Fleet Management

Commentary: Looking Back, Looking Forward

One fleet exec's perspective on the top industry issues.

December 2013, TruckingInfo.com - Editorial

by Deborah Lockridge, Editor in Chief - Also by this author

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As the year drew to a close, we looked back on the last 12 months, identifying the high points and low points, our challenges and triumphs, and hopefully, what we learned.

I had the fortune of sitting with a former HDT Truck Fleet Innovator during a luncheon at the American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference and Exhibition this fall. The topics on his mind track very closely with some of the year’s top stories and the top trucking concerns identified by the American Transportation Research Institute’s annual survey.

Jim Burg is one of the smaller fleet executives to have earned HDT’s Innovator title, which he did in 2010 for his attention to lightweight specs and productivity. He impressed me because he turned that same focused attention to every part of his operation, James Burg Trucking, a less-than-100-truck fleet out of Warren, Mich. Today he’s running around 80 trucks operating in Michigan and surrounding states pulling flatbed trailers, including Michigan trains.

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I asked him how business was going and what his main concerns were. Here are a few highlights:

Hours of service: The changes to the federal commercial driver hours-of-service rules that went into effect July 1, despite legal challenges and Congressional hearings, caused HOS to top the list in ATRI’s annual survey of more than 4,000 trucking industry executives.

Although he’s transitioning to electronic logs, Burg is not happy with the recent hours of service changes. “Once everything is solidified with e-logs then we will really see how bad the impact is on productivity industry-wide.” The forthcoming electronic log mandate was No. 5 on ATRI’s list.

CSA: The Department of Transportation’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability enforcement regime, was No. 2 on ATRI’s list, and it’s one of Burg’s biggest frustrations.

“I just came off my best safety year ever, with only one preventable crash – but I’m deficient in the Crash BASIC because of things I can’t control, like a car hitting my truck while it was being chased by police. My insurance company is saying ‘attaboy,’ but my CSA score says I don’t know what I’m doing.”

The recovery: The economy was No. 4 on ATRI’s top 10 list this year. As a flatbed fleet serving mostly the automotive industry, Burg could have been slammed by the Great Recession. However, he had already grown his regional operation in response to a softening state economy. The company size made it possible to quickly react to the changing situation.

He has grown cautiously since then, growing his fleet only slightly. In fact, he’s at capacity, which allows him to turn down the cheapest loads. He wants to invest in technology such as collision mitigation, but he says he has to buy new trucks to do that. Uncertainty about the economy and government mandates is keeping him from buying. However, he is investing in new trailers to take advantage of new productivity laws in Michigan and Indiana that will allow him to carry more freight.

Healthscare reform: It didn’t make ATRI’s top 10 list, but the new Affordable Healthcare Act has been a concern, and has been a major media story of late. Burg already offered employees health insurance, and, in fact, made sure cuts during the recession did not affect those benefits. His take?

“Obamacare isn’t the end of the world. It’s expensive, but it’s not going to take me down.”

What were your big issues and opportunities in 2013? What do you see going forward in 2014? Email me at [email protected]

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