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August 7, 2018 9:45 AM, EDT

Opinion: Automated Technology Ready Now Can Ease Capacity Crunch

Much is being said and written about how the sexy, headline-grabbing prospect of automated trucks could someday ease the trucking industry’s driver shortage, but it would take a real optimist to think that this is a genuine, near-term solution. Automated driving technology might ease the problem years in the future, but there’s a need for help today.

What if I told you that another form of automated technology could help ease the industry’s capacity crunch right now? Automated routing and scheduling can maximize the usage of available driver time, take some recruiting pressure off of fleets and address the very real challenge of keeping drivers on your staff and behind the wheel once you’ve found them.

William Salter

Salter

As carrier executives know, driver retention is a real challenge. According to American Trucking Associations, the annualized driver turnover rate at large truckload carriers (defined as those with more than $30 million in annual revenue) rose to 94% in the first quarter of 2018, up 20 percentage points from a year earlier. Compare that with the convenience-store retail business — typically the poster child for high employee turnover rates — which reached a high turnover rate of 54% in 2016, according to “Convenience Store News.”

To slow this churn, fleets are boosting pay. Wages are spiking as high as $100,000 for tanker truck drivers in west Texas and New Mexico, and one fleet after another is announcing increases in per-mile rates, sign-on bonuses and more.

But fleet operators know they need to appeal to more than drivers’ wallets. A typical ad on the back trailer designed to attract new drivers inevitably touts not only fair pay, but also good treatment and more home time with family.
Automated route planning functionality can help ensure that truck drivers get all of these things — and more — to help improve their satisfaction levels. All while saving fleets 10% to 30% in transport costs.

First off, routing and scheduling software makes it a lot harder for dispatchers to play favorites with drivers — one of the primary complaints drivers make. Routes are assigned according to maximum efficiency, so one driver isn’t always getting the route schedule that gets him home at night while another driver is repeatedly assigned routes with overnights. Plus, the software can accommodate special driver needs, such as finishing their run at a certain location. A planner, working manually, cannot incorporate all the possible variables that an automatic algorithm can within a specified time frame, and cannot be sure he or she is selecting the routes that fit together most efficiently.

For example, the plan may fail to incorporate an agreed-upon time window for a delivery, or may not allocate enough time between stops or at individual unloading points, causing the plan to unravel almost as soon as the driver has left. Automated routing and scheduling delivers a route plan a driver can trust, promoting peace of mind.

Another advantage is that the software ensures drivers are showing up at delivery or drop-off points when they’re open, or appropriately staffed. Drivers learn to trust the plan, and feel confident they’re making stops in the best possible order. Further, when drivers do provide firsthand feedback on routes (for example, traffic conditions or a customer who habitually keeps the driver waiting), that information can be plugged into the software to improve future route plans. Drivers, who often feel their “real-world” expertise is undervalued or ignored, become an important part of making delivery operations better.

It also allows dispatchers to arrange for new drivers to work alongside seasoned drivers, helping spread decades of road know-how to the increasingly sought-after new generation of truckers.

Finally, there’s the opportunity to avoid fines. Drivers — not just the companies that hire them — are liable for penalties under the new electronic logging device mandate, which requires electronic monitoring of drivers’ hours of service. Because route optimization automatically calculates how many hours a driver has already logged and assigns routes that will keep him or her within the limits, they can rest assured that they’ll remain in compliance with HOS regulations. Plus, well-planned schedules mean drivers can work right up to their HOS limit, maximizing their earning power.

The driver shortage is not just about money. It’s about keeping drivers happy. Good technology, such as routing and scheduling software, not only helps get the most out of each minute of available driver time, it also offers the chance to give drivers a better on-the-job experience, meaning greater rates of attraction and retention.

Paragon Software Systems offers routìng and scheduling software to companies operating delivery fleets in more than 60 countries. Since becoming CEO in 2002, William Salter has remained focused on the transportation industry’s need to squeeze the maximum value out of assets.