Out on the road, where regulatory aspirations meet reality, the impact of the CSA initiative is easier to sense than describe. Motor carriers say they are seeing a shrinking of the driver pool that may or may not be attributable in part to the CSA.
The regulatory initiative’s biggest impact may be more indirect. Carriers concerned about their BASIC scores are reworking driver management and hiring programs, tightening their own qualifications in a pre-emptive step toward compliance.
“CSA has certainly changed the way we approach the marketplace and the way we evaluate drivers on an ongoing basis,” Scott Dobak, president of Roadrunner Transportation Services, told shippers at the National Industrial Transportation League’s Freight Policy Forum on May 8. “Before CSA we didn’t have recruiters out in the field. We were able to recruit drivers just on the reputation of our company.”
In an era when qualified drivers, both employees and owner-operators, are increasingly difficult to hire and keep, that approach isn’t an option, Dobak said. Roadrunner, one of the fastest-growing U.S. trucking companies, has had to work harder to keep its owner-operator drivers. “We have a very low turnover rate with our independent contractors, about 40 percent,” compared with an industrywide average among truckload carriers of nearly 90 percent. “But a lot of that turnover has been because of CSA.”
Roadrunner had to “wean ourselves off” certain owner-operators, and began to do so in advance of the December 2010 launch of the CSA program, Dobak said. “The cowboys are gone now,” he said. “We can’t afford to have them.”
When carrier BASIC scores were first made public, there was a widespread assumption that smaller carriers would suffer disproportionately as shippers dropped smaller suppliers with high scores for larger carriers with lower scores.
Larger carriers, however, appear more exposed to the CSA. “CSA is just a challenge,” said Rob Estes Jr., president and CEO of Estes Express Lines. “The larger companies are the ones that get measured. We’re the ones stopped at the way stations.”
Estes, the largest privately owned less-than-truckload carrier, had low and extremely low BASIC scores in April, with a high score of 56.3 percent in the vehicle maintenance category and an 8.7 percent unsafe driving score (out of 100).
In BASIC scores, the lower, the better. But Estes is still concerned about the direction of CSA. “We’re getting bad drivers off the road,” he said, “but we’re afraid we’ll be nitpicking the wrong things and not focusing on the right things.”