The value of efficiency

UPS is, basically, in the driving business. Driving costs money — more and more all the time, given the cost of fuel these days. So UPS decided to get smart, and plan its routes better. Reports the New York Times:

The company employs what it calls a “package flow” software program, which among other hyperefficient practices involving the packing and sorting of its cargo, maps out routes for every one of its drivers, drastically reducing the number of left-hand turns they make (taking into consideration, of course, those instances where not to make the left-hand turn would result in a ridiculously circuitous route).

Last year, according to Heather Robinson, a U.P.S. spokeswoman, the software helped the company shave 28.5 million miles off its delivery routes, which has resulted in savings of roughly three million gallons of gas and has reduced CO2 emissions by 31,000 metric tons.

The business with the left-hand turns is about reducing the amount of fuel wasted running engines while waiting for breaks in oncoming traffic. It’s not realistic for the average person — calculating which left turns are worth the wait and which ones are better achieved with three rights is no doubt stupendously complex — but when this much fuel and money can be saved thanks to economies of scale, I’m glad to hear UPS is doing it.

This sort of thing gives me hope. The biggest companies — consider Wal-Mart, which, like the military, is mostly in the business of transporting large amounts of stuff over large distances — take a lot of heat for wasteful practices, but they also have the most direct incentive to clean up their acts.

Assuming that price signals work, of course.

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