Last month we asked if it might be the end of the road for team drivers. The consensus among fleets running teams was that they still serve an important and irreplaceable role in moving freight quickly over long distances. Sometimes, though, business rewards those who challenge common wisdom, or at least look at it from a new perspective.
The most attractive thing about team drivers is that they provide fleet managers with a simple solution for expedited freight. Put the freight in the trailer, the drivers in the cab, and send them on their way. That's the way it's always been done, so why change something that works well and seems so logical?
Well, for one, when was the last time you took a hard, honest look at the cost and productivity of a team operation? You have two drivers tied up moving a single load with a tractor carrying a larger sleeper that adds to both initial and ongoing operating costs. Once they make their delivery, they need to be dispatched with another expedited, longhaul load. Often the choice of freight is further limited by the need to move the team back to a specific location. And if the right expedited load isn't available, the team gets a regular one that doesn't generate the premium rate or sits until the right one is available.
Fleets that tried relays in the past weren't too pleased with the results. Drivers didn't like waiting for the swap or the lower paying short hauls; bad weather, traffic congestion or any other hiccup meant major disruption and missed delivery windows, and dispatch became a complex nightmare.
But just because something didn't work in the past doesn't mean you can continue to dismiss it because it's convenient or simpler to stay with the status quo. Tractor- and trailer-tracking systems, wireless data networks and optimization programs have all taken major strides in the past few years. Until you look at those improved technologies, how do you know that relays don't now have the potential to be more productive and lower-cost alternatives to teams? Someone is going to go revisit those technologies in search of a competitive advantage. Will it be you, or the competition?
Even if the productivity issue doesn't motivate you to at least think about the continued viability of teams, what about preparing for external forces that are out of your control? We all know that new hours-of-service rules will eventually make it through the regulatory process. All it would take to end team operations is a European-like rule barring rest time on a moving truck.
Then there's the question of expedited freight itself. The growing reliance on total supply chain management systems should, in theory, minimize unexpected inventory demands and the need for premium freight services to handle them.
However you come down on the question of teams, the real value in this exercise lies in questioning even the most proven and logical aspects of your operations. As unsettling as it may be, battling complacency is the only way to keep your business fresh and out in front of the competition.
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