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matters by John Darker, AMBIM
Science in transport (7)
Working with computers
SINCE it became possible to work out trip and journey schedules by computer, road transport managers have speculated on the speed with which this science-based technique will permeate the industry. Guessing that the time interval may be measured in 10-15 years, some older transport managers have concluded: "Very interesting, but not to worry; we'll be pensioners before we need to worry about computer applications; our manual scheduling methods have served us well for 30 years or more; they'll have the edge on computers for some years yet."
Without being able to prove it I suspect that transport managers in the 30-40 age group are less confident of the viability of traditional methods. Even if manual scheduling by traffic clerks continues to be viable until the 1980s—and higher pay levels makes this doubtful in my view—the money to be saved by marginal improvements in distributive efficiency will lead more and more large organizations to review existing patterns and methods. Higher management today distrusts policy or practical decisions based on hunch. It prefers to make decisions on the basis of logical appraisals supported by telling figures in considerable detail.
Computer survey All professional transport managers would do well to read "The impact of computer techniques on road transport planning", published by a Mintech offshoot, The National Computing Centre Ltd (Quay House, Quay Street, Manchester M3 3 HU). It is a mine of information and it is likely to be read closely by bright young men close to the boardroom to whom transport managers must perforce defer.
Although the author of the survey, Mr W. E. Norman, is anxious to foster computerization in transport he does not over-state his case--and his candour is pleasing. For example, he tears a gentle strip off computer manufacturers. They have "led the way in producing the algorithms and programs but have not always pursued the use of the programs for practical applications. There have been well-publicized disappointments with vehicle scheduling programs which were written to demonstrate a general capability rather than cater for all aspects of a specific problem or situation.
"The set-backs have sometimes been better publicized than the successes and have made others who were sceptical by nature still more sceptical, until a large part of the road transport industry has, almost by general agreement, adopted a 'wait and see' or let someone else spend the money and make the mistake' attitude."
Mr Norman goes on to chide consultants. They should, he feels, provide unbiased assessments of alternative manufacturers' packages; and they should be prepared to assist road transport users in developing their own programs and systems where no available package is appropriate.
.£36m savings Mr Norman reckons that computer applications in freight road transport could save some £30m a year and savings of some £6m a year should be possible on the road passenger side. These figures are large in themselves though minute in relation to the £2,350,000,000 spent on goods transport alone in 1966. It is also probable that improved techniques in manual scheduling could yield savings of this order—the book gives a number of case studies which are revealing on traffic office organization and these show the value of comparison between improved types of manual in relation to computer methods.
For example, the tea division of J. Lyons and Company was troubled by fluctuating sales which fell away in summer and built up during autumn sales campaigns. Delivery schedules were contracted for the summer trade and there were difficulties as sales rose in the autumn, with undelivered orders. The company's own work study staff and the English Electric LEO programming team working on vehicle routeing were given full details of a day's deliveries to 387 customers of the Greenford depot, including map references and other data. "Both produced solutions that required only 14 vans when, in fact, the traffic office had taken 22 to make the actual deliveries on the day in question. Although this was only an exercise, the simulated trips adhered to all major requirements, with a hypothetical 36 per cent saving in vans."
This encouraged the company to design a new traffic allocation system. All incoming orders were sorted into pigeon-holes, 23 for country areas and rather more for London and West Middlesex. "The pigeon-holes were in locations representative of relative locations on the map; lin. Ordnance Survey maps of the whole area were attached to a board 7ft high and 10ft wide, and covered by a sheet of Perspex. Customer locations were pinpointed by coloured drawing pins to help the operators see orders for delivery in their geographical groupings.
"Operators worked as a pair, one calling out orders drawn front the pigeon-holes, the other marking the map with coloured chinagraph pencils. Operators worked inwards from the outer perimeter of the country area and used red for weekly and urgent calls, blue for shops closing the following day, and black for other retail and catering orders. Wholesalers were encircled by a ring. In this way the loads were built up to the limits of van capacity or driver's working day, which ever was reached first."
After all the country areas had been routed and about half of London the two operators would assess the remaining work in relation to the unallocated vans. If pressed for capacity, they would increase the work-load on the vans and hold back fortnightly orders. (The operators had discretion to deliver fortnightly orders within three days.) When the new manual scheduling program was matched against one devised by the computer team a mileage saying of 30 miles in 1570 (1.9 per cent) and a saving of one van in 18 was (notionally) realized. Mr Norman notes that the computer program at the time--several years ago—used a van speed of 24 mph for all journeys, whereas the traffic office estimated trip times much more practically on the basis of four average speeds for different conditions, ranging from 10 to 24 mph. In the routes prepared by the computer "long-distance vans used all the time available but were underloaded, whereas many vans in the I.ondon area fully utilized their capacity but had time to spare". Not surprisingly, the manual operators' ability to produce well balanced trips to all regions through experience and judgment and, most important of all, to make last-minute adjustments to orders, vindicated manual scheduling.
Practical comparison The lesson is that a practical comparison of the traditional methods with those yielded by computer led to marked improvement in manual scheduling. If the computer team involved had been better advised they would
NEW LEGISLATION often takes some time to absorb, and for those who are intimately concerned with it a settling-down period during which old concepts have to be discarded and new ideas put into practice is necessary. Such seems to be the case with the new drivers' hours of work and records operative since March 1 of this year. Recognizing this the Minister of Transport has stated that the first three months of the new system would be regarded as a transitional period "during which the Ministry enforcement staff will be concentrating on bringing the new rules to the attention of drivers and employers"... This period of grace has now passed and, presumably, enforcement of the law will now take place.
One anticipates a spate of appeals by way of "stated cases" which will clear up ambiguous points in the new law. Although these will be welcome it does seem a cumbersome way of deciding how the law should be interpreted. For those unfamiliar with this procedure a word of explanation may be helpful. When a defendant, or the prosecution, considers that the magistrates have misinterpreted the law the magistrates can be required to "state a case". The question is then argued out before the Appeal Court and the decision reached by that court is binding on all inferior courts in the future.
Clarification The law is constantly being clarified by this method and it is fairly certain that the regulations dealing with drivers' hours of work and records will be dealt with in this way. This is the reason why the police and Ministry officials are reluctant to give advice on controversial points of law, their stock phrase being, when faced with a difficult question: "We are not in a position to interpret the law but only to enforce it. Interpretation of the law is the function of the courts." It seems hard that defendants must be put to the trouble and expense of appeals to clear up difficult points of law but such is the position.
There seems to be considerable confusion over the phrase "Statutory breaks on duty" which forms the heading of column (5) on drivers' record books and one feels that this could very well be the subject of an appeal case before long. Until there is a "stated case" on the subject the advice on the inside cover of the record book produced by the Freight Transport Association and Road Haulage Association seems particularly sound. It reads: "Breaks for rest and refreshment taken while you are still on duty should be entered under column (5). If your employer gives you time off during which you are free to do as you choose, such periods should be entered in column (6)."
One haulier recently posed the question: "How can you be resting if you are on duty?" One can see his dilemma. The Ministry of Transport Guide (G12) on this subject is, however, quite clear on this point for in paragraph 16 on page 5 it states: "There is no requirement that such a statutory break must be taken off duty, but the driver must be able to obtain both rest and refreshment."
Statutory break An example of a statutory break on duty would occur if an employer, because of a particularly valuable consignment, asked his driver to "keep his eye on the load" all the time from the beginning to the end of the journey. If the driver supplied himself with a flask and sandwiches and took his half hour break in a lay-by sitting in the cab then this would be a break on duty. Supposing the break was taken in a transport cafe, but with the driver sitting near a window, outside which the lorry was parked, so that he could keep it under observation, could this not also be held to be a break on duty?
From the employer's point of view it is obvious that column (5) should be used as little as possible as it cuts down on the time a driver can be productively employed. Whatever interval of rest is entered as being taken on duty must be included in the 11 hours of duty time. This is made clear in the Ministry Guide, paragraph 8, where when "off duty" time is being discussed. It is stated that a driver may be regarded as off duty "during intervals in his working day, including intervals for rest and refreshment, so long as he does not continue to have duties to perform in relation to his employer's business, e.g. to safeguard his vehicle or its load".
To further emphasize this point paragraph 7 of the Guide, when discussing when a driver may be regarded as being "on duty" states that he would be on duty "during a break from work, including a break which he takes to obtain rest and refreshment, under conditions which require him to remain on or near his vehicle or still be responsible for its load".