A problem still to solve

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The trucking industry breathed a collective sigh of relief when the Department of Transportation announced the new hours-of-service regulations. The rules appear to be a victory for common sense, particularly in comparison to what was proposed three years ago.

To be sure, the victory comes with some concerns. And some industry segments fair better than others. It is clear that trucking companies operating within a terminal network – primarily LTL carriers – are the chief beneficiaries of the new regulations. These tend to be drop-and-hook operations for over-the-road drivers that are efficient enough to benefit from the extra hour of driving time. Trucking companies that run fixed schedules need to be certain that all current runs can be completed within the new logging. Drivers or union officials will quickly point out runs that can’t be legally logged.

Logbooks remain
For the irregular route carrier, the gray and fuzzy area of driver logbooks remains. Certainly there are conversations in the driver’s room right now on how to manipulate the new rules for maximum benefit to the drivers. Without electronic monitoring devices tracking how much driving time was incurred, it is hard to envision how much is going to change.

In theory, the industry gives up two extra rest hours a day in mandating 10 consecutive off-duty hours. Yet I don’t think there are many carriers out there that really expect their drivers to run much more than 500 miles a day. Even if they do, few drivers are capable of running that hard day after day – despite boasts to the contrary. The truly hard-working drivers will find ways to log the miles.

The real culprit of drivers’ fatigue – excessive waiting time at shippers or consignee docks -is not really addressed by the new regulations. Excessive waiting time produces the McDonalds-level effective hourly wage rates for truckload drivers, which makes it harder to attract new employees.

Yes, the new regulations prevent driving once 14 hours have passed since the driver started work. But drivers can stop that clock by logging hours in the sleeper berth. With that option available, drivers will face the same pressure to log that time in the berth as they do today to log waiting time as off duty. Until drivers are paid by the hour for waiting time, there is a tremendous disincentive for them to log these hours as on duty.

Of course, it’s precisely because the industry can get away with not paying drivers for waiting that excess waiting continues. Without the need to pay drivers, the industry practice became not to charge the customer for waiting time. And until the industry starts charging this time, there is little incentive for shippers to change their ways. Companies such as Roadway or UPS, which charge high rates to customers that tie up their equipment, don’t have a problem with waiting time.

False economy
The truckload carriers’ practice of not paying drivers for waiting time has become a false economy. Like drivers, carriers only make money when trucks are rolling. Yet how many truckload carriers know how much time and profits are lost each week due to trucks waiting excessively at freight docks?

Start paying drivers for this time, and carriers will know exactly how many hours of time were lost at shippers’ docks. Drivers would start logging this time more accurately. Dispatch will be more motivated to get on the phone and urge the shipper to get the truck rolling. Both dispatch and sales would learn to avoid customers or loads with a history of delaying trucks.

Such a step may not be practical in a weak freight market. But when the industry rebounds, give it serious consideration. As long as waiting time remains a free good, your fleet will incur too much of it. Put a price tag on it, and the amount of waiting time your fleet incurs will go down.

If everyone in the trucking industry adopted that practice, the problem of waiting would be drastically reduced. That, however, would require another government mandate. Since we don’t want government in our industry, carriers need to act on their own.