Saturday, October 17, 2009
I found myself following a beer delivery truck the other day, and when they pulled into a parking lot, my reporter’s instincts kicked in. My suspicions proved well founded. First I asked the driver (who had a helper) about the usual route. It turns out they had been on the road for 8 hours, since 6 AM. It was 2 PM, and they weren’t done yet. They told me that they intended to deliver for another couple of hours, and worked partially on commission. I asked them where they were working from and they indicated that they were about 20 miles from their home base. This was their section of the city. When I told them I was a blogger, writing about efficiency of delivery, the driver informed me that “Burp Brewing Co.” also had smaller trucks, which they used for lesser customers, like small restaurants, especially those with limited parking or maneuvering space for big trucks. (The truck he was driving, he informed me, could hold a thousand cases, somewhat more than he would deliver that day, and had been loaded in about 20 minutes.)
So there you have it. It can be said that his remaining cases had been on the road for at least eight hours to be moved 20 miles. (32km) That’s 2.5 mph. (average delivery speed = 4 mph, or 6.4km/h) Meanwhile two people are driving around in a huge, mostly empty, gas sucking truck. They will finish their day by driving the empty truck back 20 miles, a complete waste of time and machinery, where the truck just takes up space for other 14 hrs. before returning to duty. I would be surprised if the cost of the truck, insurance, space for storage, fuel, men, etc. is under $75 per hour, or $750.00 per day. If one assumes 10 hrs. for 1000 cases, that’s 75 cents on each and every case. “Burp Brewing Company” sells tens of thousands of cases a day.
This strikes me as directly analogous to problems with various forms of mass transit. The vehicles, buses for instance, must travel a large percentage of their routes nearly empty, and the many stops along the way create maddeningly slow commute times. Unfortunately, decision-makers tend to drive cars, so these inefficiencies are easy to overlook. The mother of non-invention is non-need. (Wouldn’t you love to make transit authority people commute everyday on the systems they manage?) Anyway this is not the case with commercial deliveries. Here decision-makers can make huge bonuses from incremental profit increases. A supermarket, for example, with a track running right into the back of the store could enjoy a substantial competitive advantage over stores that were not so connected.
When the Internet was first created, it was a limited network of limited importance. As businesses of all sorts started leveraging the technology, it became increasingly essential to be connected, just to remain competitive. Soon there were new business models that no one had previously imagined. I believe that the marriage of cheap computers, smart motors, and network communications is setting the stage for a transportation revolution that is far bigger than many, including many PRT advocates, presently (buuurrrp…) comprehend.