Which way to go?

Latest mileage, routing programs eliminate guesswork.

Routing and mileage programs are the heart of fleet management systems. When integrated with fleet dispatch, billing, payroll, reporting and other applications, the vital data – routes, miles, travel times, etc. – is ready on demand.

RayTrans Trucking – an owner-operator fleet based in Matteson, Ill. – recently installed ProMiles’ routing and mileage software in its custom-built fleet management software system at the server level. RayTrans uses a Microsoft SQL Server 2005-based system to operate five separate business units that include brokerage, third-party logistics and trucking. Although each division uses separate systems, they now all have a common “mileage machine,” says Jim Ray, president and chief executive officer. “[ProMiles] has a very strong programming base,” Ray says. “They integrate directly into our products.”

As with most technology, mileage software programs continue to expand and improve in functionality. Recent upgrades to these programs, used either as standalone applications or integrated with fleet management systems, are helping fleets eliminate guesswork and miscommunication, thereby reducing costs and improving productivity.

Fleets are using the latest versions and optional features to generate optimal, low-cost routes that factor in a broad set of constraints such as travel times, distances, toll costs, fuel prices, traffic congestion, vehicle sizes and turn restrictions. Fleets also are routing vehicles and capturing mileages with greater detail than ever – right down to the precise city address and even the specific dock at a distribution center.

Knowing your costs
With many states using tolls as a primary revenue source to fund highway projects, fleets no longer can afford to ignore or estimate toll costs when quoting rates. To that end, software providers are beginning to incorporate precise toll costs in their mileage and routing databases.

Last year, Arnold Transportation Services (ATS) spent $2.68 million on tolls – 1.1 percent of total expenses, says Richard Wolfe, the company’s director of pricing services. The company had developed its own “homegrown” strategy for toll accounting, but this strategy proved inadequate.

“We found ourselves relying on people in dispatch to find toll information based on certain routes,” Wolfe says. Inaccurate information translated into poor performance: Only 11 percent of ATS’ actual toll costs, or $307,000, was passed on to customers as accessorial charges, he says.

This year, ATS began using ALK Technologies’ FleetSuite Tolls, an optional module for ALK’s PC Miler mileage and routing system. ATS now plugs five-digit ZIP code combinations into a spreadsheet template that contains its customer rates; the spreadsheet then pulls in toll costs for each lane from PC Miler.

As a result of using FleetSuite Tolls, ATS is able to recapture significantly more toll costs from customers by having precise toll calculations built into its line-haul rates. “The economic environment allowed us to pass on costs to customers,” Wolfe says.

Route optimization
Toll costs are one of several recent enhancements fleets are using to better manage their expenses. To tackle a much more significant cost – fuel – several vendors now include price information and built-in mathematical algorithms to calculate the lowest-cost fuel plan for each route.

RayTrans uses ProMiles XF with fuel optimization as a major selling point to its owner-operators. Dispatchers now send drivers optimized routes that include detailed fueling plans. “We have seen some times where it saves drivers $80 on a single fueling,” Ray says.

Prophesy Software offers a module called Fuel Logic that integrates with its Mileage and Routing application to find the best commercial route using practical miles. FuelLogic contains a database of every truck stop, with fuel prices at each location updated from T-Chek Systems four times a day, says Bill Ashburn, vice president of sales for Prophesy Software.

“Mileage and Routing is tightly integrated with all the components we sell,” Ashburn says.

Rand McNally recently announced the release of IntelliRoute Fuel – an integrated routing and fuel optimization service available as an option in IntelliRoute, says Bernie Hockswender, Rand McNally’s director of sales for commercial transportation. To offer this service, the company partnered with Fuel Advice.com, a service offered by Integrated Decision Support Corp.

Fleets can route by a number of parameters, including practical, quickest and lowest cost; users also specify the tank capacity, current fuel level and MPG. Once these parameters are entered, IntelliRoute Fuel optimizes fuel purchases by amount and location along the chosen route.

Rand McNally also introduced IntelliRoute Lane Rates through a partnership with IDSC. The option will tell users the going rate for any particular lane in the United States or Canada between a ZIP code combination and by operation – flatbed, refrigerated or dry van. IDSC maintains a database of more than 12 million freight bills it has collected from carriers, Hockswender says; the service also calculates the fuel surcharge and state fuel tax for each option in Lane Rates.

“We think [Lane Rates] will be highly utilized as an analysis and productivity tool,” he says.

Driver directions
Integration of mileage and routing software with wireless communications is not a new development, but vendors recently have created ways to automate driver directions and offer in-cab navigation for inexpensive handsets and onboard devices.

Robert Owen Trucking – a 30-truck dry van carrier based in Navarre, Ohio – uses integrated dispatch, mileage and mobile communication solutions from Prophesy Software. As soon as a dispatcher assigns a load to a driver, the driver receives load information and directions in his GPS-enabled Nextel handset. Automating driver directions has eliminated a lot of phone calls, says Chris Owen, the company’s vice president.

The feature used by Robert Owen Trucking and others is inexpensive. A data plan for a GPS-enabled Nextel phone is $10 a month, and GPS tracking is $9.95 a month. Including these costs, Prophesy’s Mobile Comm solution – which includes driver directions and integration with Prophesy’s Dispatch, Mileage and Routing, among other offerings – costs a total of $35 a month per truck, Ashburn says.

Recently, many fleets are interested in combining navigation solutions with the in-cab devices they use for mobile communications – either onboard computers or cell phones, says Ed Siciliano, ALK’s vice president of sales and marketing. In 2005, ALK introduced PC Miler Mobile, the first spoken, turn-by-turn commercial truck navigation solution for GPS-enabled Nextel handsets.

Looking to the future, Ken Crane, IT applications manager for U.S. Xpress, says management wants to take advantage of newer software and move navigation into truck cabs.

One of the best ways to improve utilization, he says, is to eliminate the time drivers waste looking on a map. “[In-cab navigation] takes a lot of guesswork out of it,” Crane says.

At recent trucking trade shows, Maptuit – a provider of advanced navigation solutions – has been demonstrating a product that it soon will release officially. The product uses DriverTech’s Truck-PC mobile communications unit and Maptuit’s Web-based mapping, routing and management tools. The new system features turn-by-turn spoken navigation, live traffic data, and visual routing and directions.

Last October, map and mileage data provider TeleAtlas and Qualcomm announced a joint effort to develop a commercial truck routing, navigation and information solution for Qualcomm’s OmniVision – the next-generation platform Qualcomm plans to release later this year. The platform will include spoken, turn-by-turn navigation in the cab.

TeleAtlas has built commercial routes for many different truck attributes – such as hazmat or 53-foot trailers – for a street network of 125 million addresses, seven million miles, in 900 U.S. cities, says Dana Fenner, TeleAtlas market director of fleet logistics. For its part, Qualcomm is providing latitude and longitude coordinates to TeleAtlas about where trucks actually drive for more accurate routing – down to the exact delivery points of entrances and exits at distribution centers, Fenner says.

As software providers continue to develop new features and modules for their offerings – and update these systems constantly with real-time fuel prices and traffic information – more functionality and accuracy is added every day.

Version control
Web-based platforms yield real-time fuel, traffic data

In years past, to stay current with the latest features and updates to mileage and routing software, fleets regularly had to install new versions in their computers using CDs. But the Internet is a much more efficient means to update the software that many fleet information systems depend on for accurate data.

Today, most mapping and mileage software providers have developed Web-based platforms to keep their customers’ databases current. ProMiles offers its ProMiles XF version 12 as a Web-based version so that fleets can have continuously updated fuel prices to optimize their fuel purchases along a route. Likewise, traffic updates can be sent to fleets immediately instead of on a monthly or quarterly basis, says Chris Lee, marketing manager for ProMiles Software.

“Several years ago, you had to install a complete version,” Lee says. “Now with the wider availability of broadband, several of the software providers offer online applications to reduce implementation costs.”

Speedy searches
With ProMiles mileage software integrated at the server level, dispatchers for trucking and brokerage firm RayTrans can perform lightning-fast searches to match equipment and loads. The graph above depicts the search speed in seconds as different data sources – each with hundreds of thousands of elements – are added to a search in RayTrans’ custom
dispatch software called White Lightning.