MANAGER: Keith Klein
TITLE: COO and executive vice president
FLEET: Transport America, Eagan, MN
OPERATION: Truckoad carrier serving the Midwest and East Coast with cross-border operations into Mexico
Whether viewed as bad luck or good fortune, Minnesota ended up as one of six states where FMCSA “pilot-tested” its CSA program. As a result, Minnesota-based carriers got a taste of how the agency's new safety regime might impact their operations.
“We support CSA in its goal of targeting unsafe operators, changing their behavior, and removing the most egregious players from the road,” says Keith Klein, COO and executive vice president at TL carrier Transport America. “Safety is a cornerstone value of ours: Nothing we do is worth endangering the motoring public or ourselves.”
Yet Transport America also found CSA's intensified focus on vehicle maintenance issues created some difficulties, especially with a fleet of 1,100 tractors and 3,500 trailers primarily operating throughout the Midwest and East Coast.
“Take trailer marker lights, for instance,” Klein notes. “In the past, if a driver noticed one was out, he'd make a note of it and just push on until he reached one of our facilities. Now, however, even something that small could count against their record under CSA rules. So we started getting some pushback from them to take care of things that used to be considered just annoyances.”
As a result of its CSA experience, Transport America developed what it has informally dubbed “Quick Lane, ” a vehicle compliance check system with the goal of putting more “eyes” on the inspection process so the burden of making sure a vehicle is CSA-compliant doesn't rest solely on the driver.
“A driver might miss something small during their pretrip inspection, so this way we can help close the circle on vehicle inspections,” says Klein. “These lanes are all about catching the little things; items that used to get pushed off until the next PM [preventive maintenance] interval.”
So far, Transport America has established one Quick Lane, located at its North Jackson, OH, terminal, within its network. Two technicians take roughly 20 to 25 min. to comb the entire tractor-trailer looking for maintenance issues.
“We run the vehicle through even if the driver didn't note anything on his pretrip,” Klein emphasizes. “If the truck is in that terminal, it goes through the lane.”
“It's helped us not just identify CSA-related maintenance items, but identify bigger issues as well,” Klein explains. “For example, we're finding these inspections are helping us spot irregular tire wear before it becomes serious; allowing us to be proactive and take action that will save us more expense versus waiting for the next PM interval to take care of it.”
He also stresses that the key to making the Quick Lane system work is speedy yet accurate throughput of vehicles through the inspection process, while maintaining enough volume of tractor-trailers through the lane to warrant the dedication of personnel to it.
“The goal is to make the Quick Lane a process within our maintenance operations,” Klein says. “In areas where we have enough traffic, where we have enough [freight] density, it makes sense to maintain this separate lane.”
Transport America is currently debating whether to add two more of the lanes within its system of seven terminals. And Klein says if the fleet feels one is needed in an area where it doesn't have a facility in place, it may consider setting up a partnership with an outside maintenance provider to establish one.
“It's about not just keeping equipment compliant but deriving a maintenance savings for ourselves in the process,” he explains. “That's what makes Quick Lane work for us.”