Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Electronic Logs Are Coming - The Drivers Are Leaving

In the latest of the US Department of Transportation's solutions in search of a problem, Electronic Logging Devices, ELDs, which record the movement of a truck and will completely replace the long used "paper logs," are relentlessly making their way through the rule making process.

In other words, the good old days of cheating on your log book are over.  No more keeping two logs books. No more making three trips to the coast in a week and only putting down two of them. No more driving 24 hours straight and condensing it into 11 in the log book.

But of course those days were already gone, pretty much, and for good reason, done in by a variety of new logging rules, more enforcement officers, more weigh stations, and new technologies that record trucks passing by weigh stations, and now photographing their license plates and feeding the cold, hard facts into a nationwide interconnected computer system.

A new survey indicates that many older, experienced drivers plan to get out of trucking when ELDs arrive. Some of the bigger companies already have switched to ELD's, and their "company drivers" -- regular employees who drive by the mile or by the hour -- and their "owner-operators" -- truck owners who lease their services to a company, which includes most owner-operaters, who are contract workers for those companies -- are already using ELDs. Those two groups of drivers are indicated by the red bars in the above chart.

Included in the blue bars are many older drivers, who have made their way to smaller companies or do business under their own operating authority as do I. They are expected to hold out the longest before buying and installing ELDS, or else just get out of the business.

Estimates in the industry are that the driver population could decrease by between 10 and 30 percent, adding to an already growing "undercapacity" problem -- that is, there's more freight than than there are trucks to haul it.

Which might be a benefit for someone who just got into trucking, provided they didn't operate out of New Mexico, where the political leadership -- the state's two most powerful people, Republican Governor Susana Martinez and Albuquerque's Republican Mayor Marion Berry -- are committed to keeping the economy shrinking no matter what.

The federal DOT has been on a rule changing binge for more than ten years now. Trucks always had fewer accidents per mile than cars, and the rate keeps declining every year, but state and federal trucking regulation have been growth industries in that ten plus years. I attribute this to (a) trucking is 90 percent un-organized workers, who constitute small minorities in each political constituency, and (b), DOT workers bring in income to state and federal governments. Agencies that don't bring in income are more susceptible to budget cuts. DOTs are actually growing.

I'm not one who is by nature opposed to "government regulation." People who are are people who aren't familiar with the long and complicated process required to change a regulation, or rule, or law. It has to go through many votes and committee reviews, where there are more votes, and public comment periods. Generally, if there's a rule or law there's a good reason for it and it's gone through the whole democratic process, which means we wanted it.

But I've written before about some of the justification for these recent DOT rule changes. It's all supposed to be based on "research," but I've never seen any of it, but mostly it doesn't take into account the way trucking has to adapt to the ebbs and flows of the business world, which is our customer base. In essence, the DOT wants truckers to be on a 9-5, Monday through Friday schedule, but business is on a 24/7 schedule. The costs for business to adopt to a DOT schedule, and have all their shipping and receiving condensed into a much shorter time frame, would be immense, for business and trucking.

What To Do?

I'll go with the flow and see what happens. As I alluded to above, this could be beneficial for me. It could lead to higher rates and more volume. When all is said and done, most drivers will adapt, it is thought, and I will, too. I'm not too afraid of "modern technology," and it will be a new generation of drivers, for the most part, who drive with ELDs, and it's all they will know. The ELD will make it easier to say no to dispatchers who press you to drive and drive and drive. It might make driving more pleasant. It could even make it safer.

I'm done with the 24 hours straight driving stretches, anyway. I found out I could do that quite easily in my first year in trucking. I recall driving across the state of Texas on I-10, 900 miles. In a slow truck, and with a few stops to eat and get coffee, it took 24 hours. There were no weigh stations to worry about. Texas has very few to begin with, and they are rarely open. I drove ten years before I pulled into a Texas weigh station.

My most prolific driving feat, I think, was from a farm in California to a Kellogg's cereal plant in Ontario, with some kind of nuts. They had sent me to pick up the load a day after it was supposed to be picked up, and in cases like that, dispatchers will never change the delivery appointment, and the computer will charge you with being late, then you have to go through a whole process to get it off your record.

I left California, was delayed crossing the mountains because I had to get tire chains. They weren't needed at the time, but they have to be on the truck in the winter months. I drove for 24 hours, stopped at an off ramp in Lincoln, NE, slept one hour, then drove 16 hours more to reach the destination, on time, stopping along the way in downtown Detroit to go through customs. Luckily that was in the middle of the night. I had a truck that would go 70 or so, as opposed to the Texas truck which went 55 or 57.

For any kind, handsome DOT officers who may be reading this, remember that this is a work of fiction, the product of a delusional mind, actually, and is based on a story told to me by Jim Baca.

1 comment: