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Transportation Businesses The Almighty Buck Technology

How UPS Trucks Saved Millions of Dollars By Eliminating Left Turns (ndtv.com) 359

Some people probably already know this, but for those who don't: UPS truck drivers don't take left turns, and despite this usually resulting in longer route, they are saving millions of dollars in fuel costs. From a report: The company decided on eliminating left turns (or right turns in left-hand driving countries such as India) wherever possible after it found that drivers have to sit idly in the trucks while waiting to take the left turn to pass through traffic. So, it created an algorithm that eliminated left turns from drivers' routes even if meant a longer journey. This meant that drivers do not have to wait in traffic to take a left turn and can take the right turn at junctions. Of course, the algorithm does not entirely eliminate left turns, but the number of left turns taken by UPS trucks is less than 10 percent of all turns made. Turns out that UPS was right -- the idea really paid off. In 2005, a year after it announced that it will minimize left turns, the company said that the total distance covered by its 96,000 trucks was reduced by 747,000km, and 190,000 litres of fuel had been saved. In 2011, Bob Stoffel, a UPS Senior Vice President, told Fortune that the company had reduced distance traveled by trucks by 20.4 million miles, and reduced CO2 emissions by 20,000 metric tons, by not taking left turns. A recent report by The Independent says that the total reduction in distance traveled by UPS trucks now stands at 45.8 million miles, and there are 1,100 fewer trucks in its fleet because of the algorithm. Even by conservative estimates, that's tens of millions of dollar of savings in fuel costs. Senior VP Bob Stoffel explained how it works on CNN a few years ago.
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How UPS Trucks Saved Millions of Dollars By Eliminating Left Turns

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  • Tee hee! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 10, 2017 @02:03PM (#53840765)

    > Turns out that UPS was right

    I see what you did there.

  • by thsths ( 31372 ) on Friday February 10, 2017 @02:04PM (#53840775)

    Eliminating left turns to save time at the expense of longer distance is plausible.

    Making the journey shorter by eliminating left turns is not. So what is the article not telling us?

    • by sunking2 ( 521698 ) on Friday February 10, 2017 @02:07PM (#53840821)
      Depends on whether shorter is time or distance.
      • by ClickOnThis ( 137803 ) on Friday February 10, 2017 @02:15PM (#53840901) Journal

        Depends on whether shorter is time or distance.

        This. I suspect eliminating left turns results in modestly longer distances but significantly shorter times. And if the time waiting to turn left is significant, then the savings from not burning gas while idling at an intersection could be significant as well.

        • by arth1 ( 260657 )

          And if the time waiting to turn left is significant, then the savings from not burning gas while idling at an intersection could be significant as well.

          Many modern vehicles turn the engine off while stopped, eliminating idling.

          But time can be saved by not having to wait for left turns, especially in areas without traffic lights. Modern GPS route programs could benefit from taking this into account, and especially correlated with time of day and traffic. (At 4 AM, you probably won't have to wait to do a turn, but at 4 PM, it might be a significant factor.)

          • Good points. And yes, I have noticed that, e.g., Google Maps sometimes takes me on counter-intuitive routes that have longer distances but shorter travel-times, depending on the time of day. However, whether its algorithm weighs left vs. right turns is not clear to me.

          • by EvilSS ( 557649 ) on Friday February 10, 2017 @03:10PM (#53841507)
            UPS actually sells their route planning software to third parties. I was working for a large consumer products company a while back and they purchased it. Huge PITA to setup but it worked.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          This. I suspect eliminating left turns results in modestly longer distances but significantly shorter times.

          Then you suspect wrong. From TFS:

          In 2005, a year after it announced that it will minimize left turns, the company said that the total distance covered by its 96,000 trucks was reduced by 747,000km, and 190,000 litres of fuel had been saved. In 2011, Bob Stoffel, a UPS Senior Vice President, told Fortune that the company had reduced distance traveled by trucks by 20.4 million miles, and reduced CO2 emissions by 20,000 metric tons, by not taking left turns.

        • by Jaime2 ( 824950 )
          Can't be. The summary says the total distance covered by their trucks was reduced by 747,000km.
          • by Anonymous Coward

            They can have fewer trucks because of the increased efficiency. So even though each truck travels farther the total distance traveled by all trucks combined is much less.

      • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Friday February 10, 2017 @02:22PM (#53840987)

        Depends on whether shorter is time or distance.

        Except the summary and TFA specifically say they drove fewer miles. That does not make sense. They might save gas, they might save time, but how can the distance be shorter? I suspect that this may be a case of incompetent journalism, and the reduced miles was a result of all the efforts at route optimization, rather than just eliminating left turns.

        The GPS in my Honda Odyssey also tries to eliminate left turns. I turned that feature off because it was sometimes doing a ridiculous amount of re-routing to avoid a single left turn. But, overall, the GPS is better at choosing routes than I am. Even on some routes that I drive almost everyday, it has shown me some shortcuts that I was unaware of.

        • by SirSlud ( 67381 )

          The newer route algorithms, even minus most left turns, just resulted in shorter routes.

          • by SirSlud ( 67381 ) on Friday February 10, 2017 @02:36PM (#53841179) Homepage

            Actually, as somebody pointed out, more deliveries per hour = less trucks required per day = less distance traveled by fleet in total. So yes, it does make sense.

            • No, that makes no sense at all. If there are fewer trucks making the same deliveries, then each truck makes more deliveries, and hence travels further. Since the routing algorithm is specifically optimizing no left turns at the cost of distance traveled, the distance would lengthen, not shorten.

              Obviously, there's a confounding factor here. That could be moving to a better algorithm that reduces distance even as it optimizes for right turns at the cost of distance. However, that means that the gasoli

            • by dfghjk ( 711126 )

              Except this is not categorically correct. More deliveries per hour means a shorter work day unless other steps are taken, steps which may not always be possible. Even if those steps are taken, total mileage may not always be reduced.

              Anything's possible if you're willing to assume details not provided. That discussion is not interesting.

        • Not all left turns are at intersections. Not even at BUSY intersections, which is where the algorithm would be useful. If it routed you in a way where you could take a left turn at an intersection that does not have high traffic, it would save you the time waiting to turn at one that does.
          • by EvilSS ( 557649 )
            Something not mentioned in the summary is that reducing left turns also reduces traffic accidents, so it can still be beneficial to reduce them when possible even if it doesn't have a huge time benefit. It is one of the stronger selling points of doing this type of routing.
        • Except the summary and TFA specifically say they drove fewer miles.

          They are counting the total distance covered by 96,000 trucks. I'm guessing their algorithm is solving a "travelling saleman" type problem where there are 96,000 salesmen and doing it better than human dispatchers can (or at least did in the past.)

        • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `retawriaf'> on Friday February 10, 2017 @04:41PM (#53842203) Homepage

          The GPS in my Honda Odyssey also tries to eliminate left turns. I turned that feature off because it was sometimes doing a ridiculous amount of re-routing to avoid a single left turn.

          But you aren't a UPS driver, you're going to a single destination. A UPS driver is going to multiple destinations, which means the algorithm can use a trick you cant's - sequencing destinations. What's a "ridiculous" detour to you is an opportunity to deliver package "B" while avoiding a left turn on the way to delivering package "A". UPS's algorithms don't just arbitrarily eliminate left turns, they sequence the route (and choose which truck which package goes onto) so as to reduce the need for left turns and reduce the total number of miles traveled per package.

    • Making the journey shorter by eliminating left turns is not.

      Yeah, came here to say that.

      it created an algorithm that eliminated left turns from drivers' routes even if meant a longer journey... In 2005, a year after it announced that it will minimize left turns, the company said that the total distance covered by its 96,000 trucks was reduced by 747,000km, and 190,000 litres of fuel had been save

      So they are taking a longer journey but going less distance? It seems to imply that more gas is used idling than driving.

    • If the entire route is based on right turns, perhaps it works out. On the other hand, even if not the entire route, the computer is probably better at route planning than the driver.

    • by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Friday February 10, 2017 @02:15PM (#53840897) Homepage

      I heard this years ago. I think the key is idling time. When you try to turn left, you often need to wait for traffic to clear in both directions before going. While you're doing that, the UPS truck is sitting there burning gas and getting 0 mpg. If the driver makes right turns, they might drive further, but they'll wind up still moving and thus won't be wasting gas waiting on a clearing. By using special mapping software, they can find the ideal route to deliver packages so that the truck is idling as little as possible and uses the minimum amount of gas needed.

    • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Friday February 10, 2017 @02:16PM (#53840903)
      If elimination of left turns makes the delivery time shorter, the trucks can get more deliveries done each day. This means they need fewer trucks out on the road to make that day's deliveries, which can mean fewer total miles driven for the fleet (less redundancy in routes between multiple trucks, fewer trips between the depot to the start/end of delivery).
    • They are not telling you that news industry has really gone down hill, losing all the competent writers, doing without any real copy-editors, and basically letting any idiot with internet access write the news.

    • Um, the TFS says the savings is in not leaving the engine idling waiting for a left turn. Taking 3 right turns can be fuel efficient than waiting in idle for left turn. Also there is the time savings. By saving time on each delivery, it means the truck is not out as long.
      • by aardvarkjoe ( 156801 ) on Friday February 10, 2017 @02:24PM (#53841021)

        But TFS says:

        the total distance covered by its 96,000 trucks was reduced by 747,000km

        So they're saying that they're reducing distance traveled, which doesn't make any sense from the description. Obviously that's either wrong, or they're leaving something pretty important out that is resulting in less distance traveled.

    • by mede ( 115508 )

      Of course to get from point A to B, it takes more time when you eliminate left turns... But think that you actually have points A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H.. And Multiple trucks.. Meaning that maybe point B is not served by truck 1, even when it's two blocks away from its original route, but it's taken by truck 2 because it's better served by the no-left-turn algorithm..

      That's what I call economies of scale.. And not the idiot thing of being able to push your providers tu give you better prices because you're a

      • It doesn't necessarily take more time. If you're sitting at a stop sign, waiting to turn left on a busy street, that left turn can take a long time, and it may be faster to do additional driving.

    • Left turns have a higher rate of severe accidents as well.
      UPS also trains it's drivers to put their seatbelts on with their left hand. Why? Because they can start the engine with the right. Saves time.

    • Eliminating left turns to save time at the expense of longer distance is plausible.

      Making the journey shorter by eliminating left turns is not. So what is the article not telling us?

      I'm assuming the distance saved is overall, and by employing a smaller fleet. One truck can cover more area and therefore the total distance is shorter because they can have one truck serving an area that used to be covered by two. So each individual driver is driving a little more, but in the same amount of time that two drivers used to cover the same area.

    • Making the journey shorter - for a given truck on a given delivery route is not possible.
      If you have more trucks doing 'more efficient (shorter) ' routes that however need more trucks to complete the deliveries on time, then the balance may swing the other way.
      Because you can plan the journey such as to reduce the driving per package more if you have more packages per route.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Fragnet ( 4224287 )
      The engine is still running whilst you're waiting. My own personal experience of sitting waiting in traffic has over the years taught me the following: "there's always some cunt who wants to turn right" (left if you drive on the wrong side of the road, i.e. USA). It would often be quicker to turn left, go around the roundabout and drive straight past the junction you were sitting at in the first place, before you'd have been able to turn there.

      I'm serious by the way. I use that saying at least once a
    • Route optimization.

      The savings have nothing to do with eliminating left turns, they have to do with how they eliminated left turns, specifically they poured a fortune into software that would optimize routes.

      We can safely assume this because if they'd had used the same software before the left turn elimination project, then that software would either have created even more efficient routes, or in the unlikely event No Left Turns really is optimal, would have created routes that already had left turns e

  • A recycled story, but still fun.

  • by Melkhior ( 169823 ) on Friday February 10, 2017 @02:05PM (#53840793)
    The MythBusters did that one 7 years ago: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MythBusters_(2010_season)#Left_Hand_Turn [wikipedia.org]
  • I assume each truck has a GPS tracker in it and the routes driven are downloaded and analyzed by UPS bean counters. Are there penalties imposed when a driver deviates from the no-left-turn policy too often?

    • Nah, they've just got a monkey in every truck to remind the drivers. [youtube.com]
    • by swb ( 14022 )

      Do the trucks have internal GPS guidance for the routes?

      If they do, why would a driver bother overriding what are likely better directions except in really bad machine choices where some mapping data was off or something?

    • It has been about 10 years since I drove for UPS. Back then we didn't have GPS. If you were just starting out and needed to use a map, you did it before hand, mark it in your head and go. There are some mental tricks that they teach you and your first week or so, you are accompanied by an experienced driver who can also act as a navigator if you need it, but is otherwise pretty hands off.

      I somehow doubt that they have changed all that much. And I think the reason is that the driver compartment of the UPS tr

  • by Cthefuture ( 665326 ) on Friday February 10, 2017 @02:14PM (#53840869)

    If this is true then it would make sense for Google maps and the others to offer routing options that also eliminate left turns.

    I wonder what happens to traffic if everyone on the road eliminates left turns.

    • I think the benefit would be seen only if you need to make multiple stops in any order you see fit.
    • I wonder what happens to traffic if everyone on the road eliminates left turns.

      They all go in circles. They are minimizing them. And since their drivers go on a very circuitous route, there's a lot more room for optimization as opposed to a personal there-and-back trip.

    • Traffic circles.
    • Well, if the lights are driven by cameras then on major streets where there is a designated left turn lane we will see shorter light intervals and thus greater flow on the main channels. So everyone should benefit.

      However you have to realize that the typical journey you make doesn't involve many turns at all and there's very little optional turning. The UPS diver has a very convoluted path with lots of options in the order.

    • Home owner's associations would be up in arms about the increased traffic through their neighborhoods!
    • Trucks have a harder time making left turns than cars. When in your car, you only need to wait for a short gap between cars to squeeze through and make your left turn. A truck needs a considerably larger gap - not just so it can physically squeeze its longer length through, but because it takes more time to get up to speed.
    • by asylumx ( 881307 )

      I wonder what happens to traffic if everyone on the road eliminates left turns.

      I guess it'd be all right.

  • I wish this was a Google maps navigation option.

    Although I kind of wonder if its only really beneficial for multi-stop routes where the entire route can be re-planned with right turns only and thus gaining some other efficiencies, versus a single-destination trip where avoiding a single left turn could involve a lot more distance.

  • Missing information (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 10, 2017 @02:14PM (#53840889)

    For those readers outside the USA: In the USA, cars turning right can treat a red light like a stop sign, and turn right after stopping and checking the turn is safe.

    • For those readers outside the USA: In the USA, cars turning right can treat a red light like a stop sign, and turn right after stopping and checking the turn is safe.

      Also for those outside the US, the US has a butt-load more traffic lights in the average city. Many American drivers don't like roundabouts/traffic circles, most don't even know how to use a multiple lane circle, they just stay in the outer ring.

      When almost every intersection has a light (or a stop sign for someone) there is a lot more stopping, a lot more idling, etc. So for the reason AC mentioned above, and the reason there are more stops in general- I don't think other countries would get the same ben

    • For those readers outside the USA: In the USA, cars turning right can treat a red light like a stop sign, and turn right after stopping and checking the turn is safe.

      For those users in the USA, traffic light right turn red signals are actually quite rare in the switching scheme of a traffic light, pretty much only making way for either pedestrians or the left turning traffic from the oncoming lane. On any main road the right turn actually has the highest period of green in the cycle unless crossing an equally main road.

      This algorithm is a benefit outside the USA as well.

  • Makes sense, left turns "cost" more than right ones is pretty common sense. Waze got on-board with this recently as well, with an option to "avoid difficult left turns". Before that, it would sometimes make the frustrating decision to send you on a route that has a left turn into 4 lane, no-light intersection because it was 1000 ft shorter. Of course, it's not perfect yet, but I've definitely seen an improvement.
  • In most EU countries and other places, it is prohibited in general to turn right on red, where one has to wait for the lights to turn green, or right green arrow, before one can make a right hand turn.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    Although when driving on the right, it is still faster to make a right turn then making a left turn, since one often has to wait for on coming traffic. I can't help but wonder if the time saving that UPS gets in reducing left turns in Europe is far less than in North America w

  • Derek [wikipedia.org] couldn't turn left either.

  • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Friday February 10, 2017 @02:19PM (#53840945)

    All they do is turn left.

  • Oldest Dup Ever (Score:4, Informative)

    by hondo77 ( 324058 ) on Friday February 10, 2017 @02:21PM (#53840961) Homepage
    From nine years ago. [slashdot.org]
  • I would have thought that the first or second generation trip planning software would have weighted against left turns when it was written decades ago. It's pretty obvious change and would be simple to add to the algorithm.

  • old news (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jodka ( 520060 ) on Friday February 10, 2017 @02:23PM (#53841003)

    This "news" was posted [slashdot.org] about ten years ago on ./, by CmdrTaco on in December 2007.

  • Phoenix is a nice big grid with lots of normal "surface road" traffic, at least it was in the 90's when I lived there. I found there was so much traffic that turning left was more trouble than it was worth so I would make multiple rights around the block to get where I needed most of the time, it was faster.

    Then I left for Houston - where if you see a road in one part of town and you see the road in another part of town in a straight line with the other place you saw it there's a pretty good chance it does

    • there's a pretty good chance it doesn't connect in the middle and and attempt at going around the block is likely to send you on a 10 mile journey of zigzagging roads in a neighborhoods with no marked way out.

      This is part of urban planning in residential areas now because roads that aren't designed for high traffic might suddenly find themselves used as a bypass route otherwise.

      • Last month, in a Minneapolis suburb, I was going to a restaurant that had its lights off, so I saw it when I was driving by, and tried circling the block, knowing where to pull off this time. After half an hour, my wife called, and asked what I saw. Fortunately, we both saw the same Wendy's, so I was able to navigate by that. This was in a bloody commercial district, not a residential neighborhood.

  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Friday February 10, 2017 @02:26PM (#53841043) Homepage

    If you ignore the first article (Gadget 360) and click through the report hyperlink to
      http://www.independent.co.uk/n... [independent.co.uk]

    Then you find out that by cutting left turns they increase distance per package, but reduce time per package. By reducing time per package, they managed to put more packages on each truck. Miles per truck goes up, but the number of trucks goes down far more.

    This reduction in total trucks also creates a slight reduction in distance traveled whenever two pickups are close to each other. So while miles per package goes up, total miles travelled drops tremendously.

  • After I got nailed making a left shortly after getting my license, I started thinking about left-turns and how much more dangerous they are then right turns. There's so many more things to account for, and more chances for other people to make errors that force me to take hazardous countermeasures. A NYC study showed they are 3 times more dangerous then right hand turns. So now unless doing the right would take me way out of my way, I do that instead.

    Remember, two wrongs don't make a right, but three rig

    • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )

      Remember, two wrongs don't make a right, but three rights make a left :)

      Min

      Only if you live in a city. Live in teh suburbs or a rural area, and even money 3 rights turns has you going back the same direction you started from.

  • While this might be "optimal" from a static, pre-planned routing scenario, even greater time / fuel savings can be achieved by dynamically routing based on the immediate traffic. It's funny this concept has resurfaced, because after reading about this years ago I've thought about several times while driving. There is a better way, which I call "opportunistic left turns". If I know I must make a left turn, and I have 5 blocks to travel before that intersection, then I simply make the left turn at the firs

  • by bigdady92 ( 635263 ) on Friday February 10, 2017 @02:59PM (#53841403) Homepage
    When I worked at UPS all the driver's routes were built specifically to avoid left turns at all possible for all the above reasons. This is not a new concept, this is old UPS delivery tactics now brought to the forefront because of the use of tracking and analytics. It's a fluff piece for UPS that's all.

    I bet if you talked to folks who worked there longer you'd find that they've all been doing this for the whole time they've been driving .
  • Slashdot reported this story already....In 2007. https://slashdot.org/story/07/... [slashdot.org]
  • UPS truck drivers don't take left turns, and despite this usually resulting in longer route,...after it found that drivers have to sit idly in the trucks while waiting to take the left turn to pass through traffic.... it created an algorithm that eliminated left turns from drivers' routes even if meant a longer journey.

    Ah, I see, so they travel farther, but spend less time idling. Gotcha. Wait, wha...

    the company said that the total distance covered by its 96,000 trucks was reduced by 747,000km, and 190,000 litres of fuel had been saved.

    Soooo... are they traveling MORE miles or LESS miles?

  • by swell ( 195815 ) <jabberwock.poetic@com> on Friday February 10, 2017 @10:12PM (#53843889)

    Thirty years ago the US Postal Service trained their carriers to prefer right turns. Not to save gasoline, but to avoid accidents. Three right turns turned out to be safer than one left turn according to the statistics they gathered. They also stressed the danger of getting into a situation that would necessitate backing up.

    You'd think someone would have suggested that to UPS (and other fleet operators) long ago.

    Today's trivia: Traffic jam- several vehicles need to cross a busy intersection; an ambulance, a police car, an army tank, a painted hippy Volkswagen, a Presidential vehicle, a Postal vehicle, a UPS truck, and a famous movie starlet in a pink convertible ... Who has the right-of-way? The Postal vehicle.

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