Mapping technology, GPS tracking systems and route optimization software all help to plan vehicle routes more efficiently, though non-tech solutions are just as effective.

Since efficient routing can mean big savings in fuel costs for a vehicle fleet, small fleet operators can learn a lot from reviewing various tips from veteran delivery and logistics company fleet managers.

Tip #1: Evaluate routing software

When does dropping good money on an “enterprise class” vehicle routing software make sense?

Routing can become complicated with as few as five routes, says Kevin Callen, president of C2Logix, a provider of route optimization software.

Callen says companies often upgrade from off-the-shelf software such as Microsoft’s MapPoint when a significant portion of the route changes daily or weekly and when factors relating to the stop location, type of material and vehicle characteristics must be considered.

Pinnacle Waste, a waste hauling service in Maryland, runs 11 waste pickup routes with more than 100 stops per route. The company uses C2Logix’s TourSolver route optimization software.

Before the business expanded, the company zoned its drivers geographically and had them work with the dispatchers to create their routes, says Avi Hoffer, president of Pinnacle Waste.

Hoffer equates manual route planning “to someone doing accounting by hand.”

“If you tell the guys to plan their Monday most efficiently they’ll be pretty good about it,” Hoffer says, “but trying to manually schedule thousands of stops that change daily is impossible.”

By inputting parameters for pickup location, type of vehicle and disposal facility, the program outputs multi-day routes with turn-by-turn directions, ideal length of stop and optimal stop sequence while taking into account road speeds and traffic patterns.

The C2Logix software starts at $4,200 for 10 vehicles with a 20-percent yearly maintenance fee. Premium services such as traffic pattern optimization are extra.

Hoffer calculated that shaving one hour a week from one Pinnacle driver would pay for the software in a year, though his ROI was much quicker.

“We estimate we’ve saved 50 to 60 hours a week,” Hoffer says. “We had guys that were driving 230 miles a day who are now doing 150 and picking up the same amount of material.”

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Tip #2: Investigate GPS tracking systems

When you need to make on-the-fly changes to your routing, a GPS tracking system can help. GPS systems locate drivers in real-time, automate dispatching, send messages to drivers and can provide directions and map itineraries.

Coast Aluminum, an aluminum distributing company based out of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., equips fleet vehicles with a GPS system by Navman. Steve Mingura, Coast’s corporate traffic manager, analyzes “breadcrumb” trails to see if drivers are following the best possible route to pinpoint recurring mistakes and to question driver actions.

The Navman system even shows when the driver turns the truck on or off and the average speed of the vehicle, and also reports vehicle diagnostics.

Tip #4: Designate a router

One of Coast Aluminum’s main goals is to keep drivers spread out and “not crisscrossing each other.” The company achieves this by using an employee known as a “router,” who organizes the orders as they come into the office and considers various factors when determining the routes of the drivers.

“It’s real difficult to [organize routes] by zip code, truck or anything else because you get an order that could be very bulky, or could take half of the truck bed but it only weighs 3,000 pounds because it’s tubing,” Mingura says. “Or you could get some small pallets that are very heavy and outweigh the truck.”

The company has route areas organized by number, with Route 1 being the city of San Diego and Route 2 being the city of Ventura, for example. The router organizes orders in piles by route number. When the drivers come in, they take the pile assigned to their route and review the day’s plans based on their experience on their specific route.

The driver knows location hours and which places to avoid during a lunch rush, Mingura says. The driver doesn’t concern himself with weight or bulk. Rather, he simply checks to make sure the route is run in a circle and that he is not driving through the same geographical area more than once per day.

The router also counts the number of stops each driver makes and looks at the load weight for each vehicle and how much bulk or space the load takes up. At that time the router might determine that a truck that runs another nearby route might be better suited for the load, for example.

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Tip #5: Same driver, same truck, same route

“We try to have the same driver in the same truck in the same route every day,” Mingura says. “He knows the customers, he knows who to contact. About 80 percent of them are customers that we deliver at least twice a week to.”

Tip #6: Use load boards for half-full deliveries and backhauls

JMC Restaurant Distribution uses Freightliner trucks to deliver supplies to Cici’s Pizza restaurants in about 30 states. When the company makes a delivery, one of its trucks might have available space to haul cargo for another company that needs cargo moved in that specific part of the country.

This keeps JMC trucks operating at capacity more often, which is a much more lucrative and efficient way to run a route.

For a monthly subscription fee, online load boards connect brokers with haulers, whose needs are customizable by geographic location, type of truck, size and weight of the load.

With shipping costs so high, this age-old concept is gaining traction for local shipments and even small parcels.

Tip #7: Make deliveries at night

JMC does about 80 percent of its deliveries at night, with drivers possessing keys to the various facilities or alarm codes to enter the facilities.

“If a shipment gets there at midnight it doesn’t have much effect on the customer, as long as it’s there in the morning when he comes in,”

says Bob Kulich, president of JMC. “We’ve tried to develop our business model with as much fail-safe in it as possible so that the franchisees don’t have to worry about what we do.”

Efficiency shot up after the switch to nighttime deliveries because JMC didn’t have traffic to deal with or people in the restaurants getting in the way, Kulich says.

Tip #8: Educate and partner with your customers

Keeping the communication flowing with clients is important in today’s environment of high vehicle operating costs and fuel prices. “Educating the customer plays a key role in this,” Kulich says.

Customers will understand the extenuating circumstances that necessitate a need to change business as usual, especially if they know you’re trying to avoid instituting a delivery charge.

“You’ve got to do things differently to make it work,” Kulich says. “Those days of saying, ‘You’re the service provider to me, whatever I ask for,’ are really gone. It needs to be more of a partnership.”

Originally posted on Business Fleet

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