Will Electronic Logging Device Requirements Spell the End for Small U.S. Carriers?

By December 2017, all commercial trucks in the U.S. must be equipped with electronic logging devices. Most large to medium sized carriers have or are well on their way to installed ELDs in their fleet. Small carriers, however, seem to be particularly resistant to this policy change, which was designed to minimize and track hours of service violations.

Many company’s concerns about ELDs stem from a potential loss of revenue. A bare minimum 5% loss of revenue is expected at the policy’s implementation. While losses aren’t expected to continue for an extended period, small carriers are expected to be hit the hardest. The hand-to-mouth existence of some small carriers means that a 5% hit could mean the difference between trucking another day and closing up shop, not to mention the additional cost of installing the devices.

Carriers are also concerned about maintain their level of service. This is understandable, considering the several cases I saw when ELDs were installed at my own company of drivers incorrectly logging both 30 minute and 36 hour breaks, leading to a driver being forced to retake their break and log it properly in order to avoid a HOS violation. If a carrier only has five drivers, being down one for an extra 36 hours could make a drastic impact on level of service and potentially cause late loads. ELDs definitely come with a rather extensive learning curve and smaller carriers with long-time drivers seem particularly reticent to tackle it.

Nobody likes to talk about logbook fudging, but I think it is an important aspect when discussing ELD policy. It is trucking’s dirty little open secret, the proverbial elephant in the room, if you will. You can’t falsify log records as easily on an ELD, which is part of the reason they are being implemented. Without fancy finagling of logbooks, certain drivers and carriers are bound to see a reduction in miles traveled and therefore revenue. The elimination of flexibility in hours of service regulations is scary, particularly to smaller carriers, for whom HOS violations could be devastating.

Many drivers at larger carriers who didn’t care for the idea of electronic logging devices changed their tune after using them for a short time. Change is always difficult, especially in the trucking industry where so many policy changes have been passed down by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in the past few years. It stands to reason that this change will not be the doomsday that some drivers and carriers predict, just like the last few big changes in the industry.

It’s a fact that many small carriers aren’t taking well to the idea of electronic logging devices. Many drivers and carriers alike are fed up with what they perceive as an over-regulated trucking industry and the FMCSA, in general. A survey of more than 1300 carriers (most of whom run five or fewer trucks), most had yet to install ELDs. In one broker’s survey of their broker network, 14% of small carriers said they intended to shut down rather than comply with the new requirements. Of 2,300 independent truckers surveyed by Randall-Reilly, better than 70% said they would quit driving before complying with the ELD mandate. Whether that resolve holds when it comes down to the actual date of policy implementation remains to be see.

Is Technology Taking the Human Element Out of Transportation?

Rapidly evolving and more readily available technology has created something of a second industrial revolution over the last thirty years or so. The transportation industry certainly hasn’t been immune to the changes created by these technological advances. The question now is, is the industry setting up to remove the human element from transportation jobs?

The advent of self-driving cars is a significant development in the industry. Though auto pilot has been a tool used in the aviation sector for nearly a century, the idea of functional, self-driving vehicles brings about questions; questions like how long will truck drivers, conductors, and boat captains be a necessary component (or, at the very least, if their physical presence shall remain necessary if they can guide the vehicle from afar) in supply chain management over the roads, rails, and seas. How soon will the railway, maritime, and aviation sectors see advancement like the trucking industry has, with drone-operated trucks becoming a reality? These trucks are set up to be human-operated on city streets, but piloted by drones using GPS tracking in order to allow the trucks to closely follow one another safely to improve fuel mileage.

The idea of these new technologies seems like something out of the ‘Back to the Future’ films, but more practical. In using technology in the transportation industry to improve outcomes, we are actually ensuring the future. With increasingly stringent environmental impact regulations set to swamp the industry in the coming years, advancements are providing transportation companies world-wide with the opportunity to be compliant before it is required. Finding ways to improve fuel mileage and decrease carbon footprints across the industry is crucial. In order to survive, our businesses must grow and change.

Dispatching and load management have also been taken over by specially developed software in order to be more efficient. In my own company, dispatching is well on its way to being operated mostly by an optimization system and simply approved after the fact by load managers to increase driver productivity, improve service to our stores, and provide precision load timing. In developing a system that can reduce empty miles, plan loads well in advance, and maximize a driver’s 70 hour work week, the company saves money, time, and resources. Despite increasing system effectiveness, there haven’t even been rumors of decreasing the pool of support staff on hand. In fact, the company has hired an entire team to develop the new software system, address any problems with it, and ensure its effectiveness long-term.

This tells me that the new technologies being employed throughout the industry will still require people to operate them, at least for the time being. It seems like these ground-breaking technological advancements are geared more towards keeping people safe (like OnGuard collision prevention systems), increasing compliance with industry regulations (electronic logging requirements for the U.S. DOT), improving efficiency, and decreasing environmental impact (like this electric truck prototype developed by a leading global retailer). Despite the supremely advanced technology being developed across all sectors of the transportation industry, people are still the driving force behind supply chain management and movement. These new gadgets simply serve to make us in the industry more effective in our jobs.

The Trucking Industry Goes Green

In an industry that is touted responsible for 5.75% of carbon emissions worldwide (as stated in a report by Carbon War Room), efficiency has become a big deal. As we’ve realized the impacts of greenhouse gases on our planet, efforts to reduce our carbon footprints are of utmost importance, and policies in the U.S. and Europe are pushing for a greener industry.

Despite all we’ve learned about climate change, lower fuel prices seem to have impacted the industry’s progressive attitude towards greener fleets. Without the monetary incentive of lower fuel costs, companies seem less inclined to make the investments necessary to making their operations less environmentally costly. Even with policies in place that will limit emissions production in the coming years, the short term savings seem to be winning out. Though I haven’t noticed this reduced interest in my own company, low diesel prices truly are creating setbacks, at least in the States. Never in my life did I think I’d ever type a paragraph that implied lower fuel prices were negative in any way, but here it is.

We’ve seen problems arise when the industry (or individual companies) is slow on the uptake where policy changes or the implementation of new laws are concerned. The looming implementation of electronic logging device requirements is an example of these changing standards potentially negatively effecting companies who are slow to adopt them, with smaller trucking companies fearing their demise come the due date.

In the case of green innovations to reduce the emissions of the industry as a whole and each individual truck, I would think that, taking into account the concerns over last minute implementation, companies would be more eager to make these investments in their futures. Long term, these efficiency improvements must occur in order for these trucking outfits to remain compliant with the regulations. There are several resources available to companies looking to make the changes necessary to reduce their emissions, such as Trucking Efficiency, an organization dedicated to helping reduce emissions and fuel costs.

With fuel costs low at present, I realize that it’s simply not a money making proposition to begin equipping trucks with greener technology. Some companies simply don’t have the capital make the improvements, while others don’t see the benefits outweighing the costs. However, these changes will be necessary within the next few years. There are even programs available in the U.S. to provide funds to make changes to improve fuel efficiency. Since these improvements must occur in order for trucks to remain compliant, and there are agencies and organizations ready and willing to provide advice and fund these changes, there are no good excuses for putting off the adoption of fuel saving strategies. Over time, improvements will absolutely provide ROI (return on investment).

Fleet efficiency must improve. We must think long term. We must consider the global impacts of higher emissions. With the trucking industry growing by about 2% each year and more and more trucks hitting the road every day, this is crucial to keeping greenhouse gas emissions from going beyond the point of no return. Trucking is the most widely used form of freight transport. This means that the trucking industry has the power to make the biggest positive impact on greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and that power is big responsibility.

Breaking into Management from within the Logistics Field without a Degree

Not so many years ago, many logistics floor managers broke into management by simply working hard, showing their mettle, and displaying their leadership skills. These days, that’s not so typically the case. As technology and logistics strategies have evolved, companies are looking for specific skill sets in the field and formal training in management. Though some companies still offer mentoring programs or management training, a person from outside of the company with a degree in management or logistics often wins out over a dedicated employee who already knows the ins and outs of the company. Despite this trend being reversed in other industries, it seems more and more logistics companies are requiring a college education, or at the very least, strongly preferring a college educated candidate.

There are several things employees looking to move up to management in logistics can do to increase their odds. First off, look into whether your company absolutely requires a degree. If they do, you obviously either need to get a degree or start searching for a new company. If you’re going to follow your dreams, determining whether they’re feasible in your current company comes first.

Assuming you’ve found that you can be promoted, make sure that the people you work under know that you are seeking a promotion. You’ll waste an awful lot of time and energy attempting to impress them with your leadership skills and work ethic if they’re unaware of the fact that you’d like to move up in the company. Once they understand your goal, they’ll be keeping an eye on you.

You can subtley let them know you’re interested by displaying your dedication and ambition. Start by asking if they or the company recommend any particular resources for developing managerial skills, or if they have any programs dedicated to helping employees grow their skillsets. Take part in any such programs offered and absolutely take them seriously. Most companies aren’t looking to promote a candidate who has shown a lackluster effort at improving themselves for the role.

Simultaneously, you’ve got to show your employer what you’re made of. Make sure you’re giving 100% every day and work to assimilate to the company culture. Take on extra responsibilities when you get the chance, such as joining a safety team or getting certified to train new hires. In these roles, you’re better able to display your leadership skills, not to mention you’ll be racking up accolades for your eventual resume.

Find community activities that you can take part in or seek out volunteer projects. Companies typically love to see that you’re active in your community and that you’re a considerate person. These things make the company look good, and many management jobs even require some level of volunteerism.

You can also take part in free higher educational courses, like the free courseware in supply chain management offered by MIT. Though you must pay for these courses in order to earn a formal degree, there is plenty of reason to take part in the free versions. It’s likely that your employer will be impressed at your desire to learn about the industry and also your dedication.

Take these tips or leave them as they apply in your particular situation, but know that there are plenty of actions you can take in order to help yourself stand out amongst the other managerial candidates, even without a formal degree.

Hours of Service Changes: A Waste of Time and Money or Important Safety Evolution?

Workplace safety is an important issue. Most everyone wants to make their living in a way that is safe, or at the very least, not unnecessarily dangerous. In the transportation industry, and the trucking industry specifically, this is doubly important because of the number of lives at stake. If a truck driver is in an accident, chances are that theirs is not the only life impacted. Unsafe work conditions also cost companies money in the form of lost time, worker’s compensation, and potential fines. Taking all of the above into account, the FMCSA enacted new hours of service requirements starting July of 2013 that apply to most commercial haulers.

The changes in hours of service rules state that driver work weeks will be limited to 70 hours, that a new driver work week cannot begin until a 34 hour reset that includes two periods between 1:00 am and 5:00 am has been completed, and that drivers must log a 30 minute break within 8 hours of the start of their work day. These updated guidelines were intended to prevent drivers from operating their rigs while fatigued in an effort to improve safety and driver health.

As soon as these changes were announced, backlash ensued. Trucking organizations and private companies alike started in, going so far as to take the regulations back to congress, where the new rules were partially suspended barring a couple studies on their impact on driver safety and the potential financial repercussions. During Infrastructure Week 2016, the House Appropriations Committee enacted a bill that will essentially suspend the two periods between 1:00am and 5:00 am regulation by discontinuing funding for the enforcement of the rule, forcing the FMCSA to repeal the mandate, keeping the 34 hour break, but giving a 73 hour work week instead of 70. Thirty minute break requirements are unchanged. Other infrastructure funding issues were included in the bill as well.

I understand concerns about driver pay and the potential loss of revenue in companies affected by the 2013 regulations. In the trucking industry, time and miles equal money for the driver and the carrier. I can see how the loss of time and/or money was disheartening to people across the transportation sector. Several organizations have released reports documenting decreases in driver pay and production, the inability to service customers as well, the need for more drivers to haul the same amount of freight, and lower company profits. Safety, however, is the most important impact when it comes to these regulations.
A report presented by the FMCSA showed improvements in safety based on the 2013 regulations, both ARTI (American Transportation Research Institute) and the GAO (Government Accountability Office) both took issue with the way the study was conducted and the conclusions drawn from the results. ATRI’s own study showed different results, claiming that more trucks being on the roads during peak traffic hours had actually increased the amount of truck accidents.

I personally have drivers who are a part of my life whose safety I value over the politics occurring in the industry. I hit the interstate every day with my three children strapped into our minivan, where anything could happen. Because of these things, I think it is very important that HOS regulations truly reflect the safest policy for drivers and others on the roadways.

How to break into the Transportation Industry with no experience?

So you’ve decided to pursue a career in the transportation industry. Great! There are a fair few transportation jobs to be had. You start looking around the internet and find some potential jobs, but they all seem to require previous experience. It’s quite a catch 22. You often need experience to break into the industry sector of your choosing, but you can’t gain experience until you break into the industry.

This problem is certainly not exclusive to the transportation industry. This is actually very common for people seeking jobs in new industries, and internships, paid or unpaid, are not all that common in the transportation industry. However, the different sectors of the transportation industry offer their own unique solutions.

The trucking industry is fairly easy to get into if you’re willing to accept a schedule that isn’t quite ideal. If you already have your CDL, there are plenty of companies happy to hire drivers with no experience. Many of these companies offer mentoring programs to help new drivers settle into their new careers and be successful, and some will even partially or fully fund CDL training school. With a few years’ worth of seniority and a great safety record, you could be well on your way to your dream truck driving job.

Aviation jobs vary widely, from air traffic controllers to support staff and mechanics to pilot jobs. Some require little to no experience and as is most always the case, there are companies out there willing to train and even help new hires obtain the necessary certifications. However, making yourself stand out from the crowd of new and inexperienced pilots will be necessary. Check out Jet Blue’s training program if you’re looking for on-the-job training as a commercial airline pilot and lack the experience necessary for most aviation jobs.

Rail jobs pay well and are highly sought after. Many rail companies have their own training programs, though certifications can be earned through other avenues. The key to obtaining a successful career in the railway industry is to study hard and earn exceptional marks on your certification exams. Show potential employers that you know your stuff!

The general rules of job application absolutely apply, in addition to marking yourself as a safety conscious employee. A well-written résumé custom tailored for each job you apply for can improve your chances of getting an interview. Honing your interview skills and preparing for questions they may ask is important, as well. Learn as much as you’re able about the industry in which you’re applying, the laws which govern it, the company you’re applying with, and the position you desire to obtain, and don’t feel pressured to settle for a position that doesn’t truly suit you. Speak with recruiters at your certification program to get an idea of which companies are looking for employees new to the industry. It is absolutely plausible to make a career in the transportation industry sector of your choice. Don’t be afraid to apply for jobs that seem out of your reach.