Traffic congestion a growing factor for fleet routing and scheduling

Truckers who travel long distances often navigate rural highways that have little congestion. Yet when drivers are getting closer to their intended destinations, they often have to fight their way through traffic jams that have been getting increasingly worse in America's largest cities. For commercial drivers who operate light and medium-duty vehicles within a metro region, traffic delays can be a daily occurrence. Not only does traffic congestion add to local pollution levels, it can also impact the bottom line at many transportation service companies. Solutions such as routing and scheduling software can help commercial drivers avoid some of the worst traffic, saving time and money.

According to a recent survey published by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, traffic congestion in some of the most highly populated cities in the United States cost the commercial trucking industry about $27 billion in wasted time and fuel in 2011. Commercial carriers and private fleets are being forced to set aside more time for certain routes, with a negative impact on the number of clients they can serve and their potential revenues.

"As bad as traffic jams are, it's even more frustrating that you can't depend on traffic jams being consistent from day-to-day," said Bill Eisele, a TTI researcher and report co-author. "This unreliable travel is costly for commuters and truck drivers moving goods."

Planning time continuing to grow
Many commercial fleets have to ensure that their vehicles will arrive on time, as the businesses they serve rely on timely deliveries. The report developed the Planning Time Index (PTI) - a measure of travel reliability that illustrates the amount of extra time needed to arrive at a specific time for higher-priority events. Fleet owners sending drivers through the country's most congested cities must take traffic congestion into consideration during routing and scheduling and the PTI may help. Traffic in the top five areas in the U.S., such as Washington, D.C, Los Angeles, San Francisco-Oakland, New York-Newark and Boston, is so bad that some fleets have to account for trips up to six times as long as they would be in a city with less traffic.

Traffic exacerbates pollution
The Urban Mobility Report (UMR) also shed some light on the effect traffic has on pollution. By taking insights from the National Center for Freight and Infrastructure Research and Education, the TTI was able to conclude that the additional carbon dioxide emissions attributed to traffic congestion was roughly 56 billion pounds and fuel wasted in congested traffic reached a total of 2.9 billion gallons. With increasing focus on environmental sustainability, fleets may look to solutions that help to route trips around problem areas and reduce the amount of wasted fuel and additional emissions.

"Including CO2 emissions into the UMR provides another dimension to the urban congestion problem," said researcher and co-author David Schrank. "It points to the importance of implementing transportation improvements to reduce congestion."

Fleets have options to address fuel savings
Technological innovations make it easier for fleet managers to improve the productivity of their fleets. Investments in routing and scheduling optimization could also help trucking firms reduce their carbon footprint and save money that impacts their bottom line. A recent report from the Carbon War Room and Trimble outlined some ways fleet managers can boost their efficiency.

  • Anti-idling solutions: Even in the slowest-moving traffic, drivers often have no alternative to idling engines, but when they are parked for rest stops or waiting at delivery locations, reducing the need for engine idling can lead to significant fuel savings. Purchasing direct-fired heaters and auxiliary power units can dramatically cut down the amount of fuel consumed when drivers are in their vehicles but not on the road.
  • Advanced cruise control: The ideal speed for fuel efficiency in most trucks is believed to be around 65 mph. With advanced cruise control solutions coming out on many new vehicles, drivers can set their vehicles to travel at the most efficient speeds relative to traffic. Improving fuel efficiency can also help reduce CO2 emissions.
  • Logistics management solutions: Fleets are increasingly investing in software solutions for routing and scheduling as well as vehicle tracking to help them plan more efficient routes for their drivers and to monitor wasteful driving behavior while on those routes. Fleet management and maintenance solutions designed to keep trucks in better shape can also contribute to improving fleet fuel efficiency and reducing operating costs. 

Reducing or controlling operating costs is always one of the top priorities for transportation and fleet managers. Investing in software and hardware technologies that improve fleet and operational efficiency can yield quick return on investment, with savings of 10 percent to 20 percent commonly reported across miles, hours and equipment costs. More efficient commercial transportation operations can also benefit the country's most congested cities with reduced CO2 emissions.