Since its earliest days in a new country, the northwest corner of Ohio has always been a manufacturing hub. Today the region is dominated by auto manufacturers and suppliers. And that business – along with their demand for just-in-time parts deliveries, is the bread and butter of Vascor Transport, a regional-haul fleet based in Georgetown, Kentucky, right on the Ohio border.
The bulk of the fleet concentrates on regional hauls to and from automotive parts suppliers east of the Mississippi River, according to Chris DeRose, vice president of operations for Vascor, including regular routes into Indiana, Virginia, and northern Alabama.
The fleet is diversifying and expanding, adding a smaller long-haul division as well as a new, small, refrigerated fleet. But its core business remains the automotive plants and suppliers in the area, which puts tremendous pressure on the fleet’s 150 trucks and 155 drivers to make their runs on time, safely, every time.
“If Toyota decides they’re going to make 800 red Camrys tomorrow, they’re going to build 800 red Camrys tomorrow,” DeRose says. “And they expect to do that without the line ever shutting down. And if they don’t make those 800 red Camry’s, and you’re the reason they didn’t, you’re going to pay.”
Obviously, pressure is intense for Vascor to make those deliveries on time. And yet, the fleet refuses to compromise safety in order to do so. In fact, if anything, Vascor’s chief operating officer, Jon Flynn, has doubled down on safety as a means of ensuring loads get delivered on time. Additionally, the fleet is now using safety as a way of boosting driver pay, with measurable results on the recruiting and retention front as well.
Flynn’s reasoning dates back to the days of Commonwealth Express – the fleet he founded and grew into a thriving small business before selling out to Vascor. One day in 2015, Flynn got a call in his office informing him there had been an accident. One of his drivers was dead. And then, in turn, Flynn had to make a phone call of his own, to the man’s wife, and tell her what had happened.
It was a horrible experience and one he became determined to never repeat, if possible. And a little over a year ago, Netradyne, an artificial intelligence technology provider that focuses on driver and fleet safety, gave Flynn and Vascor the tools it needed to not only boost safety, but also to tie enhanced safety directly to driver pay.
Filling in the information gaps
Netradyne is continually upgrading its Driveri safety system and offered Vascor the opportunity to field test the last version of the technology. DeRose, under Flynn’s direction, jumped at the opportunity.
“As terrible as that accident was, one of the biggest frustrations Jon had was the lack of information early on,” DeRose says. “You have no idea what the road condition was, or the weather – or if the driver was on their phone. And those were information gaps we wanted to fill in.”
Vascor was already spec’ing its new Freightliner Cascadia and Volvo VNL tractors with the latest in safety equipment. “Every new truck we buy has safety systems on them today,” DeRose says. “Some drivers don’t like them. They tell us they feel those systems take control away from them. But this is an investment we feel strongly about.”
In August of 2017, Vascor began a six-month trial run with Driveri. Immediately, DeRose says, he was blown away by the quality of the video sent into the office by the Netradyne camera system. Just as importantly, he didn’t feel like he was being overwhelmed with data that had to be sifted through to find specific information.
“Driveri is set up with scoring parameters we set ourselves, and access is quick and easy through the web,” DeRose explains. “We initially set up 10 actions that we wanted to monitor and coach drivers on – things like speeding, rolling through stop signs, and tailgating. As time went on, we were able to get a much clearer picture of what our drivers’ strengths and weaknesses are, and tailor the system to better reflect that reality. The system is so flexible, that we could easily adjust our scoring system so that certain behaviors we really don’t like – tailgating, for example – draw a much harder hit to a driver’s weekly score than others. We can manually adjust that hit from being 10% of a weekly score to 25% if we think we have a problem that needs attention.”
Rewarding drivers for safety and more
Today, DeRose has his Driveri scores set up in Green, Yellow and Red zones for the drivers. Drivers have to log 2,200 minutes behind the wheel each week and score 900 or above to find themselves in the Green Zone and eligible for a safety bonus. Drivers can check their scores as often as they like – and several contact their driver managers at the end of each day to find out how they did. Netradyne is currently working on a smartphone app that will allow drivers to check their scores any time they wish, from any location.
Because of the wealth of information Vascor gets from Driveri, DeRose and his team were able to expand their driver pay bonuses to include operational bonuses. If a driver spends 2,200 minutes behind the wheel and has a weekly score of 900 or above, he or she receives a $75 weekly safety bonus. The fleet has also used Driveri data to set idle time reduction targets. So each driver who keeps idle times within the company’s target zone receives another $15 weekly bonus. Add on an additional $10 weekly attendance bonus, and drivers can pad their paychecks by as much as $75 a week.
“We wanted to increase driver pay, but we also wanted to get something in return for that commitment,” DeRose says. “Driveri gives us the tools to do this. As a result, we’re a safer fleet, and we can offer our drivers up to $3,900 a year in bonus pay. This year, that will work out to around $500,000. But if we get safer, have fewer accidents with no third-party lawsuit claims and burn less fuel – who knows? Maybe in a few years we’ll have $1 million in bonus money we’ll be able to pay out over the course of a year.”
Currently, DeRose says his overall fleet numbers are slowly creeping up into his desired Green Zone. He has about 25% of his driver force routinely scoring 900 or above every week. Another 25% of the force is in the Yellow Zone, but making measurable progress toward getting into the money. And, he says, he’s got another 25% who are either not able to break out of the red zone, or refuse to change long-held driving habits in order to get the bonus pay.
Jason Castle has been driving for Vascor for two years and hasn’t missed a full weekly bonus yet, since the fleet took the new initiative full time last January. He explains he wasn’t necessarily against a driver safety system at first – although he didn’t want a camera on him full time during the day. His father also drives for Vascor, and the two of them have a healthy competition under way to see who will be the first to miss the money.
Likewise, Tanya Welding has been driving for Vascor since 2011 and considers Driveri easy money in her pocket. “I’ve only missed one week’s bonus,” she says. “And that was a week where I had a route with a lot of hard right turns that the system picks up as excessive. But other than that, I like it and understand why we’re doing it. It gives our drivers an incentive for following the rules of the road.”
DeRose says that using Driveri, Vascor has been able to better manage operating costs while getting a handle on safety issues. Driver recruitment is still an issue. But he feels word is starting to get out about the easy money his drivers make just by playing it safe.