By Robert Ramirez
A simple principle generally causes bottlenecks and congestion: The roads and interchanges located in the worst spots are either poorly designed given traffic volumes or simply need more lanes. Unfortunately, the solution can be worse than the problem. Highway or road redesigns and new construction can sometimes cause bottlenecks, according to American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI). ATRI estimates that the trucking industry lost $75 billion in 2018 due to congestion and traffic jams. This translates to over 400,000 commercial truck drivers sitting idle for a year, per the report last conducted in 2018 by ATRI.
While fighting traffic congestion is bad for long-haul truckers, it is especially bad for short-haul truckers who are contracted to only do one day of work or have regularly scheduled trips planned each week. Short haulers are mostly day trippers who return home each night. They typically follow the same or similar route each day or travel only short distances of about 150 miles from their home base routinely. Running in this smaller area, the truck drivers become very familiar with the roads and know if there isn’t a work around a bottleneck.
Long-haul truckers are dispatched to deliveries that can keep them on the road for weeks at a time. The drivers follow detailed plans of routes not restricted by the 150-mile border, so they can find a work around if there is an issue like congestion by simply going in another direction and using a different highway. Short haulers know where bottlenecks and congestion occur, but they may not be able to change their route or find a go-around because of the contained area of their restricted route.
TIPS TO FIGHT TRAFFIC
As post-pandemic travel gears up and roads jam, consider incorporating the following steps as a defense against losing money while stuck in congestion or being late with freight:
- Trust your drivers’ knowledge and experience. While technology is a valuable tool, you’ll do best when using it combined with drivers’ wealth of information about when lanes will be congested and when known bottlenecks will materialize.
- Work with shippers and receivers on parking and drop trailers. You can ask customers to allow you to park overnight on their lots so your drivers don’t have to time their arrival while fighting traffic. By getting there early, drivers can park, rest, and have the freight unloaded in the morning. You can also negotiate a drop-and-hook strategy with shippers so your drivers can drop off shipments and pick up a new load at a time that works for them.
- Rely on on-the-ground data for rerouting. Using data from state departments of transportation, GPS sources, and the drivers themselves, you’ll be able to communicate in real time with drivers about traffic. You’ll also want to use a TMS that offers transportation planning, taking data from a trip where the driver encountered congestion at a particular time and incorporating that knowledge into planning future trips.
To better manage predictability around drivers, it also helps to run transportation scenarios with a TMS factoring loads, origins/destinations, hours-of-service (HOS) requirements, and real-world ETAs. This approach lets you develop a step-by-step plan defining where they need to go for their pickups and deliveries and enabling them to stay compliant with their HOS requirements.
Smart plans begin with historical data collected within a TMS from telematics devices, GPS, and ELDs. This equipment monitors miles traveled, starts/stops, idling time, speed, and truck locations. Dispatchers and drivers use this information to build trip plans in their TMS that are realistic and profitable. Using post trip data, dispatchers can build the best route incorporating optional routes when congestion, traffic, school zones, or construction crop up.
Pre-trip inspection time, driving time, required break time, and off-duty time can be factored into the trip schedule for even more accuracy. These accurate trip plans for drivers meet hours of service restrictions and provide more accurate estimated time of arrival (ETA). A transportation management system will generate an hour-by-hour plan for the driver considering their available work hours, pickup and delivery time windows, travel times, fuel stops, rest stops, and weigh stations. As each driver moves on the road, the trip plan and estimated arrival time are automatically updated. Smart trip plans should also factor in loading and unloading times.
Often when delivering to a location, the truck driver may have to wait to unload the truck because there isn’t a dock door open, there is a long line of other trucks ahead of them waiting to unload, or there aren’t enough workers to help unload the cargo. To eliminate this issue, drivers or dispatchers should use a scheduling-type app or functionality within a TMS to arrange for a dock to be open, find times when there is less congestion in the yard, and to schedule extra helpers to unload the truck.
TELEMATICS & ELDs
Many short-haul truckers don’t have to keep logs of their trips provided they stay within their hours of service restrictions of a 150-mile driving radius and limit of 14 hours on-duty time. So, few of these truckers have any ELDs, telematics, and GPS equipment installed in their trucks. Yet these devices provide additional benefits to the day hauler. Dispatchers have the ability to track trucks and monitor their travel. If a known road outage or planned event is going to occur, the dispatcher can alert the driver to the obstacle, then provide drivers with turn-by-turn directions to avoid it.
Even though short-haul drivers are exempt from the ELD mandate, they are still required to keep accurate records of their hours of service and to monitor compliance with the 150-mile radius. The best and easiest way to do this is with an ELD device.
Plus, ELDs and telematics equipment generate mounds of data that can be used for:
- Protecting drivers from traffic accident liabilities because driver behavior is recorded and can be used as evidence to exonerate evidence.
- Keeping in compliance with HOS.
- Monitoring vehicle and engine diagnostics codes for improved maintenance and upkeep.
- Avoiding having to keep paper records and tracking of the daily record of duty status.
- Keeping track of truck assets and drivers to ensure safety of both.
With data from ELDs and telematics equipment along with other equipment within a truck, such as dash cams, trucking businesses can become overloaded and will need to sift through the noise. You can focus on key performance indicators and potentially uncover problems you were not aware of. One short-haul trucking firm was able to remove 10 trucks from their fleet while increasing mileage by 10,000 miles per truck because of the data collected and analyzed within their TMS from ELDs.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Robert Ramirez is the head of sales at Axele, a transportation management system company. Find out more, visit www.axele.com.