Optimize Routes To Save On Fuel Costs

Today's routing systems help fleets of any size save money on fuel.


The price for a gallon of diesel fuel has reached $4 a gallon in many parts of the United States and there are few signs that this trend will reverse itself.

As a result, food and beverage distributors are becoming desperate to find ways to save on fuel. One way to accomplish this is to optimize delivery routes. Fortunately, thanks to advances in software and GPS technology, fleets of any size can take advantage of routing systems to cut down on miles traveled.

The mileage routing and mapping solutions offered by companies such as Prophesy Transportation Solutions Inc., Bloomfield, CT, allow fleets to generate the most effective routing plans possible.

"If my customer is a commercial carrier and he's going to take a load from Hartford, CT, to Los Angeles and he has 10 stops along the way, I can input those stops into the system and it will look at the different possibilities and then plot the route in the most logical way, making sure to hit all the stops in the fewest number of miles," explains William Ashburn, vice president of Prophesy.

"Companies can see a 10 to 15 percent reduction in fuel consumption, which is directly attributable to running fewer miles," says Karl Terry, product manger for Redlands, CA-based ESRI, whose ArcLogistics Route software optimizes routes.

"Today's routing systems are truck specific, they take into account traffic patterns," says Norm Ellis, vice president and general manager for Qualcomm Inc., San Diego. "If you're going from San Diego to downtown San Francisco, you probably don't want to go through downtown LA, even though that might be the shortest route. But if you're going to sit in traffic for four hours, vs. taking the 215 around Orange County and into San Francisco, you might go 30 miles further, but you might use less fuel."

One of the most effective ways of optimizing a route to save on fuel is taking the driver out of the equation, a tactic that will pay dividends for fleets of all sizes. Up until recently, fleets relied on the experience of the dispatcher, who was typically a seasoned truck driver himself before being bumped up to dispatcher. He knew the most efficient way to run routes first-hand, knew that a driver delivering seven to 10 orders should only be taking five hours and should be back at the DC by noon.

"However, the days of having employees at companies for 15 years are over. There's nobody in dispatching with that kind of experience anymore," says John Handler, president of Truck Dispatching Innovations (TDI), a local delivery consulting firm based in Chicago. TDI installs routing solutions provided by ESRI.

The upshot is nobody knows experientially how long routes should take. A route might take a driver five hours one day and seven hours the next. Enter the routing software program. It takes all the guesswork out and balances the loads for each route, so that every driver is given eight hours' worth of work.

"Of course eight hours in the South may only be five deliveries, because truckers have to drive a lot, while eight hours of work in downtown Seattle may be 20 deliveries," Handler explains, "but the software figures it out."

Monitoring Drivers

One of the obstacles to curbing a fleet's fuel consumption is out-of-route miles.

"We give drivers all this autonomy-‘go run the routes, run them in the sequence you need'-but what if that sequence is five miles off the route to get lunch and back? That's 10 miles a day and if you have 10 drivers, that's 100 miles a day," explains Cindy Brandt, marketing manager for UPS Logistics in Baltimore.

She estimates that the average cost-per-mile per truck is $275. With 10 trucks it's up to $2,750. Multiply that by 261 delivery days and a company is looking at close to $750,000 per year in unnecessary fuel costs.

"What if you could put that much back to your bottom line?" Brandt asks. "Wouldn't that take care of your fuel consumption problem?"

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