by Bill Hudgins
How do you get from point A to point B? Can you even get there from here? How fast? How many miles? Are there tolls, low overpasses or restricted routes? And more to the point, can you make any money doing it?
Few truckers would ever leave home without a well-thumbed atlas or set of maps. But many also now pack routing software on laptops and notebook computers, or at least consult Web-based applications such as Mapquest.
If mileages and general directions are all you need, consumer programs work great and are inexpensive. But commercial drivers, and especially owner-operators, usually need a lot more horsepower, the kind found in specialized software that can compute trucking-industry-specific mileages and warn of restricted routes, for example.
These programs also can help you manage your business — they can figure taxes, check driver logs, tell you what you paid for fuel (and where you paid or bought too much), and handle dispatch and driver pay details, invoicing and profit-and-loss analysis.
Like many business applications, some of these programs are leased, and there’s usually a fee for each computer running them. Truck-specific applications tend to cost more than consumer programs, but you should factor in how much time, effort and accountant fees they could save, which you could put to more productive uses, or even having fun.
The following article looks at highlights of the most popular routing and mapping software. (Note: There are also other software packages not reviewed, such as those by Trucker’s Helper or Hammerlane, that provide mileage and routing functions powered by one or more of the applications mentioned here.) For more information, demo versions and online services, check the manufacturers’ Web sites. As in buying any kind of equipment, “Try before you buy” is a good philosophy.
Rand McNally-TDM Inc.
Rand McNally’s RouteTools Professional Driver Edition is designed for owner-operators with fleets of up to 10 trucks. The latest version has more than 200,000 updates for “best routes” on the North American highway network and current info on more than 5,000 truck stops, with cross-references to the 2004 Motor Carriers’ Road Atlas. Other features include:
- HHG Tariff Mileage Guide 18 or “best route” routing
- Compliant routing by truck type (48- or 53-foot single, double or triple)
- State-by-state mileage breakdowns for tax reporting and invoices
- RoadWork, Rand McNally’s proprietary road construction diagnostic program, with downloadable updates every two weeks
- Customizable fuel network, by location or amenities
- No licensing fee
“RouteTools is a reliable and accurate software solution that saves me money,” says OOIDA member Tim Brady, owner of TD Brady Van Lines, and a contractor for an agent of United Van Lines. “This software was designed with the professional driver in mind. When I compare the savings I get from RouteTools software to the cost of the product, the return shows it is money well-spent,” added the 21-year trucking veteran, who will be featured in an upcoming national advertising campaign.
RouteTools Professional Driver Edition is $199 at Travel Centers of America and Love’s Travel Stops, or you can order direct from Rand McNally.
Prophesy Transportation Solutions Inc.
204-C West Newberry Road
Bloomfield, CT 06002
Phone: 1-800-776-6706 or (860) 243-0533
Fax: (860) 243-2619
Over the past 20 years, Prophesy has logged about 25,000 installations of its truck-specific Windows-based software. It’s important to note that Prophesy’s online functions at Mile.com are key components of its services. These include a free commercial mileage and routing calculator that provides practical mile driving directions, mileage summaries by state, driving time based on posted speed limits and more. A Mile.com “gold” service subscription (starting at $39.95 per month) includes more, such as reports that show fuel stops with the lowest prices, including the amount of fuel to purchase, along a given route. Also available are 25 mandated DOT forms, a message center and a load- and vehicle-posting center.
Pricing is based on the number of users and installations that a company needs; for specifics and quotes, contact the Prophesy sales office at 1-800-776-6706.
Prophesy Mileage and Routing
- Single and multistop trip routing
- Detailed driving instructions, allowing for bridge heights, low underpass and commercial vehicle restrictions, seasonal road closures, toll road avoidance and actual posted speed limits
- Routes to more than 1 million points in North America
- Industry standard or practical miles
- Detailed, full-color route maps to and from cities, intersections, truck stops and ZIP codes
- State mileage summaries for fuel tax reporting
- Integrates with other Prophesy programs
- Includes features of Prophesy Mileage and Routing
- Point and click for door-to-door and turn-by-turn directions
- Maps include landmarks like schools, hospitals and railroads
- Automates fuel and road tax data collection and reporting
- Compliant with all rules, regulations and current tax rates, with downloadable updates
- Automatically determines official, state-accepted mileage summaries by state
- Tracks fuel purchases by vendor
- Shows overpurchases of fuel and overpayments of taxes
Prophesy DispatchSelect with
QuickBooks Pro 2003
- Eliminates most data entry duplication, saving time and reducing errors
- Fast invoicing
- Tracks trucks, drivers and loads
- Customer-specific revenue ratings based on flat, CPM, CWT, ton, pallet or piece. Variable or fixed surcharges can be added automatically or manually to base rates.
OOIDA member Matt Hoffman, 42, of Schnecksville, PA, has used TaxTally, Mileage and Routing, and DispatchSelect software for his one-truck operation.
“Mileage gives me fast, accurate routes from point A to point B, and if someone calls for a quote, I can give it to them right then.” Hoffman says. “I bought DispatchSelect mainly to keep track of where I’ve hauled from in the past ... and people I called for loads.”
DispatchSelect greatly simplifies invoicing because of the level of detail it provides for each load, and TaxTally streamlines figuring fuel and other taxes.
“At the end of each trip, I enter in mileage and fuel and dates, and at the end of the quarter, I just print it out and send it to the state,” Hoffman says.
ALK Technologies Inc.
1000 Herrontown Road
Princeton, NJ 08540
(See Web site for product specific phone numbers)
Founded in 1979, ALK supplies truck-specific applications to more than 20,000 motor carriers, shippers and logistics companies; 40 IFTA/IRP jurisdictions; and about 800 federal and state safety investigators.
PC*Miler 17, the newest version of its flagship software, includes more than 100 million addresses with 14 million new and updated addresses; 100,000 new and updated streets; height, weight and length restrictions; more than 3 million points-of-interest, including truck stops; and 42,500 U.S. ZIP codes. Also on board:
- U.S. Department of Defense and General Services Administration compliance
- A new location radius tool to search for all cities, towns, ZIP and postal codes, points of interest, or custom points within a specified radius around any location
- Customizable database and routing to “Avoid” or “Favor” road segments, entire roads and entire jurisdictions
- Hub Mode routing and mileage
- Specialized equipment, and light and heavy vehicle routing
- PC*Miler|Streets is an add-on module that provides street-level database for dock-to-dock driving directions over truck-specific routes.
- PC*Miler|HazMat is an add-on module providing point-to-point distances and driving directions for hauling hazardous materials while ensuring compliance with nationwide hazmat, government and DOT regulations. (A number of other specialized business-management applications are also available.)
Pricing for PC*Miler 17 depends on how many computers will be using it. The fee for one user is $1,895; for six to 10, it’s $3,995. Single-user fee for the nationwide version of Streets is $2,995, while the hazmat edition is $3,995 for a single user.
CoPilot Truck combines PC*Miler functions with GPS navigation and route guidance. It has perhaps the coolest feature of any of the available software: voice-prompted, dock-to-dock driving directions to any nationwide address. Other features:
- Automatic route recalculation within seconds of going out of route
- Responds to voice commands and gives detailed spoken instructions (laptop version only)
- Lane change warnings for exiting major highways
- Detour and selective routing to get around delays or avoid certain areas
- Import points-of-interest (delivery locations, truck stops, weigh stations, etc.)
- U.S. nationwide, street-level and Canadian and Mexican highway-level map data, as well as U.S. hazmat routing and restrictions. Also available are practical, shortest, 53-foot trailer and toll-avoidance routing options.
- A Canadian street-level map data “add-on” ($49 upgrade fee); can be delivered electronically. A Canadian only (street-level) product is available for $349.
CoPilot Truck is $449 (Pocket PC and laptop versions). Multiple unit discounts are available. Software only (no GPS receiver) versions are available for the U.S. product for $299. The product can be used with other non-ALK GPS receivers.
OOIDA member Pinky Boman, president of Boman Trucking in Sedalia, MO, Uses PC*Miler and PC*Miler|FuelTax, and figures it saves him a bundle in out-of-route mileage costs. He’s been using ALK products and services for about 12 years and currently has four company drivers and three owner-operators. Automating his taxes also allowed him to trim office staff.
“As a matter of fact, since integrating PC*Miler with PC*Miler|FuelTax, we’ve completely done away with handwritten sheets. Now we have just one office person who enters the data, and they keep track of mileages, logs, fuel taxes,” he says.
ProMiles Software Development Corp.
P.O. Box 398
Bridge City, TX 77611-0398
Fax: (409) 697-2650
ProMiles XF: Single user license: $895; 2-5 user network license, $1,995
ProMilesXF is the company’s flagship software. Its features include:
- Claims largest, most accurate North American mileage and routing database, including Canada, the United States and Mexico
- Used by most U.S. states and all Canadian Provincial authorities for auditing (ProMiles mileages are one of the four legal mileages fleets can use.)
- Displays multiple trips at once on map
- Four different routing methods; generates most efficient route
- Can be integrated with image-based logbook programs
- Expense tracking
- Data section eliminates multiple entries
- Includes basic fuel purchase optimization
- Daily fuel price updates
- Free 15-day trial available
- Add-on modules include Fuel Tax and Fuel Management
ProMiles also has an online service called TruckMiles designed for the routing needs of owner-operators and small companies. That is available in the members-only section of OOIDA’s Web site (www.ooida.com) at no charge. OOIDA members get a 20 percent discount on any of the CD products (be sure to mention that you are a member). Demand for a CD version led to the recent launch of TruckMiles on CD, which is designed and priced for smaller operations.
- Multiple routing options
- Expense tracking
- Reduced toll-road use
- Multiple stop/location entry
- Driver pay calculator
- Rates by empty or loaded miles
- Profit margin estimator
Consumer and online applications
Microsoft Streets & Trips 2004;
$29.95 (after $10 mail-in rebate)
While not designed specifically for truck drivers — it doesn’t show restricted routes or heights, for instance — Microsoft Streets & Trips is a versatile consumer product that users can customize to accommodate many needs.
Truck driver Coby Bickel has gleefully pushed the limits of customization and sells a trucker-attuned application specifically designed to work with Streets & Trips. At his Web site, www.ultimateroute.com, Bickel sells his New Trip Template Add-On for Streets & Trips. New Trip displays locations of all major truck stops and many smaller ones, as well as “unofficial” parking areas, temporary and closed weigh and inspection stations, and much, much more.
In 2000, as a newbie driver, he became frustrated over the lack of good directions from dispatchers (“even to their own terminals!”). He bought a copy of Streets & Trips and began adding truck stops on his company fuel network by interstate and exit number. After a while, he attached a GPS unit and began logging rest stops.
“Next it was weigh stations, then other truck stops, then every damn truck stop I passed, every place I found to park or pull over.” So far, he has added more than 5,000 locations to the original template and organized them in a database according to type, state, route and mile marker.
Streets & Trips is available for PCs and also as Pocket Streets for Pocket PCs.
Two DeLorme Drive, PO Box 298
Yarmouth, ME 04096
(207) 846-7025 or 1-800-293-2389
DeLorme’s Street Atlas USA 2004
Another versatile and well-respected consumer application is DeLorme’s Street Atlas USA. Coupled with its USB-powered Earthmate GPS at $129.95 including software, Street Atlas provides a powerful, affordable and versatile routing program, say OOIDA members Allan and Nedra Ewart. “Serious assets include routable roads and a trip planner that calculates when and where you need to stop for fuel or rest stops or the night.”
Michael Pippenger is a former owner-operator who now hauls oversize escorted loads for Turner Transfer of Greensboro, NC. He used Street Atlas and GPS as an owner-operator and continues to do so. “The detail and accuracy of the mapping programs allow us to do our job better. … At the end of the day, we can find out where a truck stop or motel or restaurant is, just by looking at the mapping program in detailed close-up views. One feature I really like is that you can edit and make small map notes, highlighting a bridge or landmark. We can also save the exact route we ran for future loads as a reference.”
New features include:
- New import features — automatic symbolization of imported records and text files
- Add titles, text boxes and company logos to the map — edit them independently of the map
- New import tools for viewing accuracy of geocoded addresses
- Faster, more accurate routing with stricter observance of user-defined road-avoid and preference settings
- Aerial imagery-updated exit ramps and entrances
- Now includes Canadian highways and major roads
In addition to services offered by each of the above, the Web provides a host of mapping and routing options, including Mapquest.com, Yahoo!, maps.com (a subscription service), Microsoft’s Mapblast.com site, and travel sites such as Expedia. They’re fine for getting quick mileage and directions, checking weather and finding motels, restaurants and other amenities and attractions.
However, they don’t provide truck-specific info such as height or length restrictions, for instance, and you have to access the Web to use them. If you’re lost or far from Internet access, that can be a problem. LL Bill Hudgins is a freelance writer who has covered the trucking industry for 10 years. Bill Hudgins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vapor-ware, trucking style
Ten programs they should make (but probably won’t)
Most everyone who’s used a computer for any length of time has at some point said, “I wish they’d make a program that does ...”. Although some trucking-oriented routing programs are incredibly versatile, they still leave some things to be desired. So the creative minds at Land Line have come up with a wish list for any code-writer willing to take on the challenge:
Chow-ware Designed with your appetite in mind, Chow-ware ranks 150,000-plus places to eat along interstate and major U.S. and state highways. From bountiful breakfasts to gut-busting burgers, Chow-ware tells you where to dine. Great for truckers who are vegetarian, want low-fat or low-salt, are on the South Beach or Atkins diet, or have other special dietary needs. Can be linked to an onboard scale to tell you when to pass up the pie.
Parking-ware A new addition to the Intelligent Highway System (they had to make the highways intelligent because so many of the motorists are not), this updates parking conditions at all Natso-member truck stops, highway rest areas and Wal-Marts.
CB Rambo-ware Plugs into cruise control to route you away from loudmouths with kickers – or will route you near them, depending on your mood. Can be programmed to suggest a number of comeback lines and taunts about masculinity, gender, race, preferred truck brand, etc.
Ex-ware Routes you as far as possible from ex-spouse, ex-lover, ex-boss, ex-co-driver, etc. A compatibility sub-program allows you to enter new friends and associates and, with the press of a button, adds them to your ex-files.
Bankruptcy-ware Automatically informs you if a load will cost you more than you will get paid, or if you have to peddle Amway or Mary Kay from your sleeper to make up the difference.
Driver-amenity-ware Evaluates claims by truck stops against actual conditions (Translation: Cuts through the bull crap in the ads). Available add-on module: recruiter-ware.
Too-long-gone-ware A form of spyware, this listens in on your calls home and, by analyzing stress levels in voices, tells you when you better get home, or just keep moving. It can be programmed to remind you about birthdays, anniversaries and children’s and spouses’ names. It can also e-mail a photo of you home as a reminder.
Dispatcher-ware A version of Too-long-gone-ware, this application monitors discussions with your dispatcher and, depending on the state of your bank account, can automatically cut the connection if you are about to tell dispatch where his or her head presently resides.
Chrome-ware Working in conjunction with your bookkeeping software, this handy little ‘bot predicts when you’ll be able to afford that next piece of chrome AND fund your retirement at the same time.
Cluster-ware With built-in GPS and voice-activated controls, this software monitors CB transmissions and within seconds can explain why there is a traffic jam ahead, and verify or dispute claims that “There’s no damn reason for it,” “It is the worst I’ve ever seen,” and of course, “It’s worse than Atlanta.”