Opinion: What to Consider When Optimizing Routes
This Opinion piece appears in the Feb. 2 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.
By Ken Weinberg
Vice President and Co-Founder
Carrier Logistics Inc.
Smart transportation companies, especially multistop carriers, are paying close attention to routing. They feel the improved productivity and efficiency with less backtracking that routing brings, as well as the more effective use of drivers — important in a time of driver shortages and stricter hours-of-service regulations — are crucial in today’s environment.
There was a time when freight carriers would have called in a phalanx of industrial engineers to help improve routing. The industrial engineers would have studied all the variables — driver shifts, traffic patterns, existing routes, frequency of pickups and deliveries at regular locations, etc. — and come up with an “optimum” plan for routing trucks throughout the day, throughout the week, throughout the month.
In the regulated environment that existed through the 1970s, carriers focused on efficiency and productivity because they could not compete on price and were restricted to where they could go. However, when the 1980s arrived and deregulation kicked in, truckers turned to price and expansion into new lanes as primary competitive tactics to win business, with many shifting their focus away from efficiency and productivity.
Carriers learned how to compete in a deregulated world, and many began again to look beyond rates and expansion. Then, a burst of new technological developments and a reduction in technology’s cost provided new options.
Many carriers invested in technology to streamline or “optimize” operations — routing, for example. Trucking companies today are making big optimization efforts in search of such benefits as lower costs, fuel savings, improved loading efficiency, more stops per day, and pickup and delivery of more bills of lading.
There is a danger to this. Trucking companies have discovered that optimization is more than just pushing a button on a computer. Achieving it can be more difficult and expensive than expected because of driver shifts, traffic jams, accidents and optimization expenses, leaving those handling computer programming frustrated. The variables may be too great in a multistop environment to achieve the level of optimization being sought.
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