Driver detention at customer docks is one of those problems everyone talks about, but no one does anything to solve. Well, almost no one. There's at least one carrier that's decided it's time to raise rates for shippers and receivers that keep drivers waiting, and lower rates for those that expedite the process. But the position is so rare that it actually earned Marten Transport a story in The Wall Street Journal recently.
I suspect the reason Marten Transport has tackled the problem is perspective. Most carriers view it as a driver retention issue. Sitting instead of driving affects the drivers' ability to run the miles that generate fatter paychecks, so drivers resent hanging around for a dock to open. Since many carriers don't want to antagonize paying customers, they are hesitant to push them hard on detention times and instead choose to deal with the resulting driver dissatisfaction.
Marten Transport sees the problem first and foremost as a productivity issue. A refrigerated carrier with 600 leased owner-operators and another 1,600 company-owned trucks, the Wisconsin-based fleet runs a tight 1-to-3 power/trailer ratio. The only way to make a profit with those expensive reefers is “to keep moving all the time,” says president Randy Marten.
That's why Marten Transport raises rates as much as 20% for shippers who don't help them speed up loading at their facilities or unloading at their customers' docks.
So how does Marten get away with a tough stand that others are afraid to take? Hard data. It collects detailed information on specific detentions and takes it to the customers. Once it can put actual numbers to the problem, it offers a partnership to help take costs out of the entire transportation process, which benefits both parties.
Sure, the policy has cost the fleet a few customers, but in general, both shippers and receivers have been willing to make changes, according to Marten. “In this business, generalities don't cut it any more,” he says. “But if you're armed with reliable data, people are willing to listen, especially if it's going to benefit both of us.”
The proof that it works is found in the same data. A few years ago the fleet averaged 18 mph to complete a shipment. Today that average is 22 mph. The trucks aren't running any faster; the waiting times involved have just been shortened. And it's also found in the publicly traded fleet's financial reports — in the second quarter earnings were up 2% and revenues 14%.
Of course, drivers like it, too. In fact, “they're a big help in assembling the quantitative data we need because they know we're work hard to keep them moving,” says Marten.
The rest of the industry would do well to take a hard look at what this Wisconsin carrier has accomplished.
Certainly the timing is right. The new consecutive on-duty provisions of the revised hours-of-service rules make it harder than ever to absorb time wasted at the docks, and savvy shippers are also showing more flexibility as they see capacity shrinking through carrier consolidation and bankruptcy.
We all know what the problem is. Now it's time to deal with it.