How much are right turns costing your business?

Written by Ellie

Data driven changes don’t have to be huge to make a big difference. Back in 2004, delivery company UPS found out something incredible – that turning left (this is in the right-hand driving USA) against on-coming traffic cost money, wasted time and led to more accidents. So the company introduced the ‘no-left turns policy’, a small – and perhaps even unlikely – tweak that has led to the company saving millions in fuel.

The genius of the UPS strategy hinges on the fact that the shortest route is not always the best. We may have had a go at this ourselves. Confronted by a mass of red lines on the sat nav, we occasionally choose to skip the jams by taking the (usually) longer back roads.

In creating set routes according to a number of mathematical criteria, the vehicle routing software, ORION, saves the company 10m gallons of fuel, 20,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide and delivers 350,000 more packages every year. All this on top of reducing its fleet by 1,100 vans and reducing the total distance travelled by 28.5m miles[1].

This works for UPS largely because of two things: First, the routes are set using an algorithm and plugged into their wayfinding tech. Drivers don’t have to think on the hop. Second, the size of the company. Small changes add up to a big difference when scale is involved. Smaller fleets would have to make more changes than just getting rid of left turns if they’re to make a big dent in their bottom line.

That’s not to say UPS is the only company that should give something like no left turns a go.

Find your right turn

First of all, you need to find out what your fleet is doing right now. If you have habitual routes, look at them and see what could be changed. Perhaps it’s not just about right turns, our UPS equivalent in the UK. Are your drivers idling at lights a lot or in jams? Would they spend less time stuck in snarl-ups if they could take that route at a different time?

On board telematics data provides an historical set of data around driving routes and time taken. If there’s a large volume of that information it makes sense to use dedicated software to analyse it.

But even if you’re operating on a much smaller scale, it’s not too hard to compare routes and time taken. If you haven’t got enough information, it’s worth setting yourself a small experiment. What happens if you change the route time or alter the order drivers have to do things so the route is more efficient?

Once you’ve found your own version of ‘no right turns’ it’s simple enough to add suggested routes into your drivers’ satnav or GPS systems. On a really small scale, it’s just a case of plugging a suggested route into a smartphone map functionality like Google Maps (provided the driver can access it hands-free of course).

Sense check your routes with drivers

Sometimes, things that seem like they’re a great idea on paper don’t pan out in reality. Delivery drivers are great at providing examples of what routes work and how to react to problems. For example, the growth in online shopping has meant retailers have started offering a choice of delivery times to stay competitive. But this means the delivery drivers have to meet those promises.

Customers might be getting packages at convenient times but some drivers have reported that it means they’re taking inefficient routes. Some are forced through town centres at rush hour, others have to use motorways to get from A to B more quickly. Of course, what they make up in speed, they burn up in fuel.

If you’re going to play around with routes and scheduling such as bringing in a rule like ‘No right turns’, it’s worth getting your drivers on board so you can avoid the law of unintended consequences. The route you suggest to them may seem more efficient and be proven to lower fuel costs but what if it’s a lot more stressful or features riskier driving from others on the road? You won’t make many savings if your accident rate goes up.

Drivers can be sceptical about business improvements that are dreamt up by machines or even people who aren’t on the road with them so make it a collaborative process. Bring all your variables together – road conditions, impact of speed, manoeuvres, traffic density – and plot out possible scenarios.

But then bring in your drivers for a sense check. They can tell you that the road you see with no traffic lights leads down past a school where a lollipop lady holds the traffic up three times a day and is full of hidden hazards such as children running out or parents parking on double yellows. It also makes the drivers feel part of the process and more likely to support it.

Any fleet, big or small, can make surprisingly big improvements in efficiency just by making a small data-based tweak to everyday routines. It’s easy to slip into a habit because it’s what you’ve always done but be prepared to act on what the data is telling you. And remember that not all data comes out of a machine. The human databases behind the wheel of your vehicles contain some of the most valuable information of all.


Source: Fluid Thinking – Shell

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