While nearly everyone else is having the time of their lives during the holiday season, the transportation industry is experiencing one of the busiest and most hectic times of the year. From the week before Thanksgiving on, retailers kick off some of the biggest sales, which also means consumers spend lots of money and want goods shipped quickly to their homes and local stores.
Postal services as well as domestic and international shipping firms see a considerable increase in volume, as do business-to-business shipping and transportation. Making things even more complicated is the fact that the weather and traffic conditions often worsen during this time of year.
Altogether, it is a period when chaos reigns supreme, no matter how organized and how prepared you truly are. Adhering to best practices can, at the least, alleviate some of the rigor of holiday fleet management.
Here are some fleet management tips to help lessen the tedium and challenge of holiday operations:
1. Develop a real-time weather alert system
These days, there are enough resources to both develop and distribute real-time weather alerts to your workforce – especially drivers, thanks to fleet telematics. Long-haul routes are most susceptible to weather events, closed roads and traffic changes, which can delay a shipment considerably if and when these issues are not accounted for.
It doesn’t necessarily call for the installation of weather tracking modules inside every truck, although that would be an innovative idea. What’s most important is that the updated information is passed on to those who need it. For instance, an automated system can send text or email alerts to drivers about changes in their area. There are fleet management tools that offer such functionality built-in and others that provide real-time weather alerts and forecasting through dashboards.
A system such as this, coupled with up-to-date GPS navigation tools, can considerably improve delivery and transportation times. It will also prove invaluable when dealing with El Nino-type weather.
2. Pre-plan routes, but be dynamic
Pre-planning routes that account for traffic patterns, travel times, current weather and incident status reports is instrumental. Although you likely have a system in place for doing such a thing already, you must also have contingency options available so vehicle operators can make changes on the fly.
So many factors play a role throughout a journey even just within a local area, so you must have dynamic opportunities in place. If a road is closed, maybe taking the default detour isn’t a good idea? What if a sudden storm hits an area, is there a faster way around it? Have road conditions worsened in an area since a previous trip, like deteriorating asphalt or environmental hazards?
The takeaway here is that you should be aware at all times, and you should implement a program for your fleet that accommodates such a thing.
3. Use freight factoring services
Most carriers don’t get paid up-front when dealing with big clients. Even when they do, payments can be delayed or put off by the payee, especially during the holiday season. It isn’t such a big deal throughout the rest of the year, but during the holidays, those payments can mean the difference between smooth operations and an all-out disaster.
Transportation companies have many expenses, and fuel costs are a huge one. If and when payments see a delay, it can slow down the rest of the operation and even affect other shipments and customers.
Freight factoring services are the ideal solution for this, as the money is paid upfront by a financial backer. There are two types of freight factoring services – recourse factoring and non-recourse factoring.
With recourse, you get the money up front, but if the client doesn’t pay within 60 to 90 days, you end up with a huge problem. With non-recourse factoring, there’s no risk, whether the client pays or not.
Essentially, it means that organizations get paid for their work promptly, allowing them to stay afloat and continue operations, which would otherwise be hindered by delayed payments and the like.
4. Go paperless
There’s no reason to use traditional paperwork. There are so many useful solutions that allow you to go digital. When you consider the efficiency and accuracy that digital solutions offer, however, it makes total sense why.
Instead of requiring your fleet operators and drivers to carry around a clipboard with papers attached, swap to a digital operation. Drivers will no longer have to fill out forms or keep track of stacks of paperwork. They can handle all paperwork tasks digitally via a mobile or proprietary device. They’ll also gain access to a wide range of convenient features like the option to attach photos to reports, share location data, or even submit documents remotely while in the field.
It will save your workers a great deal of time, improve general accuracy and, most importantly, decrease delivery and operations schedules.
5. Incorporate anti-theft techniques
Thieves are very active during the holidays and freight is often especially vulnerable. Drivers might travel through unsafe areas, leave transport and storage units unattended, or park overnight to rest, all of which can contribute to potential theft. Luckily, modern vehicles have GPS and location tracking devices to better manage them.
Since it’s already in place, the location tracking should also be used for anti-theft. If a driver enters a sketchy area, it’s a good idea to send alerts to keep moving, or always stay with the vehicle if they do have to stop. Geo-fencing can help plan and prevent overnight parking in bad areas. If and when a unit vanishes, the GPS can provide valuable tracking information to the authorities.
Like any form of safeguard, anti-theft operations are at their best when they are sustained indefinitely. That means, not only should there be a program in place to make this happen, there should be ways to monitor and control events when they do arise.
Proper training, effective use of GPS and similar tracking tools, and adequate route and schedule planning can help cut down on much of the risk. In other words, anti-theft techniques should be incorporated into regular operations so they become a common, reliable resource.
Stay vigilant and Happy Holidays!
Mind these tips, and you should have a smooth, enjoyable holiday, as much as you can amid the chaos of the biggest shopping season of the year. Most importantly, you should see an improvement in general performance and delivery times, lower instances of theft, and with any luck, higher client satisfaction ratings!