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6 Minute Read

How Are You Optimizing Your Shuttle Routes?


Raise your hand if the answer to the question posed in the title was “I don’t know” or some variation on “we’re not.” For most delivery businesses, routing shuttles from distribution centers to hubs, cross-docks, or transfer points isn’t a huge focus for last mile optimization. In fact, it’s not traditionally thought of as part of the last mile at all. The result is that this process often isn’t very efficient and isn’t closely coordinated with last mile operations. Vendor management

This is a real missed opportunity. When you’re able to treat your shuttle routes—generally thought of as part of the middle mile—with the same kind of care that you have for your last mile routes, you can find new efficiency, shorten delivery lead times, and keep costs manageable. 

So why don’t more last mile delivery operators treat shuttle routes as a part of the last mile delivery optimization process?

Middle Mile Shuttle Routes vs. Last Mile Deliveries

Ultimately, the process of getting the orders to the end customer and the process of getting the product for those orders to the right hub aren’t too different—you want to get the right goods, to the right place, at the right time. But if you compare the two processes as they play out in practice, the difference can be quite stark. 

Last mile delivery trucks are typically dispatched with optimized routes that minimize miles driven and ensure on-time deliveries. Dispatchers and other team members can track the last mile deliveries over the course of the day, including truck locations and driver/delivery statuses. As deliveries are completed, users can access documentation instantaneously. This means that when something goes wrong, customer support or sales can jump in to remedy the citation with the customer. 

For middle mile shuttles, the scenario looks totally different. Generally, there’s no live tracking of the trucks, and there won't necessarily be any documentation—at least not of the kind that you get with effective last mile deliveries. This means that the last mile teams are flying comparatively blind. 

It’s not as if there’s no value to be gained by treating these trips more like last mile deliveries. In fact, there’s a lot to be said for treating these two processes as part of a connected whole. 

Benefits to Improving Shuttle Route Efficiency

When you bring shuttle routing into the larger last mile process, two things happen:

  1. You’re able to optimize shuttle routes the same way you optimize your delivery—with an eye towards reducing costs and increasing efficiency. 
  2. You can improve coordination between these two legs of the supply chain, ultimately resulting in more seamless, cohesive operations. 

This can have a number of distinct benefits:

  • Reduced mileage and driver hours for shuttle routes, resulting in reduced costs. 
  • Clearer documentation of middle mile processes—meaning that you don’t have to hunt for the information you need about whether a given order is ready to be delivered. 
  • Faster final mile delivery lead times thanks to streamlined coordination between processes. 
  • Real-time tracking of shuttle deliveries so you know where your inventory is at all times.
  • Streamlined planning and execution across the fulfillment lifecycle within a single pane of glass. 

Taken by themselves, these benefits can result in cost savings, time savings, and improved customer service. But taken together, they represent something even more powerful—a more cohesive process for getting the right inventory to its final destination. 

When you can house shuttle route planning and last mile delivery optimization within the same software solution, you can ensure visibility and tight coordination across the board. The result is smarter, more cost-effective operations all around.

Shuttle Routing Best Practices 

How do you actually achieve the benefits that we mentioned above when it comes to planning your shuttle routes? Here are a few best practices:

  • Leverage one solution for shuttle route planning and the rest of the last mile: By doing this, you ensure total visibility across functions and pave the way for tighter coordination. Rather than requiring potentially fussy data integration and switching between multiple solutions to keep deliveries on track, your team can manage the whole process from a single pane of glass. 
  • Track shuttle deliveries via mobile app: When your last mile deliveries are being carried out, your drivers will most likely have a mobile app where they can update their statuses and capture proof of delivery. When you have the same capabilities for shuttle routes, you can more easily create a precise audit trail for this section of the middle mile. The result is that you gain real-time visibility into this part of the process. 
  • Leverage cloud-based last mile technology: This prescription is a little bit broader than the others, since it speaks to the entire last mile process, but it can be crucial for shuttle routing as well. When your technology is on-premise, you limit potential visibility across roles and functions and you risk running outdated, slow, unresponsive technology. When you upgrade to the cloud, all that changes—you can be confident that you’re running the latest version of the latest software, and you can scale your needs up or down as needed. When it comes to shuttle routes in particular, SaaS solutions help solidify the kind of visibility and flexibility that we’ve been talking about throughout the rest of this article.
  • Utilize next generation route optimization: When you’re only dealing with a small number of stops, the benefits of a robust route optimization software algorithm might be less clear. After all, you’re pretty much driving the same routes from the DC to the hub time after time. But smart route optimization technology can also help you match the right inventory to the right equipment and make more efficient use of your capacity. Crucially, it can also help you ensure that you’re leveraging the optimal transfer point within your network for a given set of last mile deliveries. This is another area where connectivity between last mile and middle mile operations can be hugely impactful. 

How DispatchTrack Improves Shuttle Routing for Delivery Businesses

DispatchTrack is built to handle the entire last mile delivery journey from end-to-end. That means that we treat shuttle routing as an integral part of the process and give our users the capabilities they need to connect shuttle routing processes with the rest of the last mile. 

Our platform offers:

  • Intelligent routing from distribution centers to hubs, cross-docks, and other transfer points 
  • A wide range of integrations with ERP, TMS, PoS, and other software systems
  • Live shuttle delivery tracking via the driver mobile app
  • Total visibility into shuttle routes for all roles and functions across the last mile journey

By enabling our users to route shuttles efficiently and gain visibility into the way inventory is moving even before the last mile of the supply chain kicks off, DispatchTrack helps power smarter, more cohesive, more connected processes across the board. 

The end result is decreased logistics costs across the board, more efficient utilization of resources, and fewer supply chain disruptions. This gives delivery businesses the ability to focus on what matters: keeping customers happy. 

To learn more about DispatchTrack’s shuttle routing functionality, get in touch with us


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