Archive for January, 2015

Looking Forward (continuation)

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The economy seems to be good and getting better.  Equipment and technology is continuing to change.  Some of the change is in the name of government regulation and some in the name of increasing efficiency and safety.

Supply and Demand.  The economy is good for truckers.  2014 saw the first truck shortage in many, many years.  We couldn’t haul all the freight we had and had to turn a lot back for lack of seated trucks.  This should continue and will become worse.  There is a severe driver shortage in the industry which is projected to grow.  Older drivers are retiring, young people are not joining the business and freight continues to increase as the economy improves.  Everyone struggles with this.  The problem will not be getting enough freight.  The problem will be finding enough good drivers to haul that freight.  All trucking companies are struggling with this at the moment.

There is some good news for truckers in this.  We are all, trucking companies and drivers acutely subject to the laws of supply and demand.  This means that when trucks are in short supply compared to freight, we can raise our mileage rates.  When we can raise our mileage rates, we can raise our drivers’ mileage rates.  This occurred throughout 2014 and I anticipate it will continue in 2015.  It is a two edged sword.  We want more drivers.  But we don’t want our competition to get more drivers.  If everyone could get the drivers they wanted, the number of seated trucks would grow and in time there would be more trucks than freight and rates would go down.  I don’t see that happening again in this industry until the next recession.  The morale of the story is.…expect good things, help us recruit good drivers.

Fuel.  To misquote Inspector Clouseau of the Pink Panther series “It’s the fuel, you fuel!”  Low fuel is good for trucking, high fuel is bad.  Pretty simple rule.  The measure of diesel price is heating oil.  It’s the lowest now in many years and the winter is not yet over.  I expect the price with fluctuate throughout 2015 but remain low compared to what we have been used to.  This means everyone will make more money, especially if you use our discounts which have been at historic highs.  Many contractors with good mpg are actually making money now off our fuel surcharge pay.  2015 will be a good year for fuel, our largest expense.

Trailers.  We’ll add a couple hundred more trailers.  Our trailer fleet is rapidly becoming brand new.  New is good… they have inflation monitoring systems and skirts.  Great for mpg!

Trucks.  We’ll continue to add trucks.  We think the manufactures are figuring out these exhaust systems a little better now.  Newer trucks mean less maintenance and less downtime.  They also mean better fuel economy.  We have decided to make our fleet younger.  Our plan is to sell and replace trucks prior to 450,000 miles.

We are experimenting with some auto shifts.  Many drivers hate to get into them and after two weeks declare that they will never go back to manual transmissions.  We’ll continue to test a few more.  A Volvo salesman told me 60% of Volvo’s builds are now automatic transmissions.  The other OEM’s are seeing more on their new builds as well.  Hence an increasing number of new trucks are now automatic. I see this as a trend.  In a few years, I’ll bet manual transmissions are the exception rather than the rule.

New trucks will make a dinging sound if you don’t use your seatbelt.  Buckle Up!  It is the law and we sure want to prevent injuries.

Technology.  Gosh, there is so much new technology coming on the market that it makes your head spin.  New technology will continue to be an increasing part of what we do. Much of it will represent change but will make truckers more efficient, more profitable and safer.  We saw this a few years ago with E-logs, even though the FMCSA has yet to mandate then. Many hated them at first but now can’t imagine being without them.  I predict event recorders will go the same route.  There is a lot of chatter in the industry about event recorders and many good carriers will implement them to protect themselves and their drivers while improving safety.

These are a few of my predictions formed from being in this a while and talking with a lot of folks in the industry.  You may not like them all but on the whole I think we are looking at a very good year in 2015.

Happy and Safe Trucking!  Tom

Looking Forward

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God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

Trucking in recent years has been the subject of constant change.  Think about that old school trucker 20 years ago.  He probably had a big hood truck, three sets of paper logs, was gone 2 or 3 months at a time, got 5 miles to the gallon and communicated by pay phone. When out, nobody had a clue where he was or what he was doing.

What a lot of change has taken place.  Today the successful trucker works smarter, not harder.  He is on electronic logs and uses a smart device or computer to plan his loads before starting his clock. He gets his loads electronically, can check weather, road conditions, routes, construction, fueling and congestion in his cab before turning the key.  He makes more money and is out 10 to 14 days and runs legal.  CSA means that the FMCSA know everything he has done, and computers on the truck and in the Qualcomm send a steady and increasing stream of data back to the company.  He makes more money on fewer miles and gets more sleep. The recruiting advertisers know quite a bit about him, what he is doing, where he lives and more through data gathered from wi-fis, smart phones and social media.  Magazine recruiting ads are quickly becoming obsolete.

The trucks have certainly changed a lot, mainly through exhaust designs mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency.  More changes are mandated for 2017 and now mpg standards are coming into effect.

Change may not be very noticeable at the time, but over the years its constant tug has added up.  Many of us may not have liked changes at the time which we now take for granted.

2015 promises many more changes some of which we control and some of which we must accept.  Some are opportunities and some are just more regulation.

FMCSA is very active on the rulemaking front and they have a full plate.  Here are some of the big changes we may expect in 2015:

  1.  Electronic Logs.  The early adapters such as ACT will have a big advantage on CSA as the outlaws try to catch up.
  2. Speed limiters on all trucks.  We are confident they will adapt such a rule.  Whether the limit will be 68 mph, 65 or something else, we don’t know.
  3. National Drug and Alcohol Data Bank.  No longer will law breakers be able to jump from company to company.  All companies will know who is using.
  4. Hours of Service.  Congress gave FMCSA until later in the year to study the restart.  In the meantime we are thankfully back with the old rule.
  5. Sleep Apnea testing.  Maybe.
  6. Driver Coercion Rule.
  7. Increasing Liability Insurance Limits.  This is under consideration.  Could cause many small firms to fold.  We carry way more than the $750,000 minimum.

We in trucking have become accustomed to adapting to the ever flowing tide of regulations.  2015 will be no different.  Next week we’ll look at other changes ahead.

Happy trucking, Tom!

Do You Take the Time?

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One can become so busy that we don’t take the time to do the important things.  We are all guilty of this.  Trucking is a very transaction oriented business.  We haul a lot of loads, each with many factors to manage.  We go to work and…oops…before you know it the day is done.  This vortex of work can and does cause us to overlook sometimes the most important thing about trucking … people.  Yet as a service business, people are what trucking is comprised of.  How ACT associates, drivers and contractors communicate with each other determines company and individual success or failure.  So it really is important.  With the labor shortage in trucking, the ability to communicate is the skill that separates the good from the average employee.  Is it talent?  Or do we just get too busy with the small stuff to take the time?

Good communication with each other is our biggest opportunity and our largest challenge.  As George Bernard Shaw said, ““The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

There are so many ways to communicate today, and so many lazy ways to avoid good communication. The range of options includes:

1. Talk face to face
2. Talk by phone
3. Email
4. Send a Qualcomm message
5. Text
6. Use a carrier pigeon (extinct)
7. Send smoke signals

The first two, talking and calling, are the most effective ways to communicate.  It is the difference between interpersonal and impersonal communication.  The first involves a back and forth of assessing people, listening, getting context and explaining.  The last consists of imparting information; such as, “the load number is 12345; the pickup is a noon EST; I like my coffee black.”  Emails, texts, and Qualcomm messages are ineffective when trying to resolve complicated issues or trying to connect with someone on a personal level.  In fact, they often cause the opposite effect of what the sender intends.

The other thing to notice is that the first two methods take the most time and the last, email, text, and Qualcomm, take the least time.

Years ago, when I was younger, I had a very good manager.  One day, he met with me to talk about some behavior that I needed to change for the good of the team.  He approached the issue in a very non-threatening way, stuck to the issue, but was very clear and honest about what needed to be done and why.  As I listened to him, I was impressed with his management talent and I told him so.  I’ll never forget his response, “Tom, good management doesn’t take talent, it just takes time.”

How much time does misunderstanding take?  It is very costly.  Misunderstanding can often result from the failure to take the time to communicate effectively in the first place. In our world of limited time, causing a misunderstanding will result in more future attempts to communicate and more work.  And yet as tension grows, the attempts to communicate are more futile.  If we avoid a difficult person, ignore the problem and put our head back into our work, others will feel disconnected and can easily leave for another job….or worse, just stay and not care.

Set the proper priorities.  Whether you are in an office or on the road, people are more important than whatever task you have before you at the moment.  Invest in yourself and others by communicating, and specifically by telephone or in person when possible.  Avoid the temptation to use electronic messaging as a substitute.  You will find that not only do we start to achieve results, but the investment in time will save time in the long run.

Happy Trucking!  Tom

34 Hour Restart

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Today is the day, she thought as she finished wiping the counters at the small town diner. She was just finishing her shift and just had enough time to pick up the kids from school. She felt pretty good as she drove through the blowing leaves on that beautiful fall day. It was amazing how much she had accomplished in the past three weeks. She had canned all the vegetables from the garden, cleaned the house, and taught Jimmy how to mow the yard. He was a hard worker. Last night, she went to a parent/teacher conference and the news was mostly good. I still have to work with Jimmy on his math, she thought as she pulled up the drive to the school. That’ll be a challenge, because on a day like this he’ll want to be outside after being cooped up in school all day. Well, it’s the weekend and there’ll be time for that later.

The kids were literally “wired for sound” so she decided to let them enjoy the beautiful afternoon outside while she got some things done. She stopped at the mailbox on the dusty gravel road and thumbed through the mail. She saw the envelopes with his settlements, the car bill, the electric bill and the gas bill. Upon parking the car outside their mobile home, the kids darted out for the woods, while she took their lunch pails into the kitchen and cleaned them out. She sat down at the kitchen table and opened the mail. Only 2000 miles on the week, she noticed as she opened the settlement. Nothing was going to take away the good feelings she had welling up inside. That’ll make for a tough budget, but she’d already planned for that. The kids Christmas presents were already on layaway and she smiled as she thought that she only had three more payments left. She looked outside and smiled again as she saw Jimmy raking the leaves while Sarah and their dog, Jeff, were jumping in the pile.

Later in the evening, while she was cleaning the dishes from the dining room table, Sarah asked, “When is Daddy coming home?” She smiled as said, “He called this morning and thought he would be home right after dinner if he was loaded on time. But you know, Sarah, that he always tries to get home as soon as he can.” The little angelic face pouted and whined, “But Daddy said that he would be home a week ago! He’s normally gone for two weeks and this time he’s been gone for three.” “I know, honey, but you know how trucking can be,” she said, “One of the other truckers had to get home right away to take care of his ailing mother, so Daddy took his load for him so it would be delivered on time.” “But, why couldn’t someone else take the load,” Jimmy said. “Well, honey,” she said, “if Daddy didn’t deliver the loads that needed to be delivered, people wouldn’t have things at the store and Santa couldn’t find any toys to bring for Christmas!” she said with a smile. “Wow, I’m going to tell my friends,” said Sarah, “they think that truckers are these mean people who scare people with their driving on the road.” “Well, don’t you ever think that, Sarah. Daddy is one of the best drivers there is and he makes sure that stores always have the things people need to buy,” she said as she looked out the window for a cloud of gravel dust down the road, which wasn’t there.

After the kids were in bed, she went out on the porch and looked into the night. It was perfectly quiet and the stars were out. She went back in and laid down on the couch. The clock showed 10 o’clock.

He pulled his rig off exit 42 and pointed it towards home. Only two more hours to go, he thought. What a day! I can’t believe they had me wait six hours for my load on a Friday. He thought about complaining to the dispatcher, but he knew it wouldn’t do any good anyway. Normally, he takes waiting at the dock in stride, but tonight he would be home for the first time in three weeks. He had been listening to the bad news about the economy all week and decided to run another week to get some more money for Christmas and to help another driver out. It was hard to listen to all the complaining at the truck stops from the other truckers. Things sure are slow! But in this business, you have to do what you have to do. No point in getting all worked up about it. I bet it’s going to be a busy weekend, as he thought about the work that needed to be done around the house, finishing up the garden, raking leaves and mowing the yard. I hope the kids are doing ok, he said to himself, barely out loud. They really get in a funk when I’m gone this long. “I don’t know where I’m going to get the money to get Christmas for the kids,” he worried.

At one in the morning, he made his final turn. As he pulled his rig up in the drive, the lights in the house came on and the door flew open as she ran to the truck. He smiled through his red eyes as she threw her arms around him and they walked, holding hands, into the house. They talked until three in the morning before falling asleep.

The morning sun beamed through the window. “Hush,” she said, “Daddy worked hard last week, and needs some sleep.” The children tried to contain their excitement. He rolled over and looked at the clock. “Ten in the morning,” he thought, “I didn’t want to sleep that long.” He rolled out of bed thinking about all the chores he needed to do but as he looked around, he saw the house was in perfect condition. The smell of coffee was in the air. He put his feet on the floor and looked out the window to see a perfectly mowed yard on a crisp autumn morn. He also noticed that the garden was harvested. As he went into the kitchen, Sarah and Jimmy ran to him and showed them their report cards. They were the best he’d ever seen. “I can mow the yard and rake the leaves now,” boasted Jimmy. “Yes, you are becoming quite a hardworking man,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “You were gone too long,” said Sarah, “but I’m going to tell my friends that my Daddy was helping Santa, so they would have toys at Christmas.” He looked at his wife’s secret smile. Later, they went on a picnic by the river and just enjoyed the day as a family. He beamed with pride as he looked at his family and cherished every minute of that autumn Saturday.

The next day after church, his cell phone rang. His family all looked at him as he answered the phone. “I have a 600 mile load for you that has to be delivered Monday night. Can you take it?” the voice on the phone said. “I finish my 34 restart at 6 tonight and can start with a fresh book of hours,” he said. “Good,” the voice said, “Don’t forget your checkcall when you pick up the load.” “Yes, boss,” he replied. He looked at the kids and smiled even though he felt sadness coming on him. “Is that a load for Santa?” asked Sarah. “Yes,” he said, “you wouldn’t want the toys to be late, would you?” “That’s funny, Daddy!” Jimmy said, “You’ve never been late!”

As she walked him to the truck that evening, he looked at her and couldn’t get over how good his life was and it was all thanks to this woman that he made his life with. They kissed, he climbed up in his truck and waved as he wheeled out of the drive. He remembered her smiling face as he drove down the road. He thought to himself, “People think that trucking is a man’s business, but they would be surprised if only they knew, it’s the women that keep the trucks rolling.”

Happy Trucking, Tom

Copyright-Tom Kretsinger, Jr. 2010