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2017 Fleet of the Year Awards

April 5, 2017
Fleet Owner names winners for annual fleet awards

Each year, Fleet Owner’s editors gather annually to discuss a select group of nominees to be considered for our Fleet of the Year awards. There is no formal nomination or application process for these awards. Our editors interact with hundreds of fleets over the course of the year and while all have valuable stories to tell, a few simply stand out from the rest—for their management skills, for their successes, and most of all, for their innovative approaches to excellence in fleet operations.

The Fleet of the Year awards provide Fleet Owner’s editors the opportunity to recognize some of the outstanding fleets working in the trucking industry today in one of five categories—for-hire truckload, for-hire less than truckload, private carriage, government, and vocational—operating everything from light trucks up to Class 8 over-the-road tractor trailers.

The mission these fleets carry out and the challenges they face differ widely. Yet they share a similar vision of what it takes to succeed in trucking today—bettering their operations in unique ways not by relying on what worked in the past nor by being constrained by what conventional wisdom preaches, but by remaining wide open to looking at every possible way to attain positive results for their company and their customers.

It’s all about appreciating excellence in trucking, no matter the size nor the duty cycle of the vehicle involved, and how that excellence helps keep our nation rolling forward.

And the winners are …

For-Hire Winner: Bison Transport

A North American long-haul carrier based out of Manitoba, Canada, Bison Transport has long championed—as the best fleets always do—a culture of safety. Founded in 1969 by Duncan Jessiman with just 18 tractors and 32 workers as a local cartage company serving the construction industry, Bison operates over 1,400 tractors and 4,000 trailers, and employs 2,600 providing TL, logistics, and dedicated freight service throughout Canada and 48 nearby U.S. states.

Safety has been a core value of Bison since its inception, but the motor carrier is now taking that “safety focus” to a whole different level. In 2015, for example, it won the Safe Fleet Award from the American Trucking Assns. (ATA), the sixth year in a row it’s received first place from the ATA for its safety practices. Bison has also been recognized seven times as one of the “Best Fleets to Drive For” by the Truckload Carriers Assn. (TCA). But here’s the kicker: In 2016, for the second year in a row, Waterstone Human Capital, one of the top executive search firms in Canada,  named Bison as the possessor of one of Canada’s ten “Most Admired” corporate cultures. It’s the only trucking company in Canada to have ever earned this award—and Bison did it twice.

“We invest heavily in fostering a positive culture by promoting creativity, continuous improvement, and a winning spirit to drive our business,” Don Streuber, executive chairman of Bison, notes. “Our mission statement of  ‘empowering our people,’ of  ‘enabling our customers,’ and of ‘elevating our business,’ alongside our core values of safety, spirit, service, sustainability and success, underline Bison’s commitment to creating an environment that allows our employees and professional drivers to grow, prosper and excel.” 

For-Hire Finalist: FTC Transportation

Oklahoma City-based FTc transportation  is a regular repeat winner of safety awards, snagging TCA’s fleet safety award two years running (2014 and 2015) and also garnering honors as a “Best Fleet to Drive For” from TCA. Travis Arnold, president of FTC, says his company has “built a reputation in the transportation industry as being the best and safest at what we do.”

But that reputation doesn’t stop at trucking. Arnold also serves as COO for Feed the Children, an organization founded in 1979 to end childhood hunger. The acronym FTC spells out Feed the Children as well and that’s by design. FTC is a trucking company that takes its charity work to heart, right down to the name on its trucks and trailers.  

Less-Than-Truckload Winner: A. Duie Pyle

A privately held predominantly LTL regional carrier that serves the Northeast out of West Chester, PA,  A. Duie Pyle has won a slew of awards over the years for safety and customer service. But the reason why it’s taking home a Fleet of the Year award hinges on one word: innovation.

The company constantly works to develop new solutions to any number of issues that continually pop up to challenge all sectors of the trucking industry. For example, it developed a unique service offering called Protect From Freeze (PFF) to better protect goods shipped during the colder months. As a part of this service, each of the carrier’s service centers has onsite company-owned snow removal equipment and independent emergency power sources to protect customers’ shipments and assure continuous operations during severe weather events.

“Many carriers opt to implement moratoriums during cold snaps and over weekends, ” COO Randy Swart notes. “We have worked hard to make sure our service is available to all of our customers without interruption, regardless of temperature or day of the week.”

The carrier also developed a unique twist to its driver recruiting efforts several years ago by actively seeking and then training truck drivers from the ranks of its own warehouse personnel— workers already well in tune with the carrier’s customer service ethic. And the motor carrier isn’t afraid to try new things. The company installed solar panels at its warehouses not only to be “green” but to cut operating costs as well. 

A. Duie Pyle remains a fourth-generation, family-owned business, something that’s hard to do today in trucking.

Less-Than-Truckload Finalist: Averitt Express

Quality can be hard to master in trucking, but Cookeville, TN-based Averitt Express is doing so with room to spare. Last year, Mastio & Co., an independent research agency that specializes in the LTL sector, honored the carrier as its 2016 overall Mastio Net Promoter Score Award winner as well as its Inter-Regional Carrier Award winner. These awards are based on interviews conducted by the firm with more than 2,000 major shippers. Customers measured LTL carriers on a number of attributes that included quality of performance, pricing and customer service—and Averitt came out on top.  To help recruit new workers into its trucking businesses, the company  also  offers a college tuition reimbursement package.

Private Carriage Winner: Gemini Motor Transport

Gemini Motor Transport, Oklahoma City, is the fuel delivery arm of Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores. Operating 550 tractor-trailer tankers and employing over 725 truck drivers, Gemini delivers about 1,200 loads of liquid fuels per day and over 35,000 loads per month—an excess of 3.5 billion gals. of fuel transported annually—while traveling more than 53 million mi. per year.

Not only does Gemini concentrate on safety, but it’s also trying new and different ways to improve its record. But 2016, however, bore witness to something more: the culmination of a five-year program  instituted by the company that offered a combined safety/longevity bonus to an inaugural class of 135 “safe drivers” worth in some cases up to half of their annual pay. And the company is as good as its word. Last year Gemini paid out some $3.4 million worth of bonuses to its 135 top drivers in big checks of $25,000 to $35,000 a pop.

On top of that, Love’s executives spent six to seven weeks traveling the country to hand out the checks in person at special ceremonies organized for its 135 safest drivers. These ceremonies included a big banquet for the drivers, their families and guests. Gemini is an example of a fleet trying to change the perspective of truck drivers in a big way. 

Private Carriage Finalist: Anheuser-Busch

The private carriage operation of St. Louis, MO-based Anheuser-Busch was named a Green Fleet of the Year by Fleet Owner in 2015 for its efforts to deploy compressed natural gas (CNG)-powered Class 8 tractors en masse while trying to make its overall supply chain more sustainable. 

By the end of 2016, three out of ten Anheuser-Busch fleet trucks on the road operated on CNG fuel; by the end of the third quarter that same year, Anheuser-Busch’s CNG fleet hauled 17 million cases of beer throughout the Midwest via its CNG-powered Freightliner trucks. The company continues to focus on reducing carbon emissions some 15% by the end of this year in its logistics operations, which include  its transportation endeavors.

Vocational Fleet Winner: Waste Industries

Like many refuse fleets,  Waste Industries, Raleigh, NC, is investing heavily in transitioning its trash trucks to operate on compressed natural gas (CNG). The immediate purpose of this “green fleet” effort is simple and immediate: reduce fuel costs. Yet beyond the direct payback from lower spending on fuel, Waste Industries is also trying to gain further leverage from its investment in CNG by using its natural gas-fired refuse trucks as “marketing tools” out among the general public as a way to recruit more residential and commercial customers.

James Mitchener, marketing manager, explains that the company holds a “rollout event” every time it deploys one of its new CNG trucks on a new route and invites members of the community along that route to get an up-close look at the vehicle that will be quieter and less polluting than previous trucks.

“We call our trucks ‘The Billboards’, and we brand the CNG ones  ... with a blue flame on them to highlight to customers what sets them apart from diesel models,” he says. “We market these trucks as a ‘value-added benefit’ to all of our customers, residential and commercial alike. On the business side, we’re seeing a big impact from that effort, a trickle down from that green fleet effect. So, we’re trying to build up that green benefit more in our community outreach efforts.”  

Vocational Finalist: O&G Industries

Based out of Connecticut, O&G Industries has consistently ranked as one of the country’s top 400 construction companies for 50 years. It operates 1,900 pieces of equipment and has been recognized by the Association of General Contractors with 20 safety awards since 2000. Yet the company is always willing to try something new. In 2016, it installed SmartDrive’s video-based safety program across 225 vehicles after a 30-day pilot test. The fleet recognized that this technology helped foster stronger relationships between drivers, management and executives, so they quickly pulled the trigger on this well-over-seven-figure investment. Clearly, this is  a fleet that doesn’t rest on its safety laurels.

Government Fleet Winner: City of Buckeye, AZ

Despite keeping a fleet of 430 vehicles up and running with just a staff of eight, the fleet department for the City of Buckeye, AZ, pushes leadership goals for its technicians in a big way. The fleet’s techs not only set work goals that are in line with industry-wide key performance indicators, the department also ensures they get involved with industry associations and work with internship programs at local high schools and community colleges as a way to encourage “new blood” to join the truck technician field.

The  fleet operation of the City of Buckeye ensures competitiveness by establishing a labor rate that is lower than that of neighboring maintenance facilities. Indeed, the fleet saved more than $43,000 in one year by performing in-house warranty repairs. Buckeye’s fleet is also working on a five-year plan to reduce its carbon footprint by 5% and replace 10% of its fleet with alternative-energy vehicles by 2020. On top of that, the Rocky Mountain Fleet Management Assn. named Michael DePaulo, Buckeye’s fleet manager, as the group’s Fleet Professional of the Year for 2016 in part for his team’s work to renovate Buckeye’s  fleet repair facility for far less than the industry average.  The facility is designed to serve the needs of the 15th fastest growing city in the nation (according to 2015 U.S. Census Bureau data).

Public Works Director Scott Lowe notes that building a new shop facility would have cost an estimated $9.4 million. Lowe says that under DePaulo’s “creativity and innovation,”  the fleet department revamped and upgraded its repair shop at a fraction of the cost—just $250,000.  

Government Finalist: DuPage County Div. of Transportation

The DuPage County Div. of Transportation operates and maintains more than 950 lane-miles of arterial highways outside of Chicago, IL, and it is actively transitioning much of its fleet equipment to run on alternative fuels. Out of a fleet of more than 440 county-owned vehicles, roughly 220 actively use any of a variety of alternate fuels, and these include 19 flex-fuel E-85 vehicles, 12 hybrids, 161 biodiesel vehicles, 27 compressed natural gas (CNG)-powered vehicles, and one electric vehicle.

Over the past five years, DuPage County has purchased an average of 21,000 therms of CNG, which is equivalent to 18,500 gals. of gasoline, and also used an average of 100,000 gals. of biodiesel fuel. 

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr | Editor in Chief

Sean previously reported and commented on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry. Also be sure to visit Sean's blog Trucks at Work where he offers analysis on a variety of different topics inside the trucking industry.

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