Gridlock highlights need for cost-cutting routing software

With more people on the road commuting to their jobs and more businesses creating demand for transportation and delivery services, traffic congestion is growing across the nation as the economy picks up. The increased traffic on local roads and highways is becoming a serious national issue, especially for transportation companies that have drivers delivering or picking up shipments regularly or those fleets operating on tight schedules.

Gridlock Index shows travel times worsening
A new report shows traffic problems are on the rise. The INRIX Gridlock Index (IGI) indicated drivers spent 1.6 percent more time in trafficduring January 2013 than they did in January 2012. This is the second consecutive month to see a year-over-year increase in gridlock, according to the data, reversing the previous trend of year-over-year declines.

The IGI showed 55 of the nation's biggest metro areas saw a traffic congestion increase in January. Gridlock skyrocketed in Salt Lake City and Ogden, Utah, with traffic problems up 111 and 200 percent respectively. Greensboro, North Carolina, saw a huge gain in hold-ups, as economic growth and job creation put more drivers on the roads and gridlock shot up 192 percent. Knoxville, Tennessee, also saw congestion leap more than 100 percent, while traffic delays in Richmond, Virginia, rose 86 percent.

TTI report highlights irregular hold ups
This isn't the only survey highlighting how long drivers are spending on the nation's roads and how much time they're wasting in traffic. The recently released Urban Mobility Report from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) indicated traffic congestion has continued to increase as the economy improves. According to the report, the city with the most gridlock is Washington, D.C. It is followed by Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Boston. Also poorly ranked were Houston, Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia and Seattle.

According to the Texas A&M report, the total cost of traffic congestion in 2011 reached $121 billion, of which $27 billion was attributed to wasted time and diesel fuel from trucking operations. While much of this time is spent during rush hour, when traffic is nearly always held up, it's becoming more frequent at points throughout the day, causing delays and other problems for drivers who are on the road consistently. Routing and scheduling software can help fleets overcome the productivity impact from heavy traffic.

"We all understand that trips take longer in rush hour, but for really important appointments, we have to allow increasingly more time to ensure an on-time arrival," said Bill Eisele, a TTI researcher and co-author of the report. 

Working to get around the costs of gridlock
While drivers can't always avoid bad traffic entirely, there are steps fleet managers can take to help ensure their vehicles don't spend hours in gridlock, as consistently running into congestion can throw off pickup or delivery schedules and cost an organization even more in fuel expenses.

Routing and scheduling optimization software can help managers build the shortest and most efficient trip plans for their drivers, ensuring they will make it to their destinations on time. However, the shortest path may not be the quickest for drivers who are on a tight schedule, as it may lead them to frequently congested highways or gridlocked main roads during inconvenient periods. With route optimization software that supports customizable business rules and different transit times over the same roads at different times of the day, planners can automate the process of generating efficient routes. Using local knowledge about traffic congestion patterns, fleets can fine-tune the scheduling output from routing software to assure that drivers are planned on routes that should experience less congestion during travel times with achievable stop schedules and sequences. 

Route optimization technology balances travel time constraints with order delivery requirements to generate a specific sequence for scheduled stops along with a direct route that minimizes wasted miles and potential traffic delays, reducing fuel consumption and cutting operating costs while assuring necessary customer service performance.