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GPS / Telematics

July 2011, Business Fleet - Feature

Budget-Savvy Routing Solutions

From route optimization to voice navigation, mobile phone mapping and search engine integration, these familiar software and web-based mapping tools offer enhanced trip planning for little to no cost.

by Jennifer Washington - Also by this author

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A well-tailored mapping solution can help make any business driver more efficient, and making sure the tool is modified to fit certain needs doesn't have to be expensive. Most web-based map services offer many of the same advanced features as highly customized solutions, minus the giant price tag.

Navigating on a Dime

With a $40 installation cost and a $40 renewal fee every other year, Microsoft Streets and Trips has become the go-to resource for Ron Day's Fibrenew franchise, a leather repair business based in Southside Atlanta.

With his laptop and separately purchased USB GPS receiver in tow, Day uses the software's routing capability to plan a week's worth of trips or to update directions as needed during a route. Day says Streets and Trips' turn-by-turn voice navigation also has proved to be a valuable benefit while he's on the road.

Users can plug in an entire day's worth of addresses and click on the "Maximize Route" button. The software provides a plan that includes estimated times of arrival and distance and can take into account  parameters such as driving speeds, road types, and start and stop times.

Streets and Trips also allows users to view and print street view maps that show side streets in detail or wide view maps that show interstates and freeway exit locations.

"I can call the night before I route every [customer] and say, 'I'm going to be there at this time,'" Day says. "It really helps cut down on time."

Free and Functional: Google, Bing and Mapquest

Google Maps' now-famous Street View can be incorporated into driving directions.
Google Maps' now-famous Street View can be incorporated into driving directions.

A variety of free, web-based tools are available on the Internet for anyone to use, each packed with useful features like road, street and satellite views, simple route planners, live traffic updates or parameter settings to help create custom routes off the cuff.

While charting a route with a free map tool can be as simple as entering in a starting and ending address and clicking on "Get Directions," Microsoft's free Bing Maps tool incorporates results from the parent search engine. Google Maps does the same, typically including contact information and hours of business.

Other free mapping services such as MapQuest incorporate a toolbar with options for toggling views of local businesses like gas stations, ATMs, lodging and airports. Users can also type in their own terms to find locations by category (e.g., "post office" or "airport"). Unleaded regular fuel prices are also available and are updated daily.

In place of a map toolbar or tool tabs, Bing Maps offers more than 60 "Map Apps" that include distance calculators, parking finders, traffic camera views, dataset displays and weather updates. RouteSavvy, a Bing Map App created by third-party publisher OnTerra, allows users to enter up to 100 addresses and receive an optimized route between their destinations, according to Microsoft.

In addition, map tools often have route planners integrated into the main tool or in separate browsing windows. Google's multiple-stop route options, for example, are part of the standard map, while MapQuest and Bing Maps offer separate route planning tools that offer more customizability.

MapQuest's free Route Planner, available as its own website, can calculate routes with up to 26 stops. The Route Planner offers parameter selections that include choosing between the shortest time and the shortest distance or allowing the map to efficiently re-order stops. Business drivers are using the tool for mileage reimbursement, says Anke Corbin, vice president of marketing and distribution at MapQuest.

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