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The AA Route Planner is celebrating its centenary year with its 1.5 billionth online route. The route that marked the service's 1.5 billionth request was to Gatwick airport, perhaps not that surprising as Gatwick Airport is the overall most popular destination.
The service has seen many changes in its 100 years, which began with early AA Patrols providing motorists with information about the shortest routes for their journey.
From these informal beginnings an elaborate organisation was developed which was able to supply details about every stretch of road in Britain. From 1912, the AA was able to furnish its members with routes by mail, responding to their demand arising from a general lack of directional signposts on the country's roads.
Until the early 1920s, routes consisted of a set of handwritten cards, each giving instructions for the route between two different points with details of places of interest along the route.
With the introduction of printing in the 1920s, more than half a million printed routes were being compiled every year.
If a member wanted directions to a specific address the compilers would have to hand write the final section which was then typed up and added to the route sections
Gerry Knight, AA routes compiler
Gerry Knight, who worked on the AA Route Planner from 1969 to 2009 remembers: “The route compilers would have to pass the ‘Knowledge’ similar to that of London taxi drivers, for the whole of Britain. Smaller routes sections were compiled and printed onto cards. When a member wrote in to request a route the compilers would select the relevant route sections and piece them together to form the completed route. If a member wanted directions to a specific address the compilers would have to hand write the final section which was then typed up and added to the route sections.
"This was all then stapled together and sent in a yellow cover to the member. Route compilers would go out and travel each route section to check that the details were correct. Today the compilers have tablet PCs and travel around noting the signage and details for all the roads in the UK and Ireland.”
The next major advancement came during the 1980s when the Home Routes Service was fully computerised and thousands of printed route sheets were transferred. This meant that routes could be generated automatically without the need for staff to 'pick' and collate each route.
In 1999 the online AA Route planner was launched and, today the AA Route planner is averaging 20 million route requests per month. Prior to its online launch, the AA mailed an average of 250,000 routes to members each year, but the AA online Route planner now delivers over twice as many routes on an average day.
This has helped motorists travel more than 175 billion miles. This amazing distance is the equivalent of driving around the world more than 7 million times, or circulating the M25 1.5 billion times.
AA routes can be planned throughout the UK and Europe, and its popularity has seen requests increase by a staggering amount since its online launch in 1999.
In 2010 the AA route planner app was launched, with more than 100,000 downloads in the first two years.
The most popular tourist destinations now are Alton Towers, Thorpe Park, O2 Arena, Paultons Park and Longleat, while the overall the most popular destinations are Gatwick and Heathrow Airports.
The top 10 is:
The AA Route planner continues to evolve and is continually enhancing features for motorists, for example, supplying road signposting information, AA Hotels and a street view service.
We pride ourselves in responding quickly and effectively to customer feedback plus updating new road construction schemes and other useful road enhancements
Nigel Phillips, AA Routes network manager
The AA’s Routes Network Manager, Nigel Phillips comments: “The popularity of AA Route Planner has grown enormously and is a fantastic achievement. We pride ourselves in responding quickly and effectively to customer feedback plus updating new road construction schemes and other useful road enhancements. We believe that the AA’s 100 years' experience of detailed research in providing this service means we are the experts.”
(9 November 2012)