Out on the highway, truck drivers working for U.S. Xpress Enterprises are testing the new hours-of-service rules to determine how much of a hit, in terms of available hours and productivity, they will take when the rules take effect on July 1.
“It’s still a bit of an unknown,” said John White, president of the U.S. Xpress’s truckload operation. “On paper, we may lose a significant percentage (of available driving time), but between our capabilities from a planning perspective and working with shippers, we can mitigate some of that loss.”
Shippers worried about the potential loss of capacity when the new HOS rules kick in will need to work more closely with truckload carriers to ensure they get the best possible fleet utilization. Some speakers at the NASSTRAC Shippers Conference in April put that capacity impact at 2 to 3 percent.
Wise shippers can help their trucking partners create capacity without adding drivers or tractors, White said. “We’re trying to partner with our customers to change those behaviors that, if unmitigated, will really drive costs up,” making freight less attractive and shifting available capacity to other shippers, he said.
That may not be easy for shippers accustomed to the lean inventories, just-in-time or expedited transit schedules, and tight delivery windows now common across industries and supply chains. But thinking outside the box when it comes to those rolling boxes that haul freight could save shippers money.
“The thing the carrier community really needs is more flexibility from a pickup and delivery perspective,” White said. “Some of the least attractive business is going to be freight that has fixed, firm pickup and delivery times, because we can’t necessarily utilize all drivers’ hours. If the freight is preloaded and I can drop my trailer at destination, then I can manage every driver as efficiently as possible.”
The changes in the HOS rules will require two consecutive 1 a.m.-to-5 a.m. periods within each end-of-the-week restart of a driver’s duty clock. Depending on when a driver goes off duty, that could extend a 34-hour restart to more than 50 hours, White said. “Any time a driver starts his or her 34-hour restart prior to 8 p.m. it’s going to extend that restart,” he said. “If it’s at 5 p.m., it’s a 37-hour restart.”
Drivers who can’t get off duty until after 1 a.m. could face extremely long restarts — and some shippers require early morning deliveries, White points out. In addition, drivers will only be able to use a restart once in a seven-day period. That change, meant to prevent abuse of the restart by trucking companies and drivers trying to rack up extra hours, could have unintended consequences, White said.
“Let’s say I’m a driver and I just came off a 34-hour restart, and my truck breaks down,” he said. “Now I’m in the shop for 24 hours, but I can’t use any of that time to restart my clock. Those things will certainly eat into driver productivity.”
White disagreed with predictions that tighter HOS rules would lead to a large shift of freight from truckload to intermodal rail. “Let’s face it, 70-plus percent of the traffic out there moves on the highway, and the last time I looked there’s not a Wal-Mart DC in the country that has a rail siding,” he told The Journal of Commerce. “I don’t think we’ll see a large shift because of the limitations of rail infrastructure.”
He does expect more shippers to experiment with dedicated contract carriage “to provide consistent capacity” within supply chains. “You’ll see some shifts in shipment patterns, especially when you look at time of day,” White said.
If they take effect as planned, the new rules will put the most pressure on “historical activities” that add to drivers’ weekly clocks, he said, such as keeping a driver waiting for hours to get a truck loaded or unloaded. “We’re trying to educate our customers,” White said. “Many times our customers like the convenience of us dropping a trailer for them to unload.” That’s fine, as long as the customer has a loaded trailer ready to go, he said. “We want to drop and hook. We’re finding too many instances today where shippers are forcing us to drop a trailer and then bobtail (run without a trailer to pick up another load elsewhere) because the trailer that came in the day before has not been unloaded.”
Customers that don’t do as much as possible to increase carrier efficiency will only have themselves to blame if their transportation costs rise under the new rules. “We have to work through these issues as best we can,” White said. “Many people are coming to the realization that to be successful we have to work together.”