones Act), preventing the setting of effective short sea shipping networks. For instance, foreign maritime shipping companies cannot transport containers between American ports.