Traveling, or backhauling, without a load is called a deadhead trip in trucking vernacular. Truckers are allowed a business mileage deduction for the loss but that hardly covers expenses and lost revenue. And depending upon the contract, shippers often times must pay double the one-way mileage for the empty return trip. Deadheading has to be the most wasteful overland hauling practice in terms of time, fuel, pollution, road and truck maintenance, and has remained a largely unsolved conundrum in the industry. Until now.
Today's New York Times reports that "more than a quarter of the trucks on the road in the United States drive empty, according to industry estimates." But "Some of the country's largest retailers, manufacturers and trucking companies are working on a solution, sharing information about their trucking routes in hopes of matching empty trucks with goods that need to be shipped." This has become possible through a nonprofit organization called Empty Miles , a "brainchild of the Voluntary Interindustry Commerce Solutions Association, or VICS, ... that tries to make the supply chain in consumer goods industries more efficient."
According to the The Times, "VICS worked with GS1 US, the standards group that developed the bar code, to create a portal where shippers including Macy's, J. C. Penney and Levi Strauss, and two dozen trucking companies can list their empty truck routes." Empty Miles charges a yearly subscription of $1,600 and "42 companies have joined the program, about half shippers and the rest trucking companies. Companies list what equipment they have, what days each week they ship their goods and so on. For now, the service is largely containers filled with dry goods, though tankers and flat bed trucks may be added later."
The savings to both shipping and trucking companies is significant. "Each empty route used by another shipper is expected to save Macy's about $25,000 a year ... [Macy's has already] found other shippers for 70 of its empty truck routes." And Schneider National, a major trucking company, "said that because of the Empty Miles program, it had saved 5,554 gallons of diesel fuel and kept 61.65 tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted."
It seems incredible that it has taken so long for this collaborative technological solution to evolve. Part of the problem, says The Times, "is that many companies are reluctant to share their shipping routes for fear of divulging trade secrets to rivals. To address this fear, VICS recruited large, prominent companies like Macy's to jump in so others would feel comfortable participating. Company names are also hidden on the Web site so that shipping managers are not bombarded with cold calls from trucking companies looking for business. The company names are only divulged after matches are made." Sounds like a plan. The only thing that seems a bit incongruous is that VICS total revenue to date on this project appears to be only $67,200 (42 subscribers X $1,600). Given the huge potential industry wide savings that this model portends, why hasn't a private company developed a more profitable solution before now?