January 20, 2021
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Finding that information is one of the goals of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Freight Lab. David Correll, MIT research scientist and co-director of the Freight Lab, believes truck drivers, dispatchers, and logistics managers all need to better utilize available time. Increased time spent driving, rather than waiting at a dock, means increased truck capacity, he said.

Research conducted by the MIT Freight Lab shows truck drivers on average spend only about 6.5 hours a day driving out of 11 available hours. “The average has moved up closer to 7 hours in recent studies, so there’s been some improvement,” but that number still indicates significant inefficiency and, in turn, significant possibility for improvement, Correll said.

Drivers, however, are highly dependent on external parties, namely shippers and receivers, for that improvement, Correll said. “One area that’s really exciting is appointment windows. We’re working with a company shipping to retail stores to see how driver utilization can be affected if we turn the dials on the appointment windows. We found some powerful impacts in terms of improved utilization and lower costs.”

Appointment windows set by receivers such as big-box retailers and handed to drivers by shippers are increasingly specific, yet receivers often detain drivers beyond the generally accepted two-hour limit. That means drivers must arrive at receivers at exact times but then wait hours, on occasion, to be unloaded. By “turning the dials,” Correll means making appointment windows more flexible — i.e., allowing drivers to arrive earlier or later and speeding the loading and unloading of trailers.

The MIT Freight Lab saw significant improvement in driver detention and utilization at receiving locations that adjusted those windows to give drivers more flexibility. “Facilities that were getting trucks through in one to two hours got themselves to less than an hour. I really believe what we’re seeing so far in the data comes down to weekend management,” he said, with facilities staying open on weekends and spreading out staffing to facilitate truck moves.

Gaining minutes, let alone hours, for truck drivers makes a difference, as minutes lost over the course of a week add up quickly in driver duty status records or logs. In 2019, MIT estimated an additional 12 minutes per day on the road per driver would end the driver shortage. The Freight Lab is examining new driver hours-of-service data, “still looking for those 12 minutes,” Correll said.