What can this achieve?

Making the most of efficient use of company vehicles is on every transport manager’s ‘to do list’, achieving good loading factors keeps costs reasonable whilst making the maximum possible revenue from the company’s assets. Today, the reduction of a fleet’s vehicle emissions is seen as an additional objective.This section looks at how the use of modern technology can help to reduce empty running and maximise load fill on vehicles whilst still following green policies.


Getting your vehicles to work on both legs of a journey can result in a number of operational and commercial benefits. Of course, one of the most important factors is that you have to have a suitably specified vehicle to make back loading possible.

If vehicles are carrying components to your factory on their outward journey, finished goods, empty pallets or perhaps waste oil for recycling could be brought back. Every operation is different but in cases where there are a number of company sites and numerous vehicles available, well thought out utilisation of the spare capacity of the fleet, perhaps using a routing software program, could result in less overall fuel consumption and therefore emissions. The company might even be able to reduce the number of vehicles needed in their fleet.

Carrying goods for others-

Provided your company holds the appropriate standard national or international O Licence it would also be possible to pick up third party goods on the empty or only partially-loaded return leg of a journey.

For example, a computer company, having delivered its products to a customer, could perhaps collect sofas and chairs from a nearby factory for delivery to a furniture retailer.

A haulier might decide to offer an incentive programme to customers who could provide loads in each direction.

  • Decisions have to be made on a case-by-case basis
  • Do all the circumstances surrounding your core activities allow for this or make it worthwhile?

Possible benefits include:

  • Increased revenue from the additional work
  • Access to a wider customer base
  • Access to more lucrative outward-bound traffic in the long term

Where and how to find return loads

In the past, a traffic manager wishing to find a return load would contact known suppliers, shippers or those advertising in the trade press to find out what was available.

Today, these sources will remain but modern technology has enabled the creation of web-based, load-matching services, which have become more effective and widespread.

Online freight exchanges

Online freight exchanges allow road haulage operators and freight forwarders to advertise details of freight traffic they want moved, which can be read by fellow operators. Others can also access the system highlighting the fact that they have vehicle space available. Modern technology bringing both parties together makes it all work: goods are moved quickly and efficiently by vehicles already in the area and unnecessarily long vehicle journeys to collect to consignment are avoided.

Auction-based trade exchanges

These offer businesses a means of advertising their freighting requirements over the internet and of obtaining tenders from individual carriers in return. The object of the exercise is to get the goods moved at the best possible price for the shipper/forwarder through a ‘reverse auction’ where bidders (carriers) push the price down.

The use of computers has revolutionised the transport industry and the efficient handling of freight. But with the help of technology road hauliers have been creative in other ways too.

Pallet networks

One example is the growth of pallet networks. Hauliers agree to join together and participate in a computer-linked network in order to obtain extra business and to improve their vehicle utilisation and efficiency.

Research carried out on behalf of the Transport Energy Best Practice Programme found that for trunk vehicle movements to and from network hubs, the pallet network members surveyed achieved vehicle utilisation by weight of 72.8% of capacity. This compared to average figures from the food sector of 53% and non-food sector of 54% and illustrates once more how technology has reduced the number of vehicles required to move a given volume of goods.

Sector networks

Not all goods move in minimum quantities of one pallet. Despite a company’s best intentions it may be constrained by the activities of the other parties in the particular supply chain, namely suppliers, distributors and customers. In recent years it has become known for parties in supply chains to draw up memoranda of understanding between each other to improve efficiencies.

For example, in the food sector demands for improved operating and energy efficiencies have resulted in the co-ordination of the logistics operations of separate companies into sophisticated network systems. Supermarket retailers have created major return loading programmes through refining their supply chain. One supermarket now collects 30% of its product lines via return loads collected by its wholesale suppliers. Such a degree of efficiency is only possible thanks to computers and other modern IT technologies.

Next steps…

By further consolidating loads, and retiming deliveries where possible you can reduce your fuel consumption by 15-20%, and reduce your amount of empty running miles.