Case studies: How three small fleets approach detention time/pay management

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Updated Sep 22, 2015
Mark White of Old Time Express has bounced around at the small carrier, seeing time as a driver, an owner-operator and now in operations.

A lot has happened in fleets’ favor over the past couple years relative to collecting detention from shippers and receivers, thanks to improved communication and tight capacity industrywide.

“Drivers and truck lines used to get just horribly abused” at the docks, says Todd Amen, president of owner-operator financial services provider ATBS. Today, however, detention-rate negotiations have swung more in carriers’ favor, thanks to the “lack of truck capacity has given truck lines enough courage to go for it,” Amen says. That’s especially true for fleets using electronic logs and telematics systems. “When capacity’s tight,” negotiating leverage “changes pretty fast,” Amen says.

J.B. Hunt (No. 5 in the CCJ Top 250) this year released its “660 minutes” white paper in the apparent hope that customers would take the value of a driver’s time to heart.

The paper cites small-business banking firm BB&T’s study that says out of the 11 daily driving hours (660 minutes) allowed by the hours-of-service rule, an average of only 6.5 hours are spent hauling freight. Most of the rest is spent on empty driving time, waiting on inflexible appointments and time spent at the shipper or receiver to load and unload. (Respondents to a poll conducted by CCJ sister magazine Overdrive showed less severe results more recently — only 10 percent of respondents reported averaging fewer than eight hours driving.)

The paper outlined these strategies to shippers and receivers for dealing with wasted driving hours:

  • Allow flexible appointment times.
  • Provide onsite driver accommodations/parking, and work with carriers on drop-and-hook operations.
  • Expedite loading and unloading times.

Too often, added Amen, the problem of detention can be masked in mixed company driver/owner-operator fleets without guaranteed detention pay, where leased owner-operators quickly learn the problem customers and refuse to haul their freight, Amen says. In a mixed owner-operator/company-driver fleet, “the carrier may wind up putting it on a company truck, and costs are really hidden.”

The goal of any detention pay agreement ought not to be just to collect more detention pay but to “make shippers more efficient,” Amen says.

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It’s a goal a majority of Overdrive readers seemed to endorse in responses to another poll: 63 percent favored detention pay clauses in carrier contracts continuing to become the industry standard, combined with guaranteed detention pay for drivers, over a government mandate for detention pay from carriers to drivers. Significantly, the latter has been attempted (and failed) twice in the last two years with the Obama administration’s “Grow America Act” highway bill proposal.

If industry conditions continue in truckers’ favor, such public-sector attempts to address the problem may be unnecessary.

“There’s more money in productivity” than in collecting detention, says Jay Thompson, president of Transportation Business Associates and past fleet owner. “Information flow will help productivity,” he adds, as relationships get less adversarial and more parts of the industry get comfortable with sharing information.

If undue detention can’t be avoided, a detention pay clause in contracts with customers, combined with a clear policy for drivers, helps offset the time wasted. In a series of reports relative to detention, Overdrive‘s Todd Dills profiled the following three small fleets with a focus on how they’ve worked through detention issues. Click through each image to read more of their stories.

Cadle Trucking, Augusta, Ga.

Chance 2 Transport, Millersburg, Ohio

Old Time Express, Hartsville, Tenn.