Trucking’s Interest in GPS Devices Growing to Meet Needs of Shippers, Survey Finds

By Dan Leone, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the Sept. 17 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

Global Positioning System equipment has not yet become standard for all motor carriers, but more fleets are showing interest in the technology to meet the demands of shippers, and those who use it already rate their systems highly, a recent survey showed.

Trucking companies rated their satisfaction with GPS tracking systems 4.1 on a five-point scale, according to C.J. Driscoll and Associates, a Palos Verdes Estates, Calif., firm that provides consulting and market research for the transportation industry,

While not every fleet surveyed reported using GPS or similar mobile-resource management systems, more than 25% of respondents said they planned to purchase a system in the next 12 to 18 months, Driscoll said.

The survey set out to discover if there are “interests in enhanced services that can bring additional benefits to fleets,” Clem Driscoll, the firm’s chief executive officer, told Transport Topics. “The answer is, ‘yes,’ [and] the systems that are already out there are well received.”

Driscoll added that this finding was significantly different from a decade ago, when the technology’s limited tracking capabilities and higher costs prevented more fleets from investing in GPS equipment.

Survey respondents included 86 truckload carriers, 101 private delivery fleets and 30 common carriers, including less-than-truckload haulers. The survey also included utility and vocational fleets.

More than 25% of the trucking fleets surveyed said they use a GPS tracking system on at least a portion of their fleet.

In particular, truckload carriers using GPS systems said they installed the technology to meet the needs of shippers, who are increasingly insistent on tracking and visibility in the supply chain, according to the survey.

Other fleets said the primary motivation was to have better communication with drivers.

In addition, truckload carriers said GPS technology can aid with load planning and contribute to increased operating efficiencies, Driscoll said.

Mark Warsofsky, president of Quincy, Mass.-based M&M Transport Services, told TT his regional truckload carrier has adopted GPS technology both for tracking loads and maintaining communications with drivers.

Warsofsky said the company, which uses about 250 tractors in conjunction with about 1,000 trailers, also decided to use mobile-resource management technology to help improve operating efficiency.

“We needed to make sure we’re getting the best utilization of trailers,” Warsofsky said. The ability to track trailers via GPS and relay the information to drivers has helped M&M improve trailer utilization and cut back on the number of rental trailers in its fleet, he added.

Warsofsky said M&M first deployed GPS in 2000.

Truckload carriers like M&M are typically more “saturated” with MRM systems than are their LTL counterparts, but less-than-truckload fleets have started to show more interest in the technology, Driscoll said.

“Thirty-five percent or more truckload carriers have a tracking system,” said Driscoll. He also noted that private fleets and other carriers, such as LTL firms, are “still in more of a growth stage.”

Driscoll said about 20% of LTL fleets have deployed some sort of MRM technology.

Brian McLaughlin, executive vice president of sales and marketing for mobile communications and onboard computing firm PeopleNet, agreed that the MRM technology industry is poised for further growth.

“The adoption and the usage of GPS is increasing significantly, and satisfaction is increasing significantly,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin said more LTL and private carriers are being drawn to the technology, because they can recoup the initial cost more rapidly than in the past.

“You can get more communications for lower costs,” he said.

John Lewis, chief executive officer of onboard technology vendor GeoLogic, Herndon, Va., also pointed to advances in MRM capabilities as a driving factor behind the technology’s appeal.

The capabilities [of MRM systems] are substantially greater than they were,” said Lewis. “I think it’s that capability that’s driving people to assess investments or reinvestments in that technology.

Lewis said that while the majority of his company’s customers are truckload carriers, more LTL carriers have been expressing interest in the systems.

“LTL operations have more company-specific requirements for integration of other in-cab devices [like handheld scanners and signature tablets] that is more technically and financially feasible today than it was in years past,” Lewis said.