Anticipating a new year in trucking activity

Fleet owners in a variety of industries can start 2014 off on the right foot by investing in advanced transportation management software. Success in the freight industry has always depended on several factors, many of which are out of the control of individual managers and employees. For instance, even the most thoroughly planned delivery can run into problems when a severe weather system affects highway safety along a previously identified route. In other cases, sudden shifts in the fuel prices can transform what was once an affordable operation into an expensive burden.

In most cases, the best safeguard against these variables is a plan B. However, small and medium-sized fleet managers who have a limited number of resources aren't always able to easily reorganize their businesses at a moment's notice. What these companies need is automated technology such as logistics software that delivers the kind of flexibility and reliability needed to meet the challenges facing today's trucking industry.

As fleet owners head into 2014, here are some other key trends to anticipate:

More stringent regulations
This year, many freight businesses were up in arms in response to the "hours of service" regulations set in place by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). July 1 was the compliance date for new rules regulating the number of consecutive hours individual truck drivers can operate on the road. Many shipping organizations argued the limits would have a severe impact on driver productivity and livelihood.

"If they don't have the ability to go as far as they used to, that means they aren't making as much money," Lyndon Finney, editor of the The Trucker, told Fox Business. "If you take a guy driving 700 miles a week and cut 5 percent, over time that becomes a huge money deal."

Fleet managers will have to continue adapting to the new rules in 2014. Similarly, businesses can expect further increases in the national standards for energy efficiency. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced it will introduce a proposal for an updated renewable fuel standard at some point in the year. Such a measure would set an official framework for requiring a certain concentration of alternative fuels for vehicles in the near future.

To better accommodate these trends, fleet managers may want to consider utilizing route optimization software to ensure truck drivers make the shortest deliveries possible while simultaneously minimizing the amount of fuel used.

Improved engine fuel economy
Equipment maintenance software is also a reliable tool for businesses that want to make sure their fleets are operating with maximum efficiency. The online publication Truckinginfo said a growing trend in the transportation industry is for managers to focus on smaller, less powerful vehicles.

"Instead of getting more truck than you need so you'll never be overloaded, it makes more sense to get that loaded 90 percent every day," Todd Bloom, president and CEO of Mitsubishi Truck of America, told Truckinginfo. "If you need more for the busy season, you can go out and rent what you need."

While buying entirely new vehicles may be out of the question in the near future for many companies, maintenance software allows managers to easily bring their existing fleets up to par with engine efficiency and reliability.

Variable travel distances
The American Trucking Associations' (ATA) recent "Trends" report found that many trucks have been traveling longer collective distances compared to previous years. However, hours of service regulations, as well as the unpredictable price of fuel, may lead many fleet owners to alter their routes to make larger numbers of shorter trips. Businesses can easily prepare for this trend by investing in truck dispatch software to ensure assignments are scheduled and organized as effectively as possible.