The dark side of hours of service

There aren't enough hours in a day! is the whine of workaholics and daydreamers alike holding all sorts of jobs. But for truckers, that complaint is a serious lament as the hours they drive determine their livelihood

There aren't enough hours in a day!” is the whine of workaholics and daydreamers alike holding all sorts of jobs. But for truckers, that complaint is a serious lament as the hours they have to drive determine their livelihood.

The dark side of hours-of-service (HOS) reform is crystal clear. The rules in effect since January 2004 make it harder for long-haul drivers to make a buck and to enjoy the degree of workday flexibility that once helped make trucking a more attractive occupation.

The upshot is many fleet owners are having more trouble than ever keeping and finding quality drivers. If that weren't bad enough, carriers are in the delicate position of seeking the utmost cooperation of their customers to help turn equipment around fast enough to meet both delivery commitments and driver mileage expectations.

COURT CHALLENGE

A court challenge to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) HOS rules filed by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. (OOIDA) earlier this year is being supported by these industry interests: the Truckload Carriers Assn. (TCA), the Teamsters, the California Trucking Assn. and the Ohio Trucking Assn.

The hope is their arguments, filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, may eventually lead to redressing the most glaring problem with the new rules — the sleeper-berth provision. But don't hold your breath for something happening with anything approaching lightning speed.

According to Chris Burruss, president of TCA, the legal proceeding is “focused on getting some flexibility back by revisiting the sleeper exemption — that is our biggest single complaint with the 2004 HOS rules.”

Until the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) chooses to or is forced by the courts to again amend HOS rules, affected fleets will have to keep muddling through.

Carrier executives seem resigned to this. In their collective view, the rules are the rules and they are doing their level best to deal with them.

And whether they feel they're doing relatively well or much less so under the new rules, their general consensus is the nation's shippers must step up to the plate — or the dock as the case may be — far more than they have so far to make motor carriage productive and profitable for all parties concerned, but above all for drivers.

A recent white paper on carrier capacity issued by National Logistics Management, a non-asset-based third-party logistics provider, is blunt but correct about the impact on drivers: “With the new HOS rules, drivers in general are finding that they can't work enough consecutive hours to deliver goods on time. For drivers with multiple stop points, each stop to load or unload goods can take a significant chunk out of the 14 hours allotted per day. Additionally, these drivers may be receiving smaller paychecks because the new HOS rules make it hard for them to drive as many hours as before.”

Perhaps the most far-out solution to this would be to pay drivers — like so many other workers — by the hour, with overtime pay and pay for all hours spent working, not just driving.

That suggestion comes from a post on the website of the Industrial Workers of the World, aka the Wobblies, historically among the most radical of trade unions.

A more mainstream notion has been mentioned in recent years by top truckload executives and is noted in the NLM white paper. This is to offer $60,000 as an annual initial pay rate for long-haul drivers. While this would increase shipping charges, NLM says it would also have a “positive impact on safety, productivity and customer service, and would probably increase the overall quality of driver that carriers could attract.”

Perhaps getting such handsome pay would make drivers more willing to sit around when HOS requires it. Yet if they are still paid by the mile, they will want to be driving, no matter how high the rate of pay.

Productivity Dip:

Whether pay is the answer or just part of it, it can be shown that HOS has already taken a toll. The NLM paper quotes Thomas Albrecht, BB&T Capital Markets analyst, as estimating that most fleets have experienced a 2% to 4% drop in driver and tractor productivity “largely due to the new HOS rules.” What's more, according to Albrecht, 5% to 8% of drivers interviewed by BB&T Capital Markets said they plan to leave trucking because of the HOS rule changes.

The tools most in use now to make HOS work in the real world are largely operational in nature — running drop-and-hook loads whenever possible and regionalizing drivers as much as possible.

Looking at the issue strictly in terms of miles — which of course impacts both fleet productivity and driver pay — Randy Cornell, vp of safety for TL carrier CFI, reports the fleet has “probably suffered a 5% to 7% reduction in miles” thanks to HOS.

“The biggest impact,” says Cornell, “has been the need to work more closely with customers to change or extend their delivery times to enable our drivers to get their proper breaks. There's no doubt it has become more logistically challenging.”

“We used to focus everything on drivers' time and breaks, but now we have the third element of the 14-hour workday to deal with, and that can be burned up quickly by delays,” he continues. “Today, if the driver is sitting at a dock waiting on a load he is losing time — that clock is ticking.”

No Safety Fix:

Cornell says that time pressure is the biggest negative but he does worry about the impact of HOS on safety — which is what the change in rules was supposed to enhance in the first place.

“One concern I have is that if tired, a driver may not take the one-hour nap he used to because of the 14-hour workday,” he explains. “It's simple. A driver paid by the mile who is not moving is not making money.”

Cornell points out that in the old days, drivers “could drink coffee for two hours and not give up their driving time. Now they have to be good trip planners and think ahead further” so they don't run out of hours.

He reports that CFI, which employs some 2,300 company drivers, has seen “some increase” in drivers leaving due to HOS, but he notes a “lot of drivers leave and you do not know why.”

But Cornell sees a definite trend among mainly team operators quitting specifically over HOS. “Under the new rules, instead of five hours on, five hours off, team drivers must go ten hours on, ten hours off. That's a lot of time to spend in a sleeper.

“Only about 8% to 9% of our operation is teams,” he continues. “But they are very important because they are in place to haul team-required loads. It took teams more conditioning to get used to the new rules. Husband-and-wife teams especially do not like the 10-hour shift.”

As for helping drivers adjust, Cornell suggests that “trip planning can make the difference. Now you have to drive a truck like you're playing chess — you have to think several moves ahead.

“CFI tries to help with this by doing a lot more pre-planning ourselves,” he adds. “And we communicate with drivers closely using an onboard MobileMax system.”

While Cornell says the new HOS rules are “not a horror show,” he does say “I don't know that I have seen anything positive or even neutral result from it.”

Valuable Commodity

Barry Pottle, the current TCA chairman and CEO of Pottle's Transportation, argues that the trucking industry “must do a better job of communicating to customers that drivers' time has become so valuable.”

He says this is due to HOS, but is compounded by the generational shift in the truck driver population. “There's nothing you can compare it to 30 years ago,” Pottle explains. “A lot has changed. Now most drivers have wives who work Monday to Friday so they both want to be home on the weekends.”

Pottle says more regional drivers and even pay-by-the-hour may help, “but at the end of the day, we must get more from the customer” to make HOS work in the real world.

“As business owners,” he adds, “we must not lose sight of what it means to be a driver. “We try to guarantee them a weekly amount, but we don't know what they'll end up with due to breakdowns and customers holding them up. If they lose driving time, they lose pay. If we don't change this, we won't keep the drivers.”

Todd Jadin, senior vp-operations for Schneider National, says the adjustment to HOS for the 15,000 or so drivers fielded by the truckload giant has centered around the 14-hour consecutive rule. “Once the duty day starts, it ends 14 hours later,” he points out. “That was not always the case in the past, when drivers had the latitude to break up their duty day. Now, you don't want idle time anywhere in that duty day.”

“Now,” Jadin continues, “you find rest areas, truckstops, operations centers all tend to be full by around 8 p.m., so the drivers can take their 10-hour break. In the past, there was more of a steady flow of trucks and drivers based on their work assignments.”

Quick Turnarounds

To make the new rules as workable as possible, Jadin says Schneider has concentrated on the shipping and receiving end. “We need to turn that equipment around as quickly as possible on customer property and we strive to get our drivers out of our own operating centers as quickly as possible.”

Jadin offers a measured take on HOS. “We feel the new rules are based on some science — including the recognition of sleep patterns and that ‘X’ amount of restorative sleep is needed to be successful driving. So the 10-hour break makes sense and the 14-hour running clock makes scientific sense.

“We feel there's been an overall improvement in safety,” he continues. “We still want drivers to take an appropriate lunch break; they need that opportunity to get out and stretch their legs. As it is now, drivers tend to have breakfast at the back end of their 10-hour break and dinner at the other end. That leaves them with a lunch break and short breaks during their shift. They do have to be more purposeful as they run.”

Jadin notes that Schneider does not have as high a percentage of husband-and-wife teams as some carriers. “We have not heard many complaints from our teams about HOS, but our teams had been running basically consistent with the new rules.”

For all drivers, Jadin contends, switching to the new rules did require an adjustment, “but once it was done, they went on — it has become the way the work is done.”

Nonetheless, he reports the carrier still works with shippers and receivers to “emphasize to them how critical turn times are for the availability of our drivers” to move their goods.

“The idea is simple — keep the driver moving,” Jadin adds. “It's true that not moving hurts retention and recruitment. Drivers want to know the type of freight we're dealing with — is it drop-and-hook vs. live load/unload. Fortunately, we have the flexibility to do a lot of drop-and-hook, as we have one of the largest trailer fleets in the truckload sector.”

“The rule is the rule,” he continues. “The science behind it is sound and we support it and we're changing as needed how we run our business and also educating the shipper community on this.”

“Customers are hearing a consistent message from trucking,” Jadin adds. “That is, you must turn our equipment or it will impact your rate and, long term, the overall capacity of the industry as determined by the number of drivers” that can be recruited and retained.

Split Decision

According to Gary Petty, president & CEO of the National Private Truck Council, the changes to HOS amount to something of a “split decision” for private fleets.

“Some companies have seen more productivity by adding more stops per day, with drivers getting more pay per stop and more miles,” he explains. “They may be doing all shipments at night so there are no delays incurred at their distribution centers or by daytime congestion on the roads. For these operations it has been a straightforward shift with more productivity and more on-time deliveries. So for them it has been a plus overall.”

“On the other hand,” Petty continues, “many companies would say they are getting an extra stop or two a day, but their drivers are less happy and more stressed out. To them it's like adding fuel to the fire — putting another burden on a job that is already hard to do and thus causing more drivers to retire earlier.

“If the question is ‘Are we better off with these rules?’ I would say we are better off than we would have been with some of the original proposals. But there is more burden than benefit for drivers,” Petty adds.

Tim Yatsko, senior vp of transportation for Wal-Mart, says 100% of the giant retailer's products are moved outbound to its stores by its private fleet or contract carriers, “so that's a closed loop we can control.”

According to Yatsko, the HOS changes have had “no impact on the productivity of our own drivers and our turnover rate remains at 4% or less. Our 8,000 drivers, who are regionally dispatched, have adjusted and in fact like knowing when their day will end. The only negative driver feedback is they would like more of a sense of flexible time that belongs to them” during a shift.

But, he points out, Wal-Mart can't rest easy just because its fleet has been minimally impacted.

About half of the inbound freight to Wal-mart's distribution centers (DCs) is by common carriers and “it's important that unloading at those DCs is efficient for those carriers,” says Yatsko.

“The HOS change has forced us to get more efficient at loading and unloading at our DCs and at supplier locations,” he continues. “Still, we must do some educating on how drivers are paid and have only so many hours a day. We've had a call center for carriers in place for two years to help them communicate with us; we want to be regarded as a ‘shipper of choice.’”

“We look at drop-and-hook vs. appointments [for freight] and if it's by appointment, we do it quickly,” Yatsko relates. “Carriers want to get their drivers in and out of our facilities and we, of course, look to the carriers to deliver good rates and service.

“On both sides, communication and education are key,” he adds. “Any new regulation like this means figuring out how to make the supply chain more efficient.”

Whether any regulatory relief is in the cards — and the safe bet is that will only come by federal court order — for the time being, carriers and their drivers must keep on trucking by making the best of a well-intentioned, if clearly imperfect, rule.

The Three L's

The Tejon Industrial Complex (TIC) is a 1,450-acre “master-planned project” that offers a “compelling solution to the key issues of driver retention and logistical efficiencies,” according to its developer, Tejon Ranch Co.

If they're right, TIC may well become a model commercial development in many places around the country with geographic and demographic features similar to those of where it is set in Central California's Kern County.

According to Barry Hibbard, vp of commercial & industrial marketing for Tejon Ranch, the TIC solution is a “unique combination of logistics, labor and location — the three L's.”

Located immediately north of Los Angeles on Interstate 5 where it intersects with Highway 99, TIC provides easy North-South and East-West Interstate access. More to the point, the centralized site delivers roundtrip access to no less than 96% of the Golden State's population and/or major markets in a single trucking day.

That key fact is crucial, points out Hibbard, to truckers “striving to meet current federal operating hours and still live a normal life.”

Not overlooking anything, TIC is also attractive to long-haul truckers, thanks to an on-site Petro truckstop that includes everything from a motel to a movie theater.

But Hibbard says it's the local labor market that especially should not be overlooked by trucking operations. “Bakersfield and the surrounding Kern County communities offer an abundant number of ready and skilled workers coupled with an affordable yet high quality of life, which helps reduce employee turnover.”

Hibbard believes it's hard to argue with hiring drivers to work out of a facility that “lets you reach the California ports and 96% of the state's population and still get your drivers home every night” For more information, go to www.tejonranch.com.

Hide comments

Comments

  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Publish