Save Time, Save Money

Save Time, Save Money

Copyright 2003, Traffic World, Inc.

The clock is ticking. All parties have circled Jan. 4 on their calendars - the day the new hours-of-service rules for truck drivers go into effect. On that day, truckers will lose one hour of time from the existing rules.

Carriers are concerned that the multiplier effect (hours times number of drivers) will result in enormous increases in their costs. Carriers claim that some shippers and receivers exacerbate the problem by making drivers wait at the docks. Shippers are concerned that carriers may use this opportunity to raise rates to unreasonable and unbearable levels.

As a freight management firm that represents the interests of both shippers and carriers, we continue to urge both sides to put an end to ignoring the inevitable and come to the table with workable solutions to the challenges imposed by the impending new HOS rules. We are pleased at the recent, rapid progress some parties are achieving, but more dialogue and action is needed.

Certainly the challenges are real. Many industry experts are expecting a marked decrease in productivity, a capacity shortage in the near term and a significant increase in the number of trucks on the road to move the same freight in the long term - and probably higher prices due to the increased costs to move that freight.

Under the existing HOS, deaths caused by car-truck accidents have decreased steadily over the past two decades, while at the same time, ton-miles on the nation''s roads have doubled - a tremendous benefit to our society. Amidst these impressive safety and productivity gains, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration expects the new HOS to save an additional 75 lives from being lost per year on the nation''s highways, from current levels of over 4,000 now.

The new hours actually add one hour of driving per day to the current laws but they require two additional hours off-duty before drivers can return to work. Additionally, with few exceptions, once the driver is on-duty, his "clock" is ticking. That includes time spent waiting, loading and unloading. These restrictions will severely curtail the driver''s actual driving time per 24-hour day. Drivers will have less nondriving time, as well. A driver''s total hours available will drop from 15 to 14 hours a day.

Critics point to increased costs associated with the new HOS and the inconsistencies concerning the interpretation of the rules. Perhaps the biggest criticism is that FMCSA''s estimated number of saved lives may not pan out, since possibly tens of thousands of new trucks will be necessary on the nation''s already congested roadways just to move the same amount of freight that is moving today, causing greater opportunity for congestion, accidents and deaths.

We believe one workable solution for the dilemma caused by the new HOS would be this: carriers, say to your shipping customers, "The more time you save our drivers, the more money we''ll save you; it is out of our hands."

Would that not be in the vested interest of both parties? There are numerous ways that shippers can save drivers time and thereby generate cost savings for themselves.

-- Discuss plans with your freight service providers in advance. Look at some of your heavy freight lanes and discuss the probable impact on transit times these new hours have on them. Talk candidly with your carrier or freight broker about your own operation and learn what you can do to reduce driver wait time at origin and destination.

-- Review plans with your customers. They will be faced with many of the same transportation challenges. By educating your own people, your customers and vendors, you will have the best chance to minimize the impact and keep the freight moving.

-- Ship early. Some freight lanes will see longer transit times. With the likelihood of increased roadside inspections and the fact that law enforcement officers and drivers will be learning the rules together, chances are trucks may take longer at inspection than they do today.

-- Limit number of stop-offs per truck. Under the new HOS, the cost of truckloads with stop-offs will tend to increase the most. Talking about your lanes with your providers and better planning may offset some of this.

-- Move toward drop trailers. When your volume warrants it, try to make a move toward drop trailers to reduce wait time. Carriers usually need three "turns" per week to consider dropping trailers.

-- Move away from strict appointments. Change to two- or three-hour pickup or delivery windows. Being more flexible on pickup and delivery will go a long way toward minimizing problems.

-- Increase reliance on intermediaries (brokers, forwarders and 3PLs). Freight intermediaries have provided critical support to shippers in today''s equipment shortage. They specialize in having the right truck at the right time and place. Since this past summer, the economy has been expanding at 8.2 percent, keeping truckload fleets extremely busy. While the largest fleets have been stretched thin, intermediaries have been supplying steady waves of equipment to shippers.

Of course, there are other ways that shippers and carriers can work together. The key is to open the lines of communication and learn from each other how to reduce the impact of the new HOS rules.

-- Tucker is executive vice president of Tucker Co., a freight management services company based in Cherry Hill, N.J.