Fuel prices and fuel taxes vary as you cross the continent, but relying on memory to locate the best deals can be as fruitless as reading last week's paper for today's stock prices. But by collecting ...
Fuel prices and fuel taxes vary as you cross the continent, but relying on memory to locate the best deals can be as fruitless as reading last week’s paper for today’s stock prices. But by collecting pump prices every day and feeding them to carriers over the Internet, providers of fuel optimisation software can give drivers as many as three updates a day on where to find the lowest prices.
As with many things on offer in today’s Internet-based world, there are simplified, free versions of fuel price optimisers and the full-service paid-for packages. ProMiles Software Development Corporation (PSDC) has free goodies in the form of colored maps on Websites such as trucknews.truckmiles.com or www.myfuelprices.com. One day the white area along the Gulf of Mexico showed diesel selling at a U.S.$1.27 a gallon, but in a little red-hot spot just east of Los Angeles it was priced at $2.17 gallon.
If a snapshot of the whole of the United States is too crude, you can call up a color-coded map for any state.
Free information is a good thing, but fuel prices alone lacks what vendors insist is the key to the best fuel optimisation: route optimisation. This is why vendors typically combine the two.
Two ProMiles software modules, for example, combine to give route and fuel optimisation information: The ProMiles Mileage Guide has features such as an interactive map with over a million locations, 815,000 miles of truck-usable highway, trip planning, ways to avoid toll roads, truck stop information, fuel optimisation and regular updates.
The fuel management program, by showing daily fuel prices at 6000 truck stops, allows drivers to strategically plan fuel purchases as they chug down their chosen route. For example, they are shown fuel prices with the amount of refundable/creditable fuel tax included in the pump price, which varies from state to state. Maybe buying a few drops in one state so you can wheeze over a state line to tank up where the tax is lower will save money; the best retail price does not necessarily yield the best net deal.
Prophesy’s FuelLogic software package, which optimises fuel purchasing, includes its Prophesy Mileage and Routing product. “Routing information is essential to any fuel optimisation. The first thing the system does is determine the best route, then the best fuel purchasing stops,” says Bill Ashburn, vice president, Prophesy Transportation Solutions.
FuelLogic picks the shortest route and then shows where to get the best fuel prices. It also tells where the best prices within a network are, so card-carrying drivers can make additional savings on top of negotiated discounts, or even buy from a competitor.
“A lot of fleets get a fuel card with a great rate and they think they have done it. But this is only a beginning. Within a chain pricing from stop to stop can vary immensely, as do fuel taxes. There could be a price war on in Little Rock, Arkansas – they go on all the time,” says Ashburn.
Additional features include routes maps and various reports. FuelLogic has information on every truck stop in the United States. Although drivers can get top-of-the-morning printouts of fuel prices to tuck in their briefcases, a recent development is an interface with communication systems like Qualcomm, HighwayMaster and PeopleNet that allows dispatchers to send updated fuel plans to drivers. “That’s the perfect scenario, monitoring truck fuel levels,” says Ashburn.
Prophesy also has a free, on-line route optimiser that provides, among other features, practical mile driving directions, mileage summaries by state, driving time based on posted speed limits and more. And for a small fistful of dollars, Prophesy sells mile.com GOLD, which gives access to additional reports that show the fuel stop with the lowest price (including retail, without tax and rack prices) including the amount of fuel to purchase, along your route.
Vendors sell many different services spun out under several product names, all of which can get confusing. Some products run on carrier computers, with daily Web updates, others reside on vendors’ servers. Fees can be by the month, year and or fleet size. Some software interfaces with dispatch software, some charge extra for rack price information.
Some vendors distinguish between the terms fuel optimisation and fuel management. “Fuel management gives price comparison tools. You are looking at the cheapest prices along a route, as opposed to a mechanical system that tells you where to buy,” explains Dave Stock, vice president, fuel management, ProMiles. “You can compare two truck stop chains, look at truck stops within a radius, see the rack prices in 358 different cities. You can see the 30, 60 or 90 day averages. This establishes patterns, anomalies.”
Fuel optimising promises savings that range from one vendor’s claim of an average of three cents a gallon, to higher estimates of seven to ten cents a gallon and thousands of dollars per truck per year.
Fuel optimisation will not work for every fleet though. “You must do 80% of your fuel purchasing over the road for FuelLogic to be cost-effective,” according to Ashburn. Some fleets might not be able to take advantage of out-of-town fuel prices. That is what XTL Transport, which runs mainly in Ontario, Quebec and the northeast U.S. discovered during a year-long trial of fuel optimisation software.
“We tried it for a year and decided it doesn’t really work for XTL,” says Doug Kimmerly, vice-president management information systems. “Almost all fuel is purchased on the 401, but there is quite a bit of management of the program. We buy some fuel in the U.S. but our drivers [usually] leave here with full tanks and return with empty tanks.” XTL trips are typically 400 miles or less, which speaks to the greater usefulness of fuel optimising for long-haul fleets.
Kimmerly thinks the software could have helped in a more volatile market, but that does not describe current conditions in Ontario and Quebec. In Quebec, for example, month by month diesel prices this year have, with rare exceptions, typically varied by only fractions of a penny from one region of the province to another.
Ashburn says that although 90% of fleets use route optimisation, only 10% do fuel optimising. In an industry where savings of just a few thousandths of a cent per mile are considered significant, cheaper juice could taste pretty sweet.