GARDENA, Calif., April 4, 2007 — -- Efficiency is everything for United Parcel Service. Save time, space and money, and get there when promised.
Throughout the UPS system, computer-sorted packages marked with special codes race along conveyors to trucks precisely loaded by address and order of delivery. Not satisfied with grocery-store bar code, the company invented its own -- made up of clusters of dots in a circle its employees call "ups" code.
But UPS has one low-tech secret to getting deliveries there on time. Listen to driver Bert Johnson describe his route in Gardena, Calif.
"We're gonna make a right turn onto 135th to Western. We'll make another right on Western down to 139th," Johnson says. And he goes on, "Right turn on 139th and go down to the end of the block and we'll make another right turn."
You getting the idea? UPS plots its delivery routes to make as many right turns as possible. In a world where half the driving choices are left turns, they avoid turning left.
And how much of the time are UPS trucks turning right? Tasha Hovland, an industrial engineering manager, said, "A guesstimate, I would probably say 90 percent. I mean we really, really we hate left turns at UPS."
Efficiency is so much a part of the culture at UPS that to save space inside the dispatch centers the signature brown trucks are even parked just five inches apart with rearview mirrors overlapping.
Making right turns has been the way of UPS since before anyone now working for the company can remember. UPS managers used to get out and drive the routes, plotting on maps how they could be efficiently driven turning mostly right. Now they have a combination of not just experience, but computers, codes and programming that allows them to plot out right-turn routes in minutes.
Johnson sees the difference. "I do drive a lot fewer miles," Johnson said. "I was driving 35 miles at first. Now I'm down to 30 miles a day."
UPS trucks drove 2.5 billion miles last year, but the company says its package flow technology combined with right-turn routes saved 28,541,472 million miles, and three million gallons of fuel.
The company puts almost 92,000 trucks on the road every day. But without its efficiency and right-turn routes, it would have to send out an additional 1,100 trucks.
It's not that trucks never turn left, but they're always looking for ways to avoid it. And UPS employees tend to take the philosophy home.
Jim Winestock, a UPS vice president in Atlanta, said, "I know it drives my wife crazy, but I've been known to pass up drug stores, three or four on the left-hand side of the road, just to get to the one on the right-hand side of the road."
Back with Johnson, the California UPS driver, he keeps describing his route. "Right turn here on Cimarron, to the next driveway and we'll make a right into that."