Using route optimisation to combat driver shortages

route optimisation

It has been reported that we do not have enough HGV and van drivers to meet the high demand placed on transport operators and the situation is unlikely to change for years to come. The retail industry is facing a ‘perfect storm’ with big increases in the demand for home delivery and constrained store deliveries from the combination of Brexit and Covid-19. 

The HGV driver shortage is critical, with the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) recommending the government should have army trucks on standby to ensure there are enough vehicles and drivers to distribute food. This is creating immense pressure on fleet operators to find drivers to meet market demands. So what can be done to combat driver shortages?

Andrew Tavener, Head of Marketing at Descartes outlines how fleet operators can mitigate the impact of the driver shortage by improving the productivity and retention of existing drivers. 

Improving driver productivity

The first place fleet operators should look to increase their capacity is improving productivity of their existing drivers and fleet operations by making delivery routes more efficient and deliveries less stressful for the driver. Advanced route optimisation software will take excess miles out of the delivery process by evaluating all the delivery options to find the right combination of routes and stops to maximise delivery capacity. Using the latest optimisation technology and automating route planning processes will  increase driver productivity by reducing miles per stop. For large organisations, this could be the equivalent of hiring dozens of additional drivers. Existing Descartes customers have increased their delivery capacity by 35% by using advanced route optimisation and delivery scheduling software. 

Additionally, by using dynamic delivery appointment scheduling fleet operators can further improve productivity by increasing delivery density. Customers can be offered delivery appointment options at the point of sale and given incentives to select delivery slots that are closer to existing planned deliveries. Furthermore, with the growing focus on the environment, allowing the customer to pick an ‘eco-friendly’ delivery option that uses less CO2 is a benefit to both customers and fleets and is likely to increase customer satisfaction with the delivery company and retailer. 

Increasing driver retention

Driver retention and reducing staff turnover is vital in combating the driver shortage. Driving commercially can be stressful and poor route plans could leave drivers scrambling to meet their delivery assignments and compromise their drivers’ hours compliance, increasing stress and causing drivers to retire or look for work elsewhere. Using optimised routes that represent the road network, driving conditions, stop times, drivers’ hours compliance and grouping of deliveries, will reduce driver stress and improve retention. Drivers will be more confident they can execute the day’s work and will not find themselves making corrections mid-route, breaking speed limits  or drivers’ hours obligations to make timed deliveries because the original plan was not feasible. This will help fleet operators grow their driver pool as they hire additional drivers and not replacements.

New technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning can also help improve driver retention by identifying down-to-the-driver factors that create personalised driver routes based upon the productivity or knowledge of the driver. For instance, an experienced driver may be 10% more productive than someone who has just started. Machine learning can also identify which drivers complete their work in less than planned time and can take on more deliveries, increasing driver productivity.  


The shortage of drivers facing the retail industry will take years to solve and companies need to act now to minimise the impact whilst plans are developed to increase the pool of available drivers. While fleet operators should continue to find ways to attract new drivers, they should also place more importance on increasing driver productivity and focus on retaining experienced drivers. Advanced route optimisation plays an essential role in increasing the capacity of drivers and is critical to combating the driver shortage.