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Journey-planning analysis: Have a safe trip

Date: 13 October 2016   |   Author: Jack Carfrae

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail, as the old adage goes, which is advice that very much applies to business trips, as convincing drivers to do a bit of forward planning around appointments goes a long way - and it doesn't just mean they'll turn up on time.

Get it right, and your drivers will be safer, cheaper and likely to drum up more business. Pile on the pressure with little thought for the fallout and things will inevitably become riskier and pricier.   

These days, there's little excuse for poor journey planning, according to Ashley Sowerby, managing director at fleet software specialist Chevin: "There is such an abundance of tools available for free - even things like Google Maps - that you don't need software to do it anymore; it's available through a browser for free.

"The initial bit of 'do you plan a journey before you go?' - to me, that should just be an accepted cultural policy in most organisations."

The tricky bit is dealing with anything that crops up while the driver is already on the road, adds Sowerby: "The more strategic part of it, and the bit that's often missing, is the dynamic aspect. The traffic announcement says 'a road is closed', or 'there's been an accident' - it's dynamic rerouting that nowadays is really where the benefit can come.

"What fleet managers should be investing in is not so much just a standard satnav, but a dynamic satnav that will either take a traffic message over the radio, or perhaps have some sort of online integration to deliver better routing."

Motorway Traffic Jam

Those in the know unanimously think a decent navigation system is a must, but if you really want to lick your journeys into shape, it's worth looking at other handy bits of technology, along with the geographical area drivers will cover.

"It's good practice to put the destination postcode in your phone diary," says Selwyn Cooper, head of business sales at Volvo, who adds that there are certain apps that can "send the destination to your satnav before you even get in the car".

"Then there's the physical area covered by each employee. If you plot the size of the territory and analyse the journey times, you're better able to predict how many appointments can be kept in a day."

"Over-stressed drivers have an increased propensity for speeding and accidents. Any damage or collisions cost a business money in terms of repairs and all the associated disruption, along with higher insurance rates, [whereas] stress-free staff who arrive in good time will perform better and win more business - which is a revenue opportunity in itself."

Grey fleet drivers can be seriously expensive if they're allowed to ratchet up mileage claims, so it's worth looking at alternatives and having a robust policy around claiming back cash.

"[They] become accustomed to the income from their pence-per-mile claims," says Graham Hurdle, managing director of E-Training World. "They need to make journeys to keep up that additional revenue, and the more they travel, the more money they get."

Hurdle claims there's a strong case for "doing your homework" and calculating how much a fleet is haemorrhaging if ill thought-out routes are an issue.

"Work out the cost of the problem, then sit down with the directors and heads of departments and show them how much money the company could save through improved planning.

"Show on a map the travel of a selection of inefficient drivers, and demonstrate how much more profitable the company would be if it planned better. Without hard facts, it will be difficult to get people's attention, but for a large fleet of vehicles, we could be talking about a very sizeable sum of money."

Why line managers are as important as the drivers

In an organisation of any size, there's a buffer of management between fleet operators and drivers that has the potential to hinder even the best journey plans, and it's here that a fleet manager's job becomes a political one, in the interests of costs and safety before profit.

"If a member of your team is doing four to five meetings a day, you could instill some behaviour that is not suitable," says David Richards, head of marketing at AA Drivetech. 

"I think fleet managers are aware of that because they have driver risk management sort of in their job title, whereas a line manage isn't necessarily; they just focus on hitting targets and there is a need for them to understand the consequences of some of the things they're asking their drivers to do."

Panel David Richards Vis _0110_2693

E-Training World's Graham Hurdle believes pressure on field staff can reach the point where they feel as though they should be out of office all the time - worthwhile or not.

"If you're not out seeing clients or prospects, you're deemed not to be doing your job. This can result in company car drivers caring less about the efficiency of their route because they're expected to be out of sight."

According to Richards, it's within fleet operators' interests to discuss route and appointment planning and general pressure on drivers with fellow managers.  

"The fleet manager may need to hold some sessions with their peers and line managers to explain the consequences of certain activities. It's partly the responsibility of the fleet manager, the line manager and the senior members of the organisation. Also, drivers have the right and the responsibility to push back on their managers if they feel they're being asked to do something that's not safe."