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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.


Reader Comments

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Mary April 28, 2015
Many of you want to complain about the left turns they make. If you read the article fully you'd see that it states, "They came up with a simple rule. Minimize – or sometimes, eliminate – left-hand turns. It's simple but effective." So no, they did not completely eliminate left hand turns for UPS Drivers but are simply minimalizing it.
Philip February 17, 2015
Volume of gas = 10 M gallons = 37.8 M liters Density of gas = 0.755 kg/l (Source: Wikipedia) -->total mass of gas = 28,579 metric tons 1 ton of gas reacts with the oxygen from the air to produce 1.4 tons of water and 3.09 tons of carbon dioxide (Source: Wikipedia) --> total CO2 emissions of 3.09*28,579 metric tons = 88,311 metric tons
Bill Goffe February 16, 2015
Carbon dioxide is, of course, 2 atoms of oxygen and one carbon atom. The carbon comes from the gas and the oxygen from the air. I don't recall the exact numbers, but that's how a given amount of gasoline leads to much more CO2.
Gene hull January 22, 2015
Let me get this straight... UPS saved 10 million gallons of gas and 100,000 tons of carbon emissions. My fifth grade math says that's one ton for every 100 gallon of gas. Assuming gasoline weighs less than five pound per gallon, that would be 500 lbs. or less wet weight. Then this comment assumes 500 lbs. of gas makes one metric ton of carbon emissions. Come on !!!
Brian January 6, 2015
I took a photo. Left turn lane Near Casselberry FL.
Gentleman Jim December 15, 2014
When I plan my personal trips and errands, I try to go clockwise about the city. This is basically right hand turns, not backtracking and a minimum of left handed turns. My mom taught me this as a kid in the fifties!
TPABill December 1, 2014
I have been doing it for years and it works on so many levels. I reduce time as expected. I also agree that it reduces my risk because of fewer turns across lanes of oncoming traffic. The additional value to me is less stress which probably means less work time lost to driver sick days.
Me October 8, 2014
One would think that there will be some routes that must have a left turn. But overall the logic stacks up. And if you combine it with a button on the dashboard that drivers press to alert central control of traffic delays in real time you have one hell of a system!
Don October 1, 2014
I watched the story yesterday and the first thing I saw when pulling out of my driveway was a UPS truck making a left turn. ???
Nicholas Mantzanas September 30, 2014
I guess I should if written a computer program and tried to sell it to you guys 20 years ago. When I first left college, I delivered flowers and started doing this on my own. Stupid me. I thought y'all probably already knew this.
gary September 30, 2014
Don't be fooled. The UPS truck just made a hazardous left (LEFT) turn out of my complex when the right -turn option would have been favorable.
Hugh September 26, 2014
I assume that reducing left turns also reduced the number of accidents that result from turning across oncoming traffic.
Holly August 13, 2014
This "No Left Turns" is actually AMAZING!!