Rising transportation costs are hitting more store shelves as shippers and carriers — particularly truckers — pass on to consumers the impact of soaring gas prices and an ongoing capacity crunch.
What can companies do to navigate this challenge? One major cause of fuel waste is truck idling, where reports say that billions of gallons of fuel are wasted annually, adding up to billions of dollars in lost revenue.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “Idling a heavy-duty truck consumes about 0.8 gallon of fuel per hour. Even when diesel costs as little as $2.50 a gallon, fuel for one 10-hour rest period will cost $20. Typically, a long-haul truck idles about 1,800 hours per year, using about 1,500 gallons of diesel. Argonne National Laboratory (Argonne) estimates that, in the U.S., rest-period truck idling consumes up to 1 billion gallons of fuel annually at a cost of around $3 billion.”
Truck idling is something that the local, state and federal government have been trying to curb more of recently to help reduce pollutants from emissions. And while those laws have impacted the industry, there remain situations where idling can’t be avoided, like waiting at traffic stops for extended periods of time or even waiting to get in and out of facilities — where wait times can be upwards of a few hours. While some idling can’t be avoided, speeding up other processes along the supply chain can greatly reduce overall idle times.
Wasted Time, Wasted Money
By law, truck drivers are legally allowed 11 hours of driving each day, but the reality is, they only spend about 6.5 hours a day on the road because of the time they spend sitting in line at pickup and drop-off points, or waiting for someone to review their paper bill of lading. That dwell and detention time is a huge pain point in the logistics industry and is a major contributor to idle times. The extra 4.5 hours adds up to. Just one truck could waste up to 3.6 gallons of fuel a day. At a conservative cost $4.50 per gallon, that adds up to $16.20 of wasted fuel per day.
While truckers can’t always control traffic on roadways, most companies use GPS technology that can alter a route in real time to avoid heavy delays and ensure trucks aren’t stopped and idling on roadways. However, laws require truckers to stop for mandated breaks after reaching their service hours limit. For older trucks operating in extreme cold or heat, that can mean those hours are spent idling keeping the truck cab temperature controls level to ensure the driver is comfortable. Again, the more trucks fleet have on roads and the more long-haul routes a company services means more idle time and more money lost.
Four Solutions to Truck Idling
Plugging in. Shippers and carriers are worried about rising fuel costs and are looking to take measures to reduce idle times, specifically in hopes that will lessen the burden. In extremely warm or cold weather areas, fleets can ask drivers to plug into electric outlets — if the stop location offers that amenity — to reduce fuel consumption. While electric hookups still cost money, the price is not nearly as high as wasting fuel idling.
Start/stop systems. Automatic engine start/stop (AESS) Systems, also called idle management systems, can be used two-fold. First, they can turn the engine on and off as necessary to maintain sleeper-cab temperature and sufficient battery charge during overnight stops, and they work the same way for those trucks that either wait in long facility lines or get stuck in stopped traffic. These systems do not eliminate idling but reduce it, along with associated fuel use, engine wear and emissions. If fleets aren’t already using AESS systems, they can be an inexpensive option to turn to, but they offer minimal savings in extreme weather. If fleets do decide to make the switch to these systems, they might need to ensure they’re up to date with local and state idling restrictions.
Electronic billing. For businesses with facility yards looking for a long-term fix that also improves overall operational efficiency, technology is a solution. Just looking at getting in and out of facilities and potentially addressing the 4.5 hours of wasted drive time per day, automated technology such as an electronic bill of lading that can act as a “fast-pass” at facility entrances can simplify the billing and paperwork process for drivers, reducing idle times waiting to get in and out of a facility from over an hour to as few as 11 minutes and making drivers’ jobs easier. Reducing this type of idle time means that instead of fuel simply being wasted, it gets used to allow more freight to be moved with drivers spending more time on the road rather than sitting in lines. That extra time can also boost driver happiness, as they would rather get paid to drive than pay dwell and detention fees.
EV adoption. An alternative option altogether for fleets would be to make the transition away from diesel-powered vehicles. Heavy-duty, electric commercial vehicles have been a work in progress over the years, and there are still costs associated with charging them. But the impact of that is the cost of electricity doesn’t fluctuate depending on global markets. It will be interesting to see how the adoption of such vehicles progresses over the coming years, as the technology continues to advance and the push to reduce emissions by politicians grows stronger.
While electric options and the adoption of technology have costs associated with them, they do help combat truck idling. The ROI on mass tech adoption, switching fleets to electric vehicles or installing AESS systems might take a few years, but the long-term impact can prove more beneficial to companies’ bottom lines. The point being these solutions offer businesses options to improve their cash flow without having to rely as much on the volatility of a global commodities market such as oil.
Will Chu is co-founder and CEO of Vector.
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