Trip Planning: Using Tools to Make Better Decisions

In our latest episode of McLeod Insights, we sat down with team members Randal Sanchez, Solutions Architect, and Kem Wallace, Senior Solutions Architect at McLeod Software. We discussed trip planning and better management techniques for transportation companies. 

Major Variables that Affect Trip Planning

When it comes to dispatchers, customer service representatives, and planners, the idea of trip planning encompasses an entire realm within the operations world. Trip planning starts with customer service because those representatives have a firm understanding of the company’s business and day-to-day capacity.

“Customer service folks need to have a relationship with their planners. Their job is to work together to create a balance,” Randal says. “They need to make sure that they’re not leaving anybody sitting.” 

The planner’s job is to understand the commitment to the customer, determine the needs of a specific run, and to be familiar with the route and length of the trip. They also know the drivers’ availability, and which drivers have a fresh set of hours in order to take on the trip. 

According to Kem, at each stage–including customer service, planning, and driver management, there are a number of operational variables. These include: 

  • Hours of Service (HOS)
  • Time off
  • Deadhead
  • Load pay
  • Driver suitability
  • Time/distance calculations 

Each variable is critical to the trip, and getting one wrong can negatively impact the trip. Adopting a system that can help your team do the heavy lifting ensures that better choices are made for a consistent outcome across the board. 

Monitoring HOS and Trip-Impacting Data in Real-Time

Tools that report data such as HOS, traffic, weather, and fuel routes in real-time gives dispatchers the opportunity to anticipate the needs of a trip as it’s happening.

HOS reporting tools allow all members of the planning team to have access to the same, objective information across the board. Everyone is working with the same data, and accountability rates are higher. For many companies, HOS reporting has directly led to changing the traditional approach to trip planning. 

“With that real-time telemetry, it allows a more complete and efficient use of the drivers,” Kem says. “So everyone benefits–the driver, operations, the customer–by having that information and letting them use the tool to manage the estimated time of arrival in an automated fashion.” 

The ability to incorporate drivers’ HOS into every part of the dispatcher’s daily life helps them make more informed calculations and decisions. In the past, dispatchers were required to calculate HOS on their own, then call the driver to verify that number was correct. With automation, a number of steps are cut from the process for greater efficiency. 

Real-time HOS availability also enables dispatch managers to monitor the driver’s HOS daily in order to keep service at the highest possible level. 

“Things go wrong when you haul freight,” Kem says. “HOS rules now don’t allow drivers to absorb delays the way they used to. Before, you could pull over for two hours, let a wreck be cleared, and still make delivery because you could stop the on-duty clock, but those days are gone. 

“Seeing these events as they happen, and being notified about a potential service failure because the driver no longer can make the delivery without a break, allows a swap to occur before the delivery is missed. If companies aren’t monitoring the HOS data and waiting on the driver to call it, they’re taking a lot of risk with little gain.”

In addition to traffic delays, dispatchers can also monitor fuel routes and evolving weather situations that may impact trips. 

Predicting ETA and PTA More Accurately 

Mobile comms units and technology are continually improving the prediction of Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) and Projected Time of Availability (PTA). Technology, according to Kem, is about providing decision support to the dispatchers.

“We want to alert and guide the dispatcher to the exceptions they need to solve for and explain why we flagged them,” Kem says.

Accurate ETA affects pre-plans for coming loads by showing the drivers who arrive early and are able to empty their loan sooner. This pushes pickup times earlier and allows them to use HOS more wisely. Likewise, if a driver is late, the trip plans can be altered before deadheading to a locked gate. 

“The ETA must be both accurate and precise to be really helpful,” Kem says. “This takes real time telemetry on location and transit time.” 

Wrapping Up

When it comes to managing trip operations, Kem says operations managers-particularly those new to the role-should make use of every tool at their disposal.

“Use every tool that you have in your arsenal to do the heavy lifting. Use that time gained to communicate and support the people relationships,” says Kem. 

To learn more about how McLeod Software can support your trucking or transit operations, get in touch with our team.

To hear the full podcast episode featuring Randall Sanchez and Kem Wallace, click here.