Trucking is a large and influential industry in the U.S. The nation's truckers move more than 70 percent of the country's freight. Almost 34 million trucks were registered for business use in 2015, with more than 450 billion miles traveled by registered trucks that year. The industry employs 3.5 million drivers, while 7.4 million people have jobs in the trucking economy.
While much of the country's goods are transported on the road, the process lacks efficiency. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, traffic volume went up by 14 percent between 2000 and 2015, but infrastructure lagged behind, increasing by only 5.2 percent.
That's just one factor. Trucks have to get from one place to another as part of a complex network of routes that see goods travel by land, sea, air, and through multiple jurisdictions. Industry innovators are working to make the process more efficient to save money, fuel, and time.
The Trucking Industry's Biggest Challenge: Inefficiency
From the data, it's obvious that there's no shortage of transportation needs in the U.S. But although trucking is a core industry, it operates at a very low rate of efficiency. That's largely because of logistics: freight companies may want to start and end their trucks in the same place. Movement of goods involves more than just driving; skilled workers are needed to load and unload freight in a wide range of conditions. Because the process by definition is made possible by constant movement, it's no surprise that there may be more trucks on the road putting in more miles than is theoretically necessary, given the amount of freight going from one place to another.
The CEO of one company who's trying to change this phenomenon told CNBC that 30 to 40 percent of the time, the trucks running around the country are doing so empty. Dan Lewis' company Convoy uses software to match shipments to drivers in order to reduce this waste. In so doing, he claims the amount of capacity can be increased by 20 to 30 percent. For every 1 percent improvement, there's less waste to the tune of 400 million gallons of gas and 100 million person hours. Making the entire process more efficient also improves profit margins for trucking companies.
The Role GIS and Property Data Play in Route Planning
Lewis is not the first to recognize the inefficiency in trucking and attempt to solve it. Indeed, route optimization is a growing priority within the industry. Route planning is not as simple as directing a driver to get from point A to point B. There are a number of different details that must be analyzed in advance, from efficient transition between different types of transportation during long-haul routes to ensuring drivers do not drive so long as to violate laws about number of hours on the road.
Since there are so many factors to take into account, there is opportunity to streamline the shipping process. Route optimization uses modeling to build a network that maximizes the efficient movement of goods. Those models look at the specific product, available vehicles, and personnel to develop the most economical and resource-efficient route. Planners use different kinds of data, including geographic information systems, to develop these models.
But in order to maximize efficiency, the industry has to prepare for the unexpected. Geographic information systems data helps keep routes efficient in real time. GIS works both at the driver and the administrative level, meaning routes can be kept on track on the ground and from a distance. Here are some of the ways GIS works:
- Real-time traffic and accident reporting, with detour information for drivers
- Identifying truck-friendly detours (i.e., no overhanging trees or low overpasses)
- Truck tracking to assist dispatcher, load builder, and route planner
- Real-time visualization of trucks' current location to maximize planning
- Reduce load inefficiencies by responding to last-minute orders for transport
- Real-time notification of possible delays
- Automated pick-up and delivery notifications to reduce errors
- Plan for best truck for purchase given actual usage
Overall, GIS helps trucking industry leaders to know what's actually happening on the ground and to plan accordingly. The data allows for an increased responsiveness that can minimize accidents and improve logistical efficiency. That way, there's less waste of people hours, skilled labor and fuel.
Using Current Data to Optimize the Trucking Industry
Route information is essential for optimal planning. Gathering this data is the first step, made easier through DataTree's Government Agencies platform. This gives users access to area maps, real estate data, and other documents that help trucking staff to plan out the best routes for their given projects. The maps can help identify potential red flags in routes, such as residential neighborhoods with inadequate road size for large vehicles or new developments that block old transportation routes. For those looking to minimize transportation waste, it's an invaluable tool. Sign up today for a free trial to see how DataTree can improve your company's efficiency.