It’s your job to understand the intricate details of the trucking marketplace: its cycles and the factors influencing freight rates. This knowledge helps you adjust your logistics strategy, better collaborate with external stakeholders (like carriers) and explain the cost of shipping to your boss.
The two most important aspects of your supply chain — of any supply chain, for that matter — are time (how long it takes for freight to reach its destination) and money (how much you pay for trucking services).
That said, with so much activity in your atmosphere and a plethora of competing priorities, you don’t have time to waste. You need to understand the key details surrounding each shipment you arrange. You are your business’ in-house expert, after all.
Topping the list of things logistics professionals need to know about their shipments (right below pricing, of course) is how trucking companies select each load’s route.
Unfortunately, in an industry full of transportation companies, most of them don’t slow down long enough to address these kinds of questions. In the end, this leaves you at a disadvantage as you’re relying on your carrier’s expertise without ever developing your own. This isn’t a place you want to end up in.
Here at Anderson Trucking Service (ATS), routing freight is kind of our bread and butter, we’ve been doing so every day since 1955. Roughly calculated, that's 24,455 straight days of routing shipments. In this article, we’ll dissect the major factors carriers (like ATS) consider when planning each load’s route. You’ll also learn some tips for making this process as smooth as possible for each of your providers in the future.
A Special Note About Oversize/Overweight Freight
Before we jump into the meat of this discussion, it’s important to draw a line in the sand. Freight comes in all shapes, sizes, weights and dimensions, making it difficult to generalize (with any degree of accuracy) how every transportation company determines the route of every type of shipment.
That said, this article gets dependably close to listing the major considerations accounted for when routing legal, full-truckload shipments. However, in the majority of circumstances, oversize/overweight (OSOW) cargo requires permitting.
In turn, these permits largely dictate the cargo’s route, leaving very little to the trucking company’s discretion. As such, this article doesn’t cover OSOW routing. Less-than-truckload shipments are moved on a different timeline as well, disqualifying them from the details outlined below.
With that out of the way, let’s jump in.
Related Content: 4 Key Considerations When Moving Over-Dimensional (OD) Freight
6 Major Factors Impacting Your OSOW Freight’s Route
While every shipment is different and your circumstances will vary, the major influencers of a shipment’s route are relatively stagnant. In the end, trucking companies are primarily concerned with two things:
- Upholding their customer commitments (meeting your needs)
- Helping their truck drivers achieve optimal productivity
Trucking companies know that, with the proper route plan, simultaneously achieving both of these goals is possible. To do so, here are the six major things they account for each time a load needs to move:
- The customer’s desired timelines
- The route’s overall mileage
- The types of roads along the route
- The availability and location of truck driver amenities
- The number of stops on the shipment(s) (where applicable)
- Any travel restrictions and chokepoints
Let’s talk about how these factors impact your trucking company’s decision-making process for your load’s route.
1. The Customer’s Desired Timelines
First and foremost, trucking companies account for their customer’s needs when routing a shipment. Trucking companies are only as good as their ability to follow through for their most important allies (their customers), making this a top consideration.
Under the “timelines” umbrella, carriers must weigh exact pickup and delivery appointments (where applicable) and the broader timeframes given.
For example, if a shipment needs to pick up on a Wednesday at 10 a.m. and deliver on a Friday at 3 p.m., the shipment’s route might be more expedited (where possible) than if it needs to meet an 8 a.m. Friday delivery appointment.
This is the first data point carriers account for when routing a shipment.
2. The Route’s Overall Mileage
With the customer’s pickup and delivery requirements registered, trucking companies begin the process of routing their driver. Depending on the amount of time they’ve been allotted, the mileage of the route they take may vary slightly (drivers can only realistically cover around 500 miles per day).
You see, while trucking companies want to take the most expedited route possible — this is good for their customer (cutting down on fuel surcharges) and the driver (helping the maximize their hours of service) — sometimes, this isn’t possible.
Primarily, factors (outlined below) like truck driver amenities, travel restrictions and the type of road will influence this decision. Which route they’ll take around a city, where their driver will stop off, what weather patterns are emerging and which roads they absolutely want to avoid, all influence the route’s overall mileage.
That said, by and large, trucking companies will take the most direct route possible when routing legal shipments.
3. The Types of Roads Along the Route
Trucking companies always want to keep their trucks running along “practical” routes. These are roadways with good infrastructure where regular improvements are made. Commonly referred to as “primary” roads, when routing a shipment carriers strive to keep drivers on four-/two-lane interstates and highways.
Single-lane highways and/or non-paved roads present a greater risk to the driver, their equipment and the cargo in transit. For this reason, the types of roads along the route matter to trucking companies. In some instances, a trucking company may even tack on extra miles to avoid undesirable roads.
4. The Availability and Location of Truck Driver Amenities
Truck driving is a really difficult job. Often, over-the-road drivers can be away from home for days or weeks at a time. For this reason, to the best of their ability, trucking companies strive to route drivers through areas where truck-driver amenities exist.
Examples of these amenities include, but aren’t limited to:
- Truck stops with showers, lounges, bathrooms, restaurants, etc.
- Overnight rest areas
- Laundry services
- Ample parking and large spaces
- CAT scales
- Truck service stations
- Fuel stations
Keeping drivers comfortable along the way is a primary consideration when trucking companies route them. To do so, a carrier might even forego certain roads/segments where amenities are few and far between.
5. The Number of Stops on the Shipment(s)
After they pick up, some shipments have more than one delivery point to hit. Commonly referred to as multi-stop shipping service, whenever a load has multiple “destinations” this factors heavily into its route.
It’s important to have a seamless plan of attack for multi-stop loads. This includes knowing which piece(s) needs to be unloaded where and when each location is expecting a delivery. With this in mind, a shipment can be routed accordingly.
Sometimes, multi-stop shippers let their carrier decide which location gets its delivery first. In this case, it’s up to the trucking company to choose a delivery order — often this is determined by other factors (like those listed above).
6. Travel Restrictions and Chokepoints
While this point applies mostly to OSOW-permitted shipments — which are subject to a variety of travel restrictions/curfews — it’s also important for your legal shipments to avoid impediments.
Examples include frost laws in the spring and travel restrictions at certain times of the year in large cities. Less formally, your trucking company may formulate a route while accounting for various chokepoints — areas where delays may occur. Metropolitan areas during high commuter hours are a prime example of the types of things trucking providers try to route around whenever possible.
So, How is Your Freight’s Route Determined?
Provided your shipment isn’t oversize/overweight, the main factors weighing into its route are those listed above. As such, expect your freight’s path to have many of these characteristics:
- Most of its milage is along primary roads
- There are a handful of truck driver stop-off points (with amenities) along it
- Large bustling cities and slower areas are avoided
- Its overall milage is as short as possible (to help with fuel consumption)
- It can be completed within your requested timeframe
These are the ingredients of an effective, efficient route.
Help Your Carrier Ensure a Best-Fit Route: Here’s How
Now you know your transportation company’s role in ensuring your freight reaches its destination. There’s a lot at stake every time cargo leaves your facility. We hope you feel more comfortable with the freight-routing process now. That said, if you ever have questions about how your provider selected your shipment’s path, don’t hesitate to ask them questions. A good partner will explain their decision-making process and why they opted to go in the direction they did.
At the end of the day, there are several things you can do to help your provider make accurate and effective routing decisions.
Although this isn’t a comprehensive list, here are some of the things you consider during conversations with your provider:
- Provide accurate, detailed load information and specifications
- Commodity type
- Piece count
- Allow flexibility on pickup and delivery appointments
- Increase your timeframes/date windows for pickups and deliveries
- Offer driver-friendly amenities like bathrooms and on-site/overnight parking
- Be understanding when poor weather makes on-time service impossible
The more flexibility and information you can give your carrier, the easier it will be for them to plan accordingly. This will save you time and money in the long run.
Avoid Routing Issues by Working With Great Carriers!
Although understanding how good companies route your freight is important, you can’t rely on every carrier to make these considerations for you. With more than one million for-hire carriers in the U.S., most of them don’t have the experience, resources or understandings needed to pick the best possible route for every load.
That’s why it’s important for you to only work with the best in the business. But how do you know each carrier you vet is truly up to par?
Download this Freight Carrier Selection Checklist (a 30-question vetting guide created to help you choose the right trucking company) and get this process right.
Here at ATS, we’re happy to help you manage your supply chain, even if we’re not the provider you choose. So, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re happy to help you in any way you need!