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More Than Just Route Planning: How UPS Drivers Optimize Their Routes

Zach Blank


February 23, 2021

Before there were navigation systems, UPS was engineering efficient delivery routes based on cold hard data. From their humble beginnings in the early 1900s, UPS has diligently measured the time efficiency, fuel usage, and productivity of their drivers to plot the most effective routes. By standardizing the way their drivers fulfill deliveries, UPS ensures their customers receive reliable service time and time again.

Clearly this strategy has paid off. UPS employs almost 500,000 employees and deliveries to over 220 territories throughout the world. They are committed to providing customers with online tools that make it simple to track their packages, manage drop-off times, and quickly resolve delivery issues. UPS trains their drivers to efficiently complete all their deliveries, ensuring that packages are dropped off safely with little gas wasted.

UPS has optimized their delivery routes by meticulously analyzing driver habits. They keep track of what type of deliveries require the most time, what locations are the easiest to navigate, and which drivers are the most efficient. Knowing these statistics allow them to find alternative strategies for delivering packages quickly and simplifying the jobs of their drivers. All of this is made possible by supplying their drivers with tracking devices, vehicle sensors, and route optimization apps.

Training for Success

A big part of what makes UPS a successful company is the interconnectedness between employees and managers. In fact, most UPS managers have been drivers themselves. They’ve gone through all the same training as their employees. One of the first trainings that UPS employees must attend is Integrad. This is a series of classes designed to prepare UPS employees for delivery. They learn how to carry heavy parcels, drive trucks with one hand, and walk on slippery surfaces (thanks to a “slip and fall” simulator). There’s even a section where they have to complete a simulated delivery route by delivering packages to miniature houses. Because this is such a hands-on job, it’s important that managers know exactly what it’s like to be in the shoes of their employees.

UPS encourages their managers to share their experiences with managing deliveries too. Over the years they’ve learned the best strategies for getting the most packages delivered in the least time with minimum gas wasted. By sharing these experiences with their team, they’re not only showing drivers the best way to get from place to place. They’re showing their employees a willingness to help them improve their performance and reach their fullest potential as a UPS employee.

Keeping Track

Ever wondered why UPS drivers always carry around a black handheld device? This device is called the Delivery Information Acquisition Device (DIAD). Invented in 1991, the DIAD was the first handheld tracking device developed for UPS drivers to electronically record deliveries. As soon as the driver steps out of their car, the DIAD tracks how long it takes to drop off the parcel, capture a signature from the customer if needed, and move on to the next delivery.

The DIAD doesn’t stop at tracking delivery times and fulfillments. It also utilizes smart labels to track packages and ensure they are placed on the proper delivery truck for their destination. Essentially, the DIAD has made it possible to track packages from the point of boxing to delivery. It’s also allowed UPS to observe the delivery times of their drivers and plan routes accordingly. 

Swiping Left on Left Turns

A big part of the UPS optimization strategy is avoiding left turns. Why? For one, anyone (delivery driver or not) can get anywhere by exclusively taking right turns. And on a busy street, taking three right turns instead of one left can sometimes be quicker. Plus, right turns can often be taken during red lights, whereas left turns can only be taken after waiting at a light. Additionally, when there’s no left turn signal, yielding is required which makes left turns take significantly longer. Waiting for cross traffic to pass can take up a huge amount of delivery time.

UPS higher-ups have also found that a large portion of gas wasted is linked to taking unnecessary left turns. When stopped at a red light waiting to turn left, drivers use a considerable amount of gas inefficiently. So rather than idling their time and tanks, UPS routes are optimized with right-hand loops. Since 2004, this has reduced UPS carbon emissions by 100,000 metric tons and saved 100 million gallons of gas.

Planning the Perfect Route

Planning routes has become more complex as more people are ordering things online than ever. Routing isn’t just grouping together cities and selecting a route that goes through all of them. There are so many other factors to consider. Drivers can’t just start in one city and end in another, they have to return to where they started. Therefore all routes must be in a loop. Then you have to think about how many possible stops there are in each city. One city could have 350,000 stops or more. Multiply that by 16 and you’ve got over 20 trillion stops. This doesn’t begin to factor in variances in delivery times due to complications, security stops, and the occasional overly-chatty customers.

So how can UPS drivers plan the perfect route considering all of these challenges? The answer is, they don’t have to. Straightaway is a routing optimization service for UPS that allows drivers to optimize the fastest routes, navigate destinations with turn-by-turn directions, and finish all their deliveries with time to spare. Seamlessly snap a photo to download all your stops to the app and Straightaway will plan the best route in real-time.

Straightaway advanced algorithm evaluates traffic patterns, road conditions, weather reports, and hundreds of other data sources to provide the best routes on a given day. While other route planning apps can only analyze about 100 stops at once, Straightaway allows drivers to input up to 500 stops in a single trip. This means that you won’t have to keep track of extra stops or worry about roadblocks. Straightaway takes the guesswork out of route optimization and delivers a simple experience to all it’s UPS users.

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Zach Blank

Zach is the co-founder and CEO of Straightaway.

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