Pressure on businesses to reduce costs requires transport to be operated in the most cost effective way possible. For companies with fleets of vehicles, operating over a geographically dispersed area with changing requirements, the task of matching loads with resources and providing a day-to-day contact point for drivers falls to the Traffic Office. In many cases, the task has become more challenging as major operators seek to operate with a mixed model of dedicated resources and subcontractors.
The use of technology to aid the planning process is now well established, however, the early dream that all the necessary data could be loaded into a computer for it to determine the optimum use of resources has too often resulted in failure. Not because the problem was too difficult, or the software too limited, but because of the difficulty of getting up-to-date information into the system on a timely basis and the dynamic, fluid nature of the task. The system ran out of time not processing power and, while automated route scheduling systems have proven to be of considerable value in infrastructure and resource planning, they have had only limited success in dynamic day-to-day route scheduling and traffic management.
Today, there is recognition that the best use of technology is to provide an aid to the traffic operator rather than attempting to replace them.
In a busy traffic office, the manager’s role is not only about calculation, but also about judgement and persuasion. Planning the optimum solution is only part of the job. Also important is the ability to decide whether a vehicle is really full or whether there is room for the extra drop, persuading the driver to make an additional run when he would prefer to clock off, negotiating rates, calling in favours from subcontractors to avoid a service failure or phoning a customer to see if a delivery can be made late.
At the same time, a good traffic management system can be useful in:
- Calculating the ‘load units’ of a collection or delivery
- Presenting the availability of resources in an easy to assimilate form to the Traffic Manager
- Providing on screen maps and location ‘flags’ to aid the planning process
- Calculating the time and distance of a route as it is built allowing rapid evaluation of alternatives
- Providing a database of subcontractors’ contact details and rates
- Automatically producing purchase orders for subcontractors
- Keeping track of the ‘order well’ and status of each order
- Flagging priority and urgent delivery and collection jobs
- Tracking drivers’ hours and future availability
- Preparing necessary despatch documentation and instructions for the warehouse
- Recording rates agreed with customers
- Monitoring the return of POD’s
- Providing constant visibility of the activities of a number of operators to enhance effective team working
- Automating despatch notification to the customer
A well thought out system will provide additional time to the traffic manager which, in a busy traffic office, is the most valuable commodity of all.
IN CAB TECHNOLOGY
With regards to in cab technology, this can also prove extremely powerful if used effectively. The most useful tools are:
- Monitoring fuel, speeding, high revving, harsh braking, harsh acceleration, excessive idling: Particularly useful if discussed as part of the traffic office debrief process
- Location monitoring via GPS: Can be useful for planning collections, planning second loads or alerting delivery points to the imminent arrival of a vehicle
- Hand held devices: Particularly useful for recording real time delivery information for computer uploading directly into a central computer
- In cab cameras: Helpful in supporting a driver in the event of a non blameworthy accident. Encourages better driving
As the price of both hardware and software continue to fall in real terms, the use of technology in managing and planning traffic operations will continue to grow. For some time yet, the secret will be in deciding how to make the drivers and traffic managers more productive, with more effective resources, rather than seeking to replace them with over complicated and inflexible tools.