No dispatcher wants to admit they didn’t know where their drivers were and how many hours they have left, says Paul Hamilton, director of transportation for California Freight (Cal Freight for short). “But we know the truth – with that many driver’s it’s impossible to know how much time each driver has.”
Electronic logging devices, which the fleet phased in over 2017 in time for the mandate that went into effect Dec. 18, means that now they truly know.
Cal Freight provides transportation for industries such as port drayage and food-grade (milk) tankers, as well as some power-only services for Amazon, running out of Ripon, California, in the San Joaquin Valley.
“Being able to not have to rely on their own memory or taking someone’s word for it or digging through time sheets, it’s leaps and bounds in the direction toward efficiency once they learn how to use the dashboard,” Hamilton says of how the new ELDs are affecting operations. “Just to click on a driver and be able to see everything he’s done for the last umpteen days. You can dispatch them properly and plan out the rest of the week, seeing when they need to take their 34-hour [restart] off again.”
Cal Freight had been using a company for GPS since early 2016, and in early 2017 they started discussing how they would meet the ELD mandate. At that time they switched to Fleet Complete (part of AT&T) to do GPS and electronic logs.
The company believed the effort by some owner-operator and small-fleet organizations to derail the implementation of the ELD deadline “wasn’t going to stand up, so we might as well comply instead of fight it,” Hamilton says, “and we’re glad we got started in March.”
There were some delays as Fleet Complete integrated its acquisition of Big Road, but the company’s happy overall with the result.
“Some drivers embrace it happily and appreciate not having to draw their lines every day,” Hamilton says. “Then you have drivers that would rather use paper. They fight anything technological and use terms like ‘Big Brother.’”
One frustration, he explains, is that there are frequent software updates coming from the provider. The tablets Cal Freight uses are locked down so drivers can’t update them unless they’re enabled in kiosk mode, which makes updating applications a bit more of a headache.
The logbook application itself, Hamilton says, is pretty straightforward, although there’s still a learning curve for drivers. “I remind every driver that the application is drawing a line every minute of the day. All you’re telling it is where to move the pencil to.”
The fleet has roughly 130 trucks running on ELDs. Even though many are operating under agriculture or farm rules where they could be exempt, the ELD “actually helps managing and monitoring” those drivers’ time limits.
“A lot of times, if you had someone switch over and take an interstate load, you had to switch over their week and meet the 70-hour/eight-day work week, and that would pose problems on paper,” he explains. “You don’t know what you don’t know sometimes, till they turn in their log book and you go back and look. With e-logs you can be a little more proactive and see what drivers have what hours remaining for the day and the workweek – instead of guessing and getting yourself in trouble following the paper trail later.”
Of course, they aren’t without headaches, Hamilton admits, calling the e-logs a “double-edged sword.” One run, for instance, takes 11 hours of drive time out and back, with the driver meeting another truck coming from Oregon – assuming there aren’t traffic problems.
“So the driver says he can’t make the run because he’s hitting traffic,” Hamilton says. “Before he would just make it all the way back. It wasn’t legal then and it’s not legal now, but it was never questioned on paper. The drivers would get away with it; the dispatchers wouldn’t even know.”
It’s been an education for drivers and dispatchers alike, he says. They are gaining a new appreciation for the hours of service rules they may not fully have understood before. “Drivers are educating me on different ‘rules’ that might have worked on paper, but not on the e-logs,” he says. “It might not be a real rule.”
And then, of course, there are shipper/receiver delays. “There are rules that allow for traffic delays and natural disaster delays for drivers,” he says. “It would be nice to see a load delay [provision] of some sort.”