The hours are at hand

What have you done to prepare for the new hours-of service rules? Many carriers likely have assigned the safety department the primary responsibility for planning the Jan. 4 switch over. That’s understandable. The new rules represent a major compliance task.

But the safety director must recognize that the new rules have enormous implications for operations, and the two departments must work closely on the transition. After all, the mission of a trucking fleet is to haul goods efficiently. You must comply with regulations, but it’s not your reason for being. Your planning also should involve recruiting. Will the new rules allow recruiters to continue making the same promises they have in the past?

Each carrier must think through the challenges posed by the changes, especially the new 14-hour limit and the two additional hours of rest. At a minimum, pull a sample of logs and refigure them under the new rules to see what would happen. Because trucking operations vary widely, there is no universal percentage for calculating productivity loss. For example, a carrier that offers live load and unload faces a different productivity challenge than one that always drops and hooks. And the usefulness of regulatory tools at your disposal – the continued sleeper berth exception and the new 34-hour weekly restart, for example – varies as well.

Drivers can’t extend driving time by taking breaks during the day, so you can recoup only so much productivity. If you assume less productivity and the same or growing freight volume, something has to give. You could buy more trucks and hire more drivers, but that’s hardly a formula for success.

You have two choices: Persuade your customers to help you increase productivity or charge them more for their inefficiencies. Either means your sales department will be critical to your success. Getting customers to cooperate or pay for their failure to do so won’t be easy. Your task would be simpler if shippers and receivers were fretting over the impact of the new rules.

There’s little evidence that the shipping community is overly concerned. The Council of Logistics Management didn’t address the hours rules with a session at its recent annual meeting. Nor has the National Industrial Transportation League scheduled anything on the topic at its annual meeting in November. True, these organizations deal with a range of supply chain concerns and multiple transportation modes. But couldn’t they spare 30 or 45 minutes to discuss how the pending challenges to driver productivity will affect them? Not when they consider the changes to be a carrier problem that requires a carrier solution.

Some carriers place their faith in market forces, believing that capacity is constrained by the thousands of trucking company failures in the past three years and by the lack of drivers. They think customers will be forced to clean up their act or pay a premium if they want timely and reliable service.

Time will tell whether this optimistic vision will be realized. You can’t wait that long. If you haven’t already, begin working with customers to strike a mutually acceptable arrangement. Your customer may trade you for another carrier. But you can no longer accept bad freight just because it’s there.

As CCJ headed to press, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was expected to issue technical corrections to the hours rules. The scope of those changes was unclear. It’s possible that FMCSA will liberalize the 14-hour window for driving, but the agency has held that provision as a cornerstone of the entire rule. And don’t look for Congress to block the rules. The best chance for that passed when the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its transportation funding bill last month without such a provision. Yes, there are still chances for a last-minute reprieve, but don’t bet your company on it. Take steps now to prepare for Jan. 4. Your company’s future may depend on it.