June 2018 The Roemer Report

June 2018: Truckers Start Rockin’ with ELDs

It has been two months since the official April Fool’s Day start of the Electronic Logging Device mandate. The debate over instituting electronic monitoring of driver operations is settled. It is a done deal. Now’s the time for the industry and regulators to implement the law in practical terms.

Since FMCSA-required ELDs are now in place, the long standing 14-hour HoS mandate no longer has a paper-based middle man to hide behind. As a result, the industry is now clouded by the regulatory exhaust fumes emanating from tighter compliance and greater data transparency.

Back in January, Fleet Owner magazine’s Sean Kilcarr covered what those coming challenges might look like from the perspective of two leading motor carrier executives – Dean Newell, vice president of safety and training for Maverick Transportation, and Dave Manning, current chairman of the American Trucking Association and president of TCW Inc.

I Can See For Miles

Speaking at the National Association of Truck Stop Operators (NATSO), Newell and Manning concluded that HoS rules under ELD regs are “too rigid” and need real adjustments so drivers can be better equipped to deal with the realities of the road and the apparent swamp of shipping dispatch – and that includes regional traffic congestion – something the legislation, despite reams of data presented by driver’s groups didn’t seem to account for. Go figure, legislation that affects millions without a basis in reality.

According to Newell, Maverick is a veteran at using ELD-like technology to lend transparency to driver operating ours and fleet operations, and has been using automatic onboard recording devices or AOBRDs since 2010. The precursors to ELDs, Newell said the data they have gathered reveals Maverick’s drivers actually drive only 6.5 to 7.5 hours per day out of the 11 hours available to them under the 14-hour on-duty time. The rest he says is lost to time spent loading and unloading, which Newell points out can lead to 1 1/2 to 2 hours on average in delays.

“If we could figure out how to get a half an hour to an hour of more drive time per day,” explains Newell, “that would go a long way to reducing the driver shortage.” Exiting an interstate to refuel can cost 30 minutes or more to a driver, he explained noting that “cutting that down to 15 minutes would return more drive time to a truck operator.”

Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is?

ATA’s Manning offered something positive saying the move to ELDs has created incremental time savings because an ELD accounts for every minute: “We’ve found that change saves up to two and half hours per week.” That is super news, but that minute-to-minute accounting and the “rigidity” of the 14-hour clock are creating other challenges, says Newell. “The AOBRD would not start recording time until the truck broke 14 mph, but the ELD kicks in at 5 mph -- So say a driver is parked for the day at a truck stop, but then shifts his truck to allow another vehicle to fit in. He either broke his (14-hour) clock or just started it for the day.”

And stating the obvious, Manning points out “That’s an unintended consequence of the HoS rules. Drivers can’t stop the clock; they can’t wait for traffic congestion to die down. If they spend 45 minutes searching for a parking spot at a truck stop, the ELD is going to capture that. They need more flexibility; especially the flexibility to rest when they need to rest.”

Under Pressure

The editors at FreightWaves reported recently that HoS mandates will put tremendous pressure on food and other shippers because it ultimately increases the time it takes for freight delivery. It also reduces the profit margins of fleets and drive up rates, reports FreightWaves analyst Vishnu Rajamanickam.

Strict enforcement of the HoS 14-hour rule posits Rajamanickam and others, will just prompt unsafe behavior in a desperate attempt by drivers trying to comply with an arbitrary clock. Already agriculture has sought and won an extension. This unfolding logistical nightmare could put compliance and safety into a real Twilight Zone.

Rajamanickam finds demand for freight capacity has risen steadily, courtesy of ELDs and the lack of adequate truck drivers in the industry. “Spot rates have been going through the roof and the situation at the moment sounds rosy for drivers. But on the flip side, the shippers are bearing the brunt by spending a lot more than they used to for freight volumes, which would eventually be passed on to the consumers.” However after a decade plus of flat shipping rates, the U.S. economy’s energy is going to push some inflation in the sector—especially since it has been so punishing favoring only the most robust fleet operators able to live on razor-thin margins.

You Can’t Hide Your Lying Eyes

ELDs are delivering two things: Transparency and tight capacity. And that is a good thing. Why? FreightWaves analyst Matt Wimberly says ELDs will stop HoS cheaters. But it’s not drivers on the cheatin’ side of town he‘s referring to – he’s talking about companies who are currently cheating what he says are the industry’s most precious assets; fleet operators and drivers.

Wimberly is finding large enterprise fleets and owner operators face similar challenges in the market, but now have a lot more leverage. “The owner operators,” he explains, “have been taking the brunt of the issues in the market, because they have historically lacked freight choice or knowledge on which customers to avoid.” Information is currency and this is a prime example.

ELD technology, he notes, is bringing transparency and tight capacity and with that clear, unequivocal data, comes real leverage. “Carriers have never had more leverage on the market than they do right now,” and that the days of exploitation will soon end.

Shippers and warehouse operators using load boards to tender “fugly” freight will be outed, projects Wimberly, and these bad actors will be forced to pay market prices for capacity while facing penalties for running their operations outside ethical bounds. Pain points like driver assist without pay, detention without collections, long wait times, illegal transit times – all the things shippers have built a bad reputation for compelling drivers to operate outside of safety regulations —“will be held accountable,” he intones.

Let the Sun Shine

Despite the growing pains of implementation and compliance it is clear ELDs are here to stay. The bottom line, most agree is that shippers running “clean” operations are more likely to get their freight shipped successfully and at competitive rates. That means, according to FreightWaves and others, paying detention when warranted, not trying to treat RFPs as the rate ceiling and actually tendering committed loads into the spot market for lower prices.

As aggregate industry ELD data accumulates, payment history, in-transit change times, wait time and similar data will immediately be accessible for evaluation and analysis. Clearly, the daylight from this data will be Illuminating. Via this massive accountability any shipper, broker or carrier choosing not to operate ethically will not have a shadow to stand in.