Trucker World Blog

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Drivers play a major role in reducing fuel mileage

At the core of any training program for drivers is the need to repeat, repeat, and repeat. That repetition makes practice permanent, not necessarily perfect. So, the need to monitor, assess, and hone training programs is as important as the delivery of those programs to drivers.

The trucking industry fails miserably on both of these counts. The only universally mandated ongoing training Canadian drivers receive is for the Transportation of Dangerous Goods, once every three years. My best guess is that professional drivers in Canada will receive between zero and 40 hours of safety training from their carrier annually. My 18 years of experience tells me most drivers’ training time will be closer to zero than to 40.

As someone with a background in the delivery of training programs, I recognize the importance of self-assessment in relation to my own performance. My income, personal safety, and professional reputation are dependent on keeping my skills sharp and my knowledge up to date.

One of the things I do each year is review the SmartDriver for Highway Trucking program made available online by Natural Resources Canada. It’s a free program proven to help improve fuel efficiency by up to 35%. Safety and fuel bonuses are a significant part of my financial compensation, so this is important to me.

So, as I was reading my February 2017 issue of Truck News and saw the headline ‘Budget should focus on low-carbon trucking’ by the Canadian Trucking Alliance’s (CTA) CEO David Bradley, the question that first sprung up in my mind was in regard to available training dollars and programs for professional drivers. After all, improving fuel efficiency is still largely in the hands of the driver and this is the most direct way to reduce carbon emissions, cut operating costs, increase profits, and keep a carrier competitive.

But no, despite an industry focus on training and recruiting drivers of late, the CTA submission to the federal government stated in its introduction, “The 2017 federal budget can play a significant role assisting and accelerating investment in equipment and technology designed to reduce GHG from trucking.”

Absent was any mention of the role the driver plays in the trucking industry’s ability to meet new emissions standards.

The CTA goes on to say in its submission that, “Carbon reducing programs that target long-haul trucks will generate the most return on government investment as this sector of the trucking industry consumes the most fuel.” The government recognizes that drivers impact fuel efficiency by up to 35%, so why doesn’t the CTA?

I care deeply about the plight of other drivers and the health of our industry as a whole. I recognize that a driver’s welfare and well-being is tied directly to the success or failure of the carrier he or she works with. The CTA has assumed a mantle of leadership in the trucking industry by speaking for the over 4,500 companies it represents as a federation of provincial trucking associations. In doing so, it also represents the 400,000 direct jobs in the Canadian trucking industry, 300,000 of which are truck drivers. These are the CTA’s own numbers. By focusing on GHG reduction solely through investment in equipment and technology, while ignoring investment in human resources, the CTA is slapping drivers in the face and fueling a growing disregard for carrier associations amongst the rank and file.

Let’s not forget that the CTA’s own Blue Ribbon Task Force on the Driver Shortage had some strong things to say about how drivers are treated. A minimum standard of entry-level training, recognition as a skilled trade, and mandatory ongoing training/certification were recognized as core values for drivers. This much lauded report was to lead the change in recognizing and treating drivers as skilled professionals.

The CTA should be lobbying the federal government to be partnering in funding these initiatives, not allowing them to gather dust on the shelf.

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Al Goodhall has been a professional long-haul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his blog at http://truckingacrosscanada.blogspot.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @Al_Goodhall

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Why I embraced the switch to e-logs

I’ve been running on electronic logs for a while now and I have to say, I’m sorry I didn’t get them sooner. Contrary to some of the fear mongering going around, I haven’t lost any money due to lack of miles. I have still made my appointments and still managed to get home as I did before.

You see, nothing has changed. I’m still governed by the same hours-of-service regulations that I was when I ran paper logs. The only difference is that instead of drawing a line, I now push a button. I have actually gained some time here and there.

Instead of logging a 15-minute check-in at a shipper or receiver, or for a trailer switch, I now log the actual time that it takes. More often than not, I’m saving 10 minutes each time I do this and on average I gain around an hour from this each week.

At first I ran paper logs alongside the electronic logs and even using the seven- and eight-minute allowance to my advantage, the electronic log still gave me more on-duty hours to work with.

Their ease of use is another huge plus, in my book. Rolling hours is so simple: no need for calculations, the information I need is all there on the screen. It makes accepting a load so simple.

I key the details into my GPS, find the distance, divide the miles by 80 km/h (my moving average is 88 km/h, according to the GPS), add the necessary time for breaks, fueling and pre-trips, in-trip inspections, etc. and look at the hours I have available. If the numbers work out, I accept the load offer. If not, I can refuse and dispatch will know why. Not that this has ever been an issue, my carrier is very good in that respect.

I have spoken to other drivers about the electronic logs, both friends and strangers. Many of them have asked me about how they can work around them. For example, what happens if you run out of hours 15 minutes from home, or you have a hold-up from weather or traffic, or a delay at a shipper’s? The answer is simple: the hours-of-service regulations haven’t changed.

Just as you could with a paper log, if you run out of hours in a back-up or due to inclement weather, you park at the nearest safe place and add a note to that log explaining why you ran over time. However, these are exceptions and only to be used for genuine reasons. If you have to use them regularly to complete your run, you’re not doing your job very well and are part of the reason that an incorruptible method of recording HoS is deemed necessary by the authorities.

You need to work out how to fit the run into the electronic log, not the electronic log into the run. It’s evolution and you need to roll with it, or become extinct.

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A fourth generation trucker and trucking journalist, Mark Lee uses his 25 years of transcontinental trucking in Europe, Asia, North Africa and now North America to provide an alternative view of life on the road.

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Debunking the ‘economies of scale’ myth

‘Economies of scale’ is a phrase I hate. I don’t think it has any place in a service industry, especially ours. Obviously, it fits the manufacturing sector. Set up tooling to constant settings, use the same mass-purchased raw materials and change nothing for prolonged periods and efficiencies will follow. I don’t believe our industry enjoys the same benefit.

Shippers often want discounts for same-destination multiple loads. What does the ‘multiple ’factor matter?

The truck or driver works no cheaper just because there are multiple trips. I equate the same thinking to long-haul, because almost always, the customer wants a lower rate per mile, the longer the trip is. Why? I can send a truck twice from Ontario to Columbus, Ohio, or to Columbus, Ga. once, and aside from bridge tolls, the operating cost is the same. So why should the Georgia load pay a lower mileage rate?

One previous customer, a high-volume shipper, provided freight rates with a varying rate per mile, based on distance traveled from the point of origin. Imagine the frustration of owner-operators hauling 620 miles who were paid $12 less than others running 580 miles.

I question the accuracy of this phrase when we discuss the manner in which it affects small versus large carriers. No insults intended, but it’s a generally established fact that usually, larger carriers work cheaper than smaller ones because of this ‘economies of scale’ theory. Do the large carriers really enjoy true economies of scale compared to smaller companies?

Trucks, trailers, parts and fuel are purchased cheaper when bought in volume. Now, dig deeper.

Taxes and utilities on our 900 sq.-ft. office and 2,000 sq.-ft. shop are less annually than a typical large carrier spends per week. Look inside the buildings. How much staff-per-truck exist? The large carrier will have at least as many as us, likely more. Besides the foot soldiers (dispatchers, accountants, etc.) there are managers for every title imaginable, from maintenance and purchasing, to dispatch, to titles that don’t exist at smaller companies. You’ll also find maintenance staff circling the yard performing pre-trips, since far too many of their drivers don’t.

How about drivers? Some small carriers would hire lower-quality drivers, if their insurance company allowed them to. Based on my personal experience with drivers I’ve rejected, those drivers still find employment, usually at the large, self-insured carriers. Tally up that cost. Poor fuel mileage, freight and equipment damage and lower productivity are predictable results of unsatisfactory drivers.

Some large carriers have several reportable equipment damage incidents in a day. In the event of a large crash, the ambulance-chasing lawyers pursue even larger settlements from the large carrier’s coffers. Even if the settlement is covered by insurance, premiums will soar.

Next, equipment inventories. Our spare trailer inventory is, at most, one of each trailer type. Most large fleets report trailer numbers of almost triple their power units. You can only pull one or two behind each truck, so there’s obviously a huge equipment investment that will rarely earn full revenue.

Some of the extra trailers are dropped at the shipper or receiver’s facility for pre-loading or temporary warehousing. A large customer requiring so much spare equipment availability is usually the one providing you the lowest profit margin, even if they are actually paying extra for the added trailers.

There are always accounting experts able to financially justify everything. But fundamentally, when the numbers are all thoroughly crunched to net level, does the economies of scale theory really fly in the trucking industry? I’m not convinced that it’s not just, as I’ve previously called it, a numbers game. Lots of trucks earning peanuts still produce a lot of peanuts. To a little operator like me, that sounds awfully risky during a slow economy.

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Bill Cameron and his wife Nancy own and operate Parks Transportation. Bill can be reached at williamcameron.bc@gmail.com.