The Most Loved (and Hated) U.S. Trucking Routes
IndustryView | 2014
The average trucker drives more than 100,000 miles across the country each year, and around 500 miles on a given day. As the backbone of many a supply chain, these workers are a large part of why American consumer culture thrives: In 2012, truckers collectively hauled over 13 million tons of commodities across 160,000 miles of national highways.
We at Software Advice wanted to better visualize the trucker's journey, so we surveyed truckers on their favorite, least favorite and most common trips in the continental United States. We also examined how new developments in route optimization and planning technology can aid in making these long-haul trips as pain-free as possible. Here’s what we found.
We wanted to know which stretches of American highway truckers fancied the most—and we noticed a few trends when surveying truckers on their favorite routes. First, these trips tended to be longer and cover more rural highways. This makes sense from an economic perspective: As truckers are paid by the mile, not by the hour, they make the most money when they do long road trips that are unimpeded by big-city traffic and inclement weather.
Indeed, when truckers say they love the open road, they’re not joking: we found that the average length of their favorite trips was 1,055 miles, while the average lengths of their least favorite and most common trips were 757 miles and 670 miles, respectively.
A sizable number of favorite trips—13 percent—thus involved going to and/or from Florida, and either snaking up the East Coast or traversing west to California. Surely, it doesn’t hurt that some of these trips are more scenic than others.
What’s more, in the course of our research—which included browsing relevant forums and blogs—we found that some Florida locales are among the top destinations for truckers, such as the famous 595 Truck Stop. And of course, there’s no shortage of trucking jobs operating near Walt Disney World in Orlando.
We first wanted to know what truckers’ greatest pain points were, in terms of the routes they take. We found that a significant number of responses—50 percent—centered around trips taken to and from cities in the Rust Belt region and up through New York and New England. This makes sense, given the population density and more extreme weather conditions of the region; no one enjoys driving in congested traffic or bad weather.
While the lines on our maps were not drawn along highway routes, since we were not able to determine the exact paths taken, there were some striking similarities between our map and a map produced in 2013 by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), an agency within the Department of Transportation (DOT). Its map depicts average daily long-haul truck traffic across national highways.
Source: Federal Highway Administration, 2013
Notice any similarities? The concentration of routes in our map is somewhat similar to that of the FHWA’s map. While the FHWA’s map displays only long-haul truck traffic, it would appear that the respondents in our survey tend to dislike the routes they have to share with other truckers. As semi-trucks—which typically have to drive 10 miles per hour below the speed limit on highways—can be a frequent source of congestion, it’s easy to see why truckers might prefer the roads that are less traveled by their peers.
We also asked truckers what their most common routes were. The answers read like a “who’s who” list of the nation’s major economic and shipping hubs: Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta and St. Louis were points-of-origin or destinations for 40 percent of our respondents’ most common trips.
We also noticed other interesting routes. Unbeknownst to many in our Austin, Texas-based office was that another Austin exists—in Minnesota, which was mentioned several times by respondents. Austin, Minnesota is home to the Hormel Corporation, the maker of America’s favorite mystery meat: Spam. As such, despite the town’s small size (population: 24,718), Austin, Minnesota is a major shipping point-of-origin.
This map also illuminated some of the lesser-known trucking corridors in the country. Billings, Montana, for example, is a major distribution center (largely for consumer goods, agricultural products and oil) in a relatively remote part of the country—making it the “go-to” distribution center for this region. Thus, it follows that this sleepy city received several mentions.
While software can’t fix potholes, clear snow or directly reduce traffic (yet), it can aid truck drivers substantially when it comes to planning a route and accommodating for traffic conditions. This isn’t your grandfather’s paper map or your dad’s standalone GPS—modern route planning and optimization software relies on troves of algorithms and road usage data collected from drivers, giving other drivers a second set of eyes that can see well beyond the horizon.
Take Waze, for example. Part social media and part GPS, Waze is a mobile app that lets drivers share information in real-time about road conditions, traffic jams, gas prices—and even speed traps and police patrols. While Waze is geared more toward individual drivers than fleet managers, a number of other cutting-edge route planning and optimization applications exist.
PC Miler Traffic, for instance, features real-time traffic congestion information on its digital maps. While simple and free consumer solutions such as Google Maps have similar capabilities, Traffic caters to the trucking industry by also incorporating important information on routes, such as weighing stations and overpass clearances for different types of trucks. For the environmentally conscious fleet manager, it also provides estimated greenhouse gas emissions for each planned route.
Similarly, Rand McNally offers route planning and optimization functionality through its suite of trucking and fleet management software. Every two weeks, its digital maps are updated to show where construction is underway, allowing users to re-route if necessary. The software also features a database of toll roads that syncs with planned routes, which fleet managers can use to more accurately calculate trip costs.
To find the data in this report, we conducted a seven-day online survey of three questions, and gathered 1,155 responses from 385 random truckers within the United States. We worded the questions to ensure that each respondent fully understood their meaning and the topic at hand.
Some responses had to be omitted from the maps due to their ambiguity (e.g., respondent gave the state name, but no city) or due to their short proximity, indicating a short-haul rather than a long-haul trip. Below is a list of excluded routes:
Sources attributed and products referenced in this article may or may not represent partner vendors of Software Advice, but vendor status is never used as a basis for selection. Interview sources are chosen for their expertise on the subject matter, and software choices are selected based on popularity and relevance.
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