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No Left Turns

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Each day, United Parcel Service moves 16 million packages using more than 100,000 trucks. With that much merchandise in transit, expenses are substantial. But UPS has cut its operating costs significantly, due in no small part to a logistics policy that has been in place for decades: UPS trucks avoid making left turns whenever possible.

“You don’t want to be turning left at a major thoroughfare. You could be sitting [at a stoplight] for two or three cycles,” Dan McMackin, public relations manager with UPS, and a former driver-trainer for the delivery giant, explained.

Avoiding Waste, Saving Money

By avoiding left turns, drivers waste less time and gasoline and minimize their potential exposure to traffic accidents at busy intersections, especially those that lack left turn signals. Along with reducing the number of miles necessary to complete a day’s deliveries, minimizing left turns also makes the delivery process more efficient, McMackin explained.

“We shave 20 or 25 percent of time, miles and fuel with planned routes versus a haphazard approach,” he said.

For a huge company like UPS, 20 to 25 percent reduction in miles translates to millions, if not billions of dollars. As a bonus, UPS has also significantly decreased its carbon footprint, simply by using less fuel and having its vehicles on the road for less time.

But shaving one fifth to one quarter off the number of miles racked up by company vehicles is nothing to dismiss for an enterprise of any size. Reducing the number of miles accumulated by company vehicles has a knock on effect of reducing employee time spent behind the wheel, lowering fuel costs, minimizing wear and tear on equipment and reducing potential exposure to accidents, all of which translates to a healthier bottom line.

“Miles are the holy grail. They impact everything,” McMackin said.

Understanding No Left Turns

Essential to adapting the UPS strategy of minimizing left turns in operating delivery and other company vehicles is understanding how the principle actually does – and doesn’t work. In fact, the catchy label often attached to the policy of minimizing left turns – No Left Turns – is actually a misnomer, according to McMackin.

“The notion is not that we make no left turns. It’s [No Left Turns] a cool thing for TV,” he said.

Instead, UPS plans delivery routes for its vehicles according to a relatively simple strategy of keeping its trucks on the right side of the road whenever possible. UPS delivery trucks actually often make at least one left turn at one end of a block before making a return trip down the other side of the street, especially in rural areas, according to McMackin.

“We keep our trucks on the right side of the street to keep the right hand door directly in front of the house or business,” he explained.

Package Flow Technology and ORION

The policy of minimizing left turns is just one aspect of what UPS calls package flow technology. Another aspect is proprietary routing software called On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation, or ORION. ORION executes superfast calculations to adjust drivers’ routes, often making changes nearly in real time based on factors such as traffic, weather conditions and drivers’ present locations, and delivering alternate routes to drivers’ hand-held computers, McMackin said.

“We’ve been doing big data since before the term even existed,” he explained.

The Take-Home Lesson

Of course, it is often impractical for small companies to incorporate sophisticated and expensive tools like ORION – which UPS isn’t planning to share or sell anyway. Instead, smaller companies can adapt a strategy of pre-planning delivery routes along with implementing an overall policy of minimizing road time for company vehicles, if they don’t already do so. It’s also necessary to consider whether large up-front investments could enhance business operations sufficiently to create savings down the line. It’s a balancing act that every business owner must carry out individually, according to McMackin.

“You have to ask, when does it make sense to own versus lease equipment? What is the break even point? There is no silver bullet,” he said.

Audrey Henderson

Posted In: ACCA Now, Vehicles & Fleets

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