CSA might well be called the “Carriers and Shippers Alliance” because, like it or not, it has linked fleets and their customers together more closely than ever before. Issues such as regulatory compliance, liability, and dealing with capacity constraints have become shared concerns which can't be managed without serious collaboration.
With this in mind, many fleets have been reaching out to their customers for the past several months to teach and prepare them about the government program. “CSA is finally becoming a buzzword for shippers,” says Jeff Davis, vice president of safety for Jet Express. “They have some skin in the game, even though the FMCSA does not have specific jurisdiction over them. [That is why] Jet Express and many other carriers are starting to help train their shippers, too.
“Shippers affect the amount of freight there is to move, but when it comes to CSA compliance, what is most important is the impact they have on drivers,” he notes. Davis encourages shippers to ask themselves some key questions: Do they provide “safe harbor” for waiting drivers? Do they provide adequate loading time? Do they have a history of long driver detention periods? Do their policies or practices contribute to improper loading of vehicles?
Averitt Express has also engaged the help of its shippers in maintaining CSA compliance. This advice is offered on the Averitt website: As always, our goal is to deliver freight on time, on target and intact. Shippers can help us do that — and stay in compliance with CSA — by:
Securing all freight properly, including hazmat, to prevent cargo securement violations.
Ensuring accurate shipping weight to prevent overloading.
Avoiding excessive detention that could affect driver's hours-of-service compliance.
Being flexible with pickup and delivery times.
Completing hazmat bills of lading properly.
Providing proper placards for hazmat loads being tendered.
Allowing drivers access to the loading process for freight securement, especially for hazmat loads.
Barry Pottle, president & CEO of Pottle's Transportation, says he is working on a new system to actually rate their customers. “Shippers rate their carriers. I'd like to be able to say to customers, ‘Here's how we rate you,’” he says. “I have all the metrics identified — things like driver complaints, ease of doing business, detention time for equipment and drivers, and promptness of payment, for example.”
Carrier compliance is not the only thing at stake for shippers under CSA, however. Shared liability for carrier accidents can put their own companies at risk, right along with the fleets they hire to move their freight. “Shippers are getting dragged into CSA when it comes to liability,” Davis notes. “They're now potentially exposed if a case can be made for negligent carrier screening or if their own practices can be deemed to have contributed to a safety problem.”
Attorney Annette Sandberg, former FMCSA administrator, has cautioned shippers and brokers to exercise care and due diligence when it comes to selecting and working with carriers. Since safety information about fleets is now readily available, shippers who ignore or fail to check safety scores may find themselves dealing with charges of vicarious liability, negligent hiring or negligent retention, she notes.
Gary Shostak, director of compliance and risk management for Access America Inc., offers his own warning to shippers on the company's website: “If you are a shipper using motor carriers to transport your products, then you need to be knowledgeable about CSA…or you need to be utilizing a 3PL with a compliance department to protect you from hiring carriers with deficient scores and violations,” he cautions.
“The opportunity to see [fleet performance] data brings new responsibility with it,” explains Brian McLaughlin, COO for PeopleNet. “You have to acknowledge the data and manage to the data.”
THE DRIVER POOL
In addition to keeping a watchful eye on safety scores, shippers are also nervously tracking driver shortage figures. CSA is expected to exacerbate the pending driver shortage and create significant freight capacity issues just as business is beginning to recover, too. Predictions of CSA's impact on the driver pool alone have varied widely. When you factor in the potential impact of the proposed hours-of-service rule, new driver fitness requirements, the proposed EOBR regulation, and the growing number of drivers retiring and that adds up to a need for as many as 200,000 or more drivers in 2011 alone.
For many shippers, this signals the end of business as usual with carriers. Larry Ahlers is vice president-transportation for Oldcastle Architectural Inc., which operates its own fleet and also works with outside carriers. Because of the downturn, the driver shortage has not been an issue for his business, but Ahlers expects it to become a serious problem for outside carriers in 2011.
To help plan for that, Oldcastle is working with its carriers now to identify possible strategies. “Even with only a modest increase in freight volume, we will have an issue with capacity,” he explains. “We already had some capacity issues last spring. Now we are asking our carriers how well-prepared they are for the coming spring. We want to know what ideas and suggestions they have for increasing capacity.”
“Some shippers are now trying to partner up with their preferred carriers,” notes Pottle. “Those who don't may end up having to pay more to move freight.”
John Kaburick, president of Earl L. Henderson Trucking and current chairman of the Truckload Carriers Assn., says his company is already starting to see the driver shortage shippers fear. “Clearly, drivers are getting tougher to find,” he says, “but we are doing okay. We have 400 trucks and just four of them are empty; however, we do believe it will get worse with CSA [and when freight levels increase].
“Shippers are also asking for different things than they were one and one-half to two years ago,” he adds. “Now they want to build long-term relationships with carriers. Before, it was all about rate reductions. Shippers without a good pulse on what is happening to carriers may find themselves in trouble when capacity gets really tight. We have been working with our customers on how CSA will impact them.”
Bruce Stockton is former vice president of maintenance and asset management at Con-way and now president & CEO of his own business called Stockton Solutions. “Shippers are also coming out of the recession and seeing that they had better build some relationships with key carriers while they still can,” he says.
Stockton's advice to shippers echoes that of countless other carriers, consultants, attorneys and industry experts. When it comes to moving freight in this new environment, it just makes good business sense to be a card-carrying member of CSA — the “Carriers and Shippers Alliance.”