It’s still true that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but due to all the external factors along the way, the shortest distance isn’t always the optimized routing. Recently, I spoke with a small fleet owner who regularly transports loads from eastern North Carolina up to northern Pennsylvania. The proposed GPS and Google Maps routing takes his trucks to Washington D.C. on the Capital Beltway or I-495. Instead of choosing this route, he chose an optimized route that would take his fleet far from the traffic nightmare of Washington D.C., but would add approximately 30 miles to the trip. “I don’t like to drive the extra mileage, but it was a strategic decision that benefited my company” he said. His trucks never experience any traffic snarls and he’s confident that his fleet saves 30 minutes per trip by avoiding the Capital Beltway. Due to optimized routing, his fleet is able to operate at normal highway speeds, achieving optimal fuel economy while avoiding the stop and go traffic that dramatically decreases fuel efficiency and adds to the wear and tear of equipment.
Toll roads must be examined to determine if they are the best option for your route. Toll rates should be accessed by fleet managers beforehand so they can accurately forecast the true cost of that routing. If there are alternate routes that seem reasonable, you can calculate the difference in mileage between the two routes and calculate the total cost per mile for the two routes. This will clarify which decision is best for your fleet. At times, the added toll costs will make the shorter distance cost-prohibitive.
Choosing routes that avoid mountains can be very beneficial in saving time and money. For example, many trucking companies avoid Interstate 70, west of Denver and Interstate 40 in western NC/eastern TN in order to stay at lower elevations and avoid mountainous regions that degrade fuel economy. In these instances, the optimized routing adds very few miles to the trip, but saves time and fuel.
The fuel costs along different routes is another determining factor as to which route is the most cost effective. A fleet manager remarked, “On a certain dedicated run from Charlotte to Laredo, TX, there are two very similar routes that we can take. We route through Meridian, MS because it usually has the best retail fuel prices in the country.” If a carrier has bulk fuel available at wholesale cost, then optimized routing would probably include sending trucks through to maximize the savings and to avoid more expensive retail fueling.
LTL (less than truckload) shipments present a more complicated challenge in optimized routing. With the complexities of multi-stop pickups and deliveries, manual route optimization is nearly impossible. An LTL operations manager stated, “Previously, we used an antiquated program that planned our delivery route based on zip codes. As technology improved, we moved on to a more advanced software that can handle the intricacies of LTL routing.”
Sure, you can get from Point A to Point B by taking the shortest route. However, choosing the optimal route can save your fleet a lot of time and money. Transportation companies must refine their routing and strive for greater productivity and efficiency. Whoever is the most efficient – wins.