• Transit time is a critical metric in shipping
  • The length of transit time will vary depending on route, mode of transport, and other factors
  • Calculate transit time better with route optimization

Understanding transit time can help shippers to save money, handle more cargo, and satisfy customers. This article explains the basics of transit time and how route optimization software can reduce transit time in shipping.

What is transit time in shipping?

Transit time is the amount of time spent moving goods from one point to another. It measures the interval of time between cargo getting picked up from the departure point and arriving to where it is to be delivered.

Transit time applies to any mode of transport used to ship goods. Sometimes even a combination. A shipment can be delivered from point A to point B using cargo ship, plane, train, and truck. There are even drones and other options being added to the mix, but they aren’t as common yet.

How long is transit time?

Transit time can be minutes, hours, days, even weeks, or months. It depends on the mode of transport, the distance traveled, and the route taken. Obviously, a delivery van taking flowers from a shop in the same city as the recipient’s home would have a shorter transit time than a shipment of water-spraying plastic flower boutonnières traveling from a factory in China to a wedding in Boise, Idaho.

Distance and mode of transport are big factors. Boat transit times can be weeks or even months if traveling between global destinations. Transit times for rail or over-the-road (OTR) trucks traveling across the country or a continent may take days or weeks.

What factors can affect transit time in shipping?

The mode of transport and distance are the two main factors that affect shipping transit times. Many planned and unplanned factors can also play a role, such as:

  • Space availability
  • Product requirements
  • Holidays
  • Inclement weather
  • Labor requirements
  • Accidents
  • Poor route planning

For a shipment to get from one place to another, there needs to be space available. If there isn’t room in a shipping container or on a vessel, that shipment will have to wait or find another mode of transportation.

Product requirements also influence transit times. If you’re transporting ice cream or beer, you may need refrigeration. Hazardous materials also require drivers with experience.

Then there are holidays. For example, anyone working with shipments from China should know that their factories close for a month during Chinese New Year. In the United States, the July 4th holiday or another extended weekend could have an impact on shipments, though not as seismic as a month-off.

Inclement weather can hold up many modes of transport as well. Foggy conditions or snow can slow down drivers on busy roadways. Or, at the more severe end, a hurricane can close roadways or cause a tunnel to flood. As extreme weather becomes increasingly common, shipping transit times will be impacted more by disruptive weather.

Next, the shortage of truck drivers is well publicized. But labor strikes, a shortage of people in warehouses picking and packing, and difficulty filling other roles throughout the supply chain can play a role too. When it comes to driving freight, there are also federal regulations that limit the number of hours a driver can be on the road in the driver’s seat. 

Accidents and poor route planning affect transit times as well. A driver could be held up for hours by traffic, or a train could be stopped by a malfunctioning signal. These challenges can be solved with effective route planning. Without the ability to anticipate weather, traffic, and other factors while in transit, the transit time and costs can be increased unexpectedly.

How to calculate transit time

Many shippers offer expedited shipping services. Same-day delivery has grown increasingly popular among consumers. Plus, shippers can charge more for expedited shipping. But to meet expectations of delivery deadlines, accurately calculating transit time is critical. Expedited or not.

To calculate transit time, you need to calculate the distance and speed of the transportation mode. You’ll also need to anticipate the many factors that could impact shipment delivery. For example, you’d factor in a port delay that you knew about in advance. 

But how often do you know about such things ahead of time? A bill of lading (BOL) is a contract between the parties sending and delivering the cargo. It will typically have text warning what types of delays they won’t be liable for covering.

So how do you calculate transit time with so many variables? The more information you have, the better. One useful metric is schedule reliability, which measures how consistently carriers are able to achieve their promised transit times. Knowing this can help your business make more accurate predictions regarding your planned transit time.

Truckload transit time chart example

To gauge transit time, many shippers will make transit time charts available. You might find a chart that lists pickup location, destination, distance traveled, and load availability. A truckload transit time chart example might look like the following:

Where is the shipment picked up?Where is the shipment going?Approximate mileage traveledDeparture days available
Los Angeles areaToronto, Ontario2.520 milesM/W/F
Los Angeles areaMiami, Florida2.700 milesT/Th
Dallas-Fort Worth areaNew York area1.600 milesM-F
Dallas-Fort Worth areaToronto, Ontario1,400 milesT/Th

Can transit time be guaranteed?

Transit time isn’t ever fully guaranteed in shipping. Transit times are impacted by dynamic variables. But the more you know about reliability, routes, weather, traffic, availability, loading and unloading times as well as labor considerations, the better you can build in buffers and calculate transit times. 

Along with building in a buffer, shipping companies might improve reliability of transit times by adding availability or increasing the number of drivers. Integrating data from drivers with information about weather, routes, and past trends also helps. Route optimization software makes predicting transit times even easier.

How to improve transit times with Motive

With more businesses embracing lean methodology to optimize supply chain processes, keeping on top of transit times can be a competitive differentiator for shipping companies. 

Transit times play an important role in lead time for businesses. For example, manufacturers need to know when to expect raw goods. Or retailers need to know when to expect goods from the warehouse to offer them to consumers. The shipper that can improve transit times and schedule reliability is rewarded with more loyal customers.

Another crucial factor is being able to analyze historical data with predictive models to improve transit times. That’s where Motive’s route optimization software can help. There’s so much data available, it can overwhelming for a human logistics manager to process alone. With an artificial, intelligence-driven platform using the power of machine learning, Motive’s dispatch and workflow solutions provide more reliable transit time estimates.

Motive’s software accounts for driver Hours of Service (HOS), traffic, weather, and regulations that trucks may need to follow on routes. This might include considering permits or the need for escorts for oversize loads or hazardous materials. The software can also consider driver safety by calculating DRIVE Risk scores.

You can make transit time more efficient with GPS tracking too. With live fleet tracking you can monitor congestions and weather and alter routes to avoid delays. All fleet managers need to do is input the various addresses of stops the driver will make and the software uses advanced algorithms to decide the most time-efficient routes to follow.

Request a free demo to learn how Motive can help you become a better business with better delivery route planning.