The trucking industry has been carrying a significant portion of blame for supply-chain issues that continue to affect stock on American shelves, but industry experts say a truck driver shortage isn’t one of the underlying causes.
Priyesh Ranjan, CEO of Vorto, which recently launched an app called 5F that aims to minimize driver downtime, among other things, said there is no driver shortage, just poor driver utilization that has resulted in low pay and inconsistent work, causing drivers to flee the industry.
“When we looked at our data, we realized there is no driver shortage in America; there are only inefficiencies. The reason trucking is not a lucrative industry for drivers, especially the next generation, is there's so much idle time,” Ranjan said. “So our AI is only focused … on how to increase the loads per day per driver.”
The company is banking on artificial intelligence to revolutionize the shipping industry and make commercial driving a more attractive career option.
“It's driving efficiency by solving something that is too complex for human beings to solve,” Ranjan said. “AI will be part of the fabric in every part of the supply chain … It's that level of dynamic and speed of decision making that is needed in order to drive the efficiencies and not have the driver shortage.”
The 5F platform serves five areas, but Ranjan said it is focused on one “North Star,” and that is maximizing the utilization rate and earnings for drivers. 5F automates the overhead costs of a trucking company, which means it can pay drivers 92.5% to 95% of the load price versus the industry standard of 75% to 80%.
The app increases drive time and decreases idle time by connecting drivers with shippers and handling billing and payments through the platform. Ranjan said drivers can go from driving only about six hours a day – the rest of their time is spent idling, doing paperwork or driving empty – to working 10 or 11 hours, boosting their revenue. They can also use the app to select loads based on geography. With 5F, deadhead and idle time is reduced from 50% to 10%, the company said.
“By maximizing the driver’s utilization rate and income with AI, we are able to reduce driver churn and provide stable and lower cost freight to shippers,” Ranjan said. “We have been able to move the same amount of freight with up to 60% less trucks by reducing deadhead and idle time for drivers.”
The 5F app isn’t used by drivers alone. It includes five different platforms for five different users.
“We sat down and we kind of deconstructed the trucking industry into those five pieces,” Ranjan said. “We oftentimes struggle to explain it because people think it's maybe a digital load board like Uber Freight or … it could just be like a matchmaking thing. It's basically an end-to-end ecosystem of trucking.”
With the app, shippers and brokers can automatically dispatch loads, make payments, view the live status of shipments and view their acceptance rate. It gives owner-operators access to drivers and equipment, dispatching and an invoice and billing system that provides payments the next day. Asset owners can join the 5F network and lease their assets, like trailers, through the app. Yard and maintenance owners can also join the network – an Airbnb concept that allows drivers to drop trailers at any 5F yard and pick up another trailer and keep moving. The transaction is done entirely through the app. Ranjan said it also serves like a LinkedIn for drivers, matching them with owner-operators.
The app launched last year and already has around 40,000 users.
Denver-based supply chain and distribution center management company UChain Group Inc., also recently launched an app to help improve driver downtimes.
Though not based on AI, its FreightSmith software also connects drivers and shippers, offering time-saving features like mobile check-ins and mobile payments for freight deliveries.
“There's this big black hole between when a driver arrives at a receiver and when they depart,” said Tim Wells, senior director of strategy for FreightSmith. “So the idea around the FreightSmith digital solution was how do you create visibility and communication through the whole gate-to-gate arrival to departure process. How do you make it so there's clear communication and the ability for a driver to operate within their workplace or within the cab versus getting in and out of their cab, not understanding what's happening, being able to pay for the unloading component, as well as being communicated to so that they know exactly where they're at in the process? The solution is designed to take out all that waste and speed up the entire receiving process.”
He said FreightSmith provides visibility into the milestones of the process.
The free app sees the driver through check in, door assignment, payment and departure. It allows drivers to verify who they are upon arrival and fill out any paperwork through the portal. They are then notified when a door is available to drop their load. The app provides alerts that a payment is due, and payments can be processed through the app. If a driver doesn’t have the authority to make payments, their dispatcher can access the web portal and pay on behalf of the driver.
Wells said the goal of the app is to reduce driver downtimes and resolve supply chain issues, but it was originally developed with driver safety in mind as they often walk in high-traffic areas.
“I would say first and foremost, the solution is focused on personal safety,” he said. “Secondly, is to reduce the time it takes on activities through the gate-to-gate process, so driver uptime, keeping drivers on the road, and (provide) a better driver experience so the drivers actually enjoy the unloading process.”
Next up for FreightSmith, Wells said, is developing a pre-check process away from the delivery site to reduce inbound congestion and allow drivers to park safely in an alternate location and receive a notification on the app when the receiver is ready.
For Vorto, Ranjan said 5F’s next focus is on creating “tours” in which a driver can provide their current location, specify where they want to go next, and the app automatically builds a sequence of loads to get them where they want to go.