Panel dissects the costs, methods of implementation, benefits, and driver acceptance
The US Department of Transportation's (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published the final rule on EOBRs (electronic on-board recorders) in the Federal Register on April 2. The rule goes into effect June 1, 2012, and will affect carriers with 10% or greater hours-of-service (HOS) violations during a single compliance review.
Under the rule, carriers that exceed the threshold will be required to install EOBRs in all their vehicles for a minimum of two years. It also mandates technical reporting standards for the devices, such as recording the date, time, and location of a driver's duty status. Carriers that voluntarily adopt EOBRs get relief from some of FMCSA's HOS supporting documents, such as toll receipts to check the accuracy of a driver's log.
National Tank Truck Carriers assembled a panel of executives from carriers that have installed EOBRs to address the issue during the annual Tank Truck Safety & Security Council Seminar in Nashville, Tennessee. In “Myths and Facts About EOBRs,” panelists discussed the costs, methods of implementation, benefits, and driver acceptance.
Jim Anderson, Florida Rock & Tank Lines Inc: “We're using Qualcomm's e-log system. We started last year. It became clear to me that FMCSA would use the electronic data we already have in our system as a standard. If that's the standard we're going to be held to, there was no reason we shouldn't move forward with e-logs.”
Becky Perlaky, Kenan Advantage Group Inc: “We have a combination of Cadec's system in the fuels local delivery group, and we operate some Qualcomm units on longer hauls. We made a decision to test a number of different systems in 2007. We were looking for a system that would have flexibility and allow us to deal with behavioral issues with drivers. We wanted to move toward paperless with dispatch and billing.”
Steve Niswander, Groendyke Transport Inc: “We started in October 2008 with test terminals. The drivers bought into it because of a lack of paperwork. We expect onboard electronic logging to be fully operational in June. We've lost two to three drivers because of it in a fleet of over 900. It was because of some of stories and rumors they heard or had been fed by someone that they were going to lose money.”
Neil Voorhees, Trimac Transportation Services: “We decided to put Qualcomm units on all tractors. It was the logical next step to go this direction for compliance. We lost seven owner-operators because their trucks did not have ECMs. They had to upgrade their trucks or go somewhere else. They decided to leave. We were fully onboard by April 17. Drivers were so happy to be away from paper logs because it takes the stress level away from having to worry about logs matching all documents. I've driven trucks and know how difficult that is.”
Anderson: “My biggest concern was the thought of Big Brother. So we did our homework and talked to companies that already had the system and to their drivers. We put communication tapes together and a DVD describing the process. We've had very limited pushback. They all understood it was coming and it was time to get on board.”
Niswander: “There was some skepticism from drivers who heard we were in EOBRs. The question was not, ‘Why are you doing this?' It was, ‘When can I put this in my truck, because I have a dispatcher on my butt and I want to electronically tell him I can't do the load?’ Or, ‘I have a shipper who says this load needs to get there at a certain time. Electronically, I have the backup that says I can't make it.’ There is a sentiment in the driver community that this may be their saving grace because of a short-sighted, unmanageable situation created by a dispatcher or shipper.”
Perlaky: “There was fear we would lose drivers. We did find that in some areas. Some of the drivers were concerned, but as you communicated and spent time with them, it was more concern that they were nervous about using the system. They didn't know how difficult it would be. One driver came to me and said, ‘I'm not a very smart individual. I'm a truck driver.’ I said, ‘If you have difficulty with the system, I'll go with you all day long until you're familiar with it.’ We actually used him to talk to other drivers to let them know how simple it was. We found out by our mistakes. We installed the EOBRs thinking, ‘OK, it's a push-button touch screen. You can read through it.’ We found you need to take time to make drivers comfortable with it. We developed a rollout team that would spend time with the driver and then move on. We had a dozen owner-operators who said they were not going to do it, but they have come back.”
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Voorhees: “Since we fully implemented our fleet with Qualcomm, we got over the biggest hurdle. Drivers saw this was coming. It wasn't a surprise or a battle. We met with some senior drivers, along with operational managers, before making the final decision. Actual acceptance has been extremely favorable. In fact, now that we have some terminals online and others are scheduled for implementation, drivers are asking, ‘Can we get moved up on the list?’ Other concerns I had related to record retention, how data is stored, and how long it's there. Those were factors I wanted to be comfortable with, since we no longer had possession of paper logs.”
Mark Bauckman, Qualcomm: “You don't truly drive costs out of an operation until you're fully automated across the fleet. It takes awhile for a small fleet, 50-100 trucks. It might take six to 12 months to do the training. Some fleets choose to do paper logs in parallel. Some just say, ‘Get rid of the paperwork.’ ”
Anderson: “With paper logs, the driver turns in logs every day. We have someone at the terminal responsible for that log. It takes time, not just inputting logs, but tracking them and chasing down guys who might have forgotten. You're dealing with that day after day. In the back office, at end of the month, they forward all logs to the corporate office. It takes another good bit of time to audit them to make sure every driver had submitted logs and all were accounted for. With over 600 drivers, it is a very labor-intensive process. EOBRs have moved us into a new world. We're spending less than 50% the amount of time with e-logs compared to paper logs.”
Perlaky: “At each KAG facility, we had somebody collecting logs on a daily basis, checking them in a daily review for accuracy and then sending them to the corporate office. We had one person who 10 to 12 hours a day had a scanner running to check for some violations, and someone else checking bill times and fuel times. That was very labor-intensive. We still have individuals in the field because they are now able to apply time to other things. Our main goal is to focus on drivers and customers. Sixty percent to 70% of our drivers already are on e-logs. We were able to take one person who was doing the manual auditing process, and that individual is running some of the automated reports and doing auditing there and sending reports back to the field.”
Niswander: “The most important thing is to make time for training. Don't push it. Don't rush it. The longer you spend on training up front, the fewer headaches you have on the back side. After we get an individual trained, he does a dual system with written and electronic logs for two to three weeks and has to be 100% accurate. Then he goes fully to electronic logs. Those are being monitored. We won't say this point that we'll eliminate any jobs, but it does allow dispatchers to focus on customer problems rather than log-auditing problems. So if you take your time and go in and understand you have to train upfront, the acceptance level becomes much better. Some of these guys go, “I'm not a computer guy.' Take your time, answer their questions, don't blow smoke at them. Let them know what is expected and give them the time frame. They won't have a problem with it. Once you get one guy in the terminal to accept it and others see how much time he doesn't spend doing what they do, it snowballs into an adequate way of spreading the word.”
Voorhees: “You really do have to take time with training. We sent our driver instructors to a centralized location and did all the training. The most important part is hands-on. You can't do it in a classroom. You have to let drivers get their hands on the unit in the truck to understand it. We ran paper along with the electronic logs until we were comfortable that drivers understood the process. But you have to cut the paper logs sooner or later or they will be used as a crutch. We scan our logs. Our biggest issue has been missing logs. It's been a battle we fought to get these logs into the system. We spent a lot of time on form and manner, but that's gone now. It's automatically in there. We will see a reduction in man hours on logs, but I'm pushing to use those manhours to be more proactive on safety. So I'm not looking to cut individuals. I'm looking for more fact-finding and ride-alongs from our safety managers.”
Bauckman: “The electronic system rounds to the nearest minute. In contrast, written logs are rounded to the nearest 15 minutes. Quite often drivers gain more driving hours.”
Anderson: “Customers buy into anything that makes us more compliant, and this tool definitely meets that objective. Drivers were at first calling me, concerned that they would make less money. Now that we're into the process, they're finding they have more available driving time. I don't know how that occurred. Maybe they were spending more time writing their logs.”
Niswander: “Not that shippers don't believe drivers or dispatch when told the truck is in a certain place or can't make the delivery schedule, but when you tell them that you have electronic logs and are not going to be there because your hours are up, they don't have anywhere to go (to dispute it). Electronic logs show when you were in the facility, when you left, and what the drive time was. We can go back to the shipper and say, ‘We have dead time in your facility. We need to look at this.’ If you get that rolling for you, drivers buy in quickly. They don't mind doing things as long as they get paid for it. And it keeps them honest with their dispatcher.”
Perlaky: “One thing I like about the system is its ability to provide the driver a warning an hour ahead of time that he will be out of hours. That adds to compliance. He can't say he wasn't aware he was running out of hours. It helps make us more compliant. Initially, as we rolled out the Cadec system, it was a self-service system. It probably ended up costing us an extra 15 minutes a day for each driver because we were waiting for cellular connections. Once we worked out the bugs, we did see a gain from the driver standpoint. Our ultimate goal is to push information out. We're actually doing some billing that is basically hands-free. As soon as the driver puts the information in, it goes right back to our system, and we're billing immediately to customers. In addition, we're scanning some of those bills and the shipper can go online and pull up information and see it visually. We don't have to mail copies back, so we see a savings there.”
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