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When in doubt: UPS avoids left turns

How a simple rule increased our drivers' efficiency.

Left-hand turns are almost a thing of the past for UPS drivers. By greatly reducing them, we've managed to deliver more packages in less time and cut down our carbon emissions.

Do you take a shortcut home from work? If so, what's your primary motivator for an alternative route – less traffic or fewer traffic lights? Maybe it's both. And is it a guarded secret? After all, it will become a "long" cut if others know of the everyday gridlock you're avoiding, right?

Minimizing the daily grind's bite is part of the commuter's battle – and one that UPS fights on its front lines every day. More traffic means more time consumed. More time consumed means packages are delivered later.

Years ago, this led UPS engineers to devise route-optimization plans to increase efficiency, reduce fuel consumption and get drivers back to their centers earlier. They came up with a simple rule. Minimize  or sometimes, eliminate – left-hand turns. It's simple but effective.

  • Since 2004 UPS has saved an estimated 10 million gallons of gas.
  • Carbon emissions were reduced by 100,000 metric tons – the equivalent of 5,300 cars off the road for an entire year.

The origins of 'no left turns'
"We began to build further on this concept in 2001, when tracking systems were really improving," says Elizabeth Rasberry, a UPS public relations manager. "Having more concise data of how a vehicle performed during its delivery route allowed us to see where efficiencies could be improved.

"What we found: A significant cause of idling time resulted from drivers making left turns, essentially going against the flow of traffic. From there we explored routes where these turns were cut out entirely, and then compared data."

Even if this meant traveling a greater distance, results showed that more packages could be delivered in less time with reduced emissions by driving in a series of right-hand loops. It helped the bottom line, met consumer demands and increased safety.

Rethinking the construction of routes, however, didn't just stop there. Technology has also helped planners optimize routes and vehicles in other important ways, adding to the efficiencies created by a "no left turns" approach.

So, the next time you see one of our package delivery vehicles on your way home, remember that you won't be the only one taking a shortcut.

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