Ron Tartt, general manager of Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire's private fleet, says he's faced with a “Catch-22” of sorts looking at 2005. The fleet needs to expand to meet demand, but an acute lack of drivers is making that difficult to do.
“Though we are a private fleet, we still ship a lot of freight with common carriers,” Tartt says. “But the capacity issues common carriers are dealing with redoubles the pressure on us. We may even have to haul freight in lanes that aren't as lucrative as we like simply because the capacity we need from common carriers isn't there.”
Yet while finding good drivers is going to remain a major challenge for all fleets in ‘05, it will still be easier for private fleets to recruit and retain them, Tartt figures — largely thanks to the work schedules private carriers can offer.
“In our case, it's even better,” he remarks. “Not only are our drivers home at night, they get weekends off. We also have good equipment, so we tend to find and keep good drivers easier than most fleets, especially compared to common carriers.”
Tartt says the Nashville-based Bridgestone/Firestone fleet is probably going to turn over more equipment this year to have more newer, lower-mileage equipment on hand.
“We lease all of our equipment, but we turned over about 25% of our fleet last year and we expect to do a similar amount this year,” he says. “Typically, we like to turn equipment in at around 550,000 miles, though some of our longer-haul tractors get more miles than that. We're also replacing trailers with rental and longer-leased units. In short, we'll be looking at getting more new equipment this year.”
Finally, Tartt plans to keep focusing on reducing operating costs. He says he'll use the PeopleNet tracking and communication system the fleet began installing last year as the main tool.
“We're looking to use the PeopleNet data to improve fuel economy, cut idle time and reduce out-of-route miles, for starters,” he says. “We're looking toward improving costs across the fleet.”