Trailer tracking could have helped

Nov. 1, 2004
With one exception, the following description could be the proverbial worst-case scenario. Almost everything that could go wrong did, in fact, go wrong.

With one exception, the following description could be the proverbial worst-case scenario. Almost everything that could go wrong did, in fact, go wrong. Only the constant intervention of a diligent yard worker prevented a multi-million dollar loss. The events are real; no names can be used, because profound embarrassment would attach to all parties.

A while back — several months back, in fact — a large truckload carrier attempted a late afternoon delivery to a receiver somewhere in the mid-South. The load was pharmaceuticals worth at least $2 million. The driver had been running late throughout the trip and still was late upon arriving at the dock. The truck missed its delivery appointment by only five minutes, but those five minutes were enough for an uncooperative dock supervisor to refuse to take in the load, telling the driver to make another appointment and return the next day.

Unable to reason with the dock supervisor, the driver took the load to a nearby drop yard operated by the carrier. This had to be a fairly large carrier, because what happened next presumably could not happen to a small carrier that keeps track of its precious fleet assets. The driver dropped the loaded trailer in the yard and was dispatched to pick up another load. Someone else would take care of delivering the late load.

At this point, the one positive note in this whole scenario kicked in. The drop yard was supervised by a diligent worker. He recorded the presence of the trailer and checked the paperwork associated with the load to make sure that the refrigeration unit was maintaining the proper temperature as specified on the bill of lading. He checked the refrigeration unit fuel level and added fuel as required, carefully recording how much fuel was used. He recorded the indicated air temperature inside the trailer on at least a daily basis. The yard worker recorded the temperature daily for more than 90 days.

After a while, the carrier asked for payment of the freight charges. The shipper replied that it had no proof of delivery and could not pay without proof. The receiver had never reported that the load was undelivered. Finally, the trailer was discovered exactly where it had been parked on that first evening, the fuel tank regularly replenished, and regular checks of the load temperature made and recorded. The unit was just sitting there, starting and stopping in compliance with the demands of the ambient temperature and its thermostat setting. The load was fine, but lost.

Of course, the carrier and shipper had a long debate over the likelihood of maintaining the condition of an unattended load for such a long time, but the load was fine. Although the carrier did not have to pay a multi-million dollar cargo claim, it lost a substantial amount. Annual revenue per trailer for truckload fleets averages $100,000 or more. This trailer sat still for more than a full calendar quarter, depriving the carrier of at least $25,000 in revenue. On the thin profit margins produced by truckload carriers, taking that much revenue out of the income stream placed a burden on the rest of the fleet to make up for the lost profit. At the same time, the carrier had to continue paying principal and interest as well as insurance for the trailer. Just sitting there, being checked and refueled regularly, this trailer was a black hole eating at the revenue flowing by it.

Untethered trailer tracking could have helped. The trailer might not have been discovered immediately, but certainly fewer than 90 days would have passed before an alarm went off on some dispatcher's or operations manager's computer screen. With real time tracking, that trailer could have been put back into revenue-generating service.

No one knows why the receiver never reported the undelivered load.

About the Author

Gary Macklin

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