There are two things converging in this sometimes tumultuous industry of ours: an apparent capacity crunch in many sectors and the difficult onset of electronic logging devices, which is only making the former worse. And will continue to do so, because an awful lot of drivers are mighty unhappy with ELDs. Establishment suits say they shouldn’t be, and so do many other drivers for that matter, but the fact remains that there’s a substantial contingent — undeniably substantial — of them who have walked away already, are threatening to walk, or will walk. Right out of the industry. Owner-operators and small fleets too.
To denigrate them with angry, hateful, and insulting comments like we’ve seen from some of the biggest players is woefully wrong. Frankly, the vitriol on the pro-ELD side baffles me. As one of my anti-ELD small-fleet correspondents says, being labelled a law-breaker from the “underbelly of the industry” does not inspire good will or healthy debate. Truth is, there’s been no debate in this country, because the little guys don’t really have a voice and for the most part they’ve been summarily dismissed on the odd occasion when they’ve found a way to be heard.
While it’s far too soon to conclude anything from the U.S. experience with ELDs after just a couple of months — and the Canadian rule won’t take effect until 2020 — it would seem obvious that a productivity loss will result. I’ve seen the figure 9% bandied about, and that essentially means an equivalent pay cut for drivers. But who knows? Only time will tell how fleets respond to the new reality.
There have been early ELD adopters, of course, and I interviewed one such fellow, the regional safety and compliance chief at a major Alberta-based fleet, in the course of writing this column. It’s more than a little ironic that this chat occurred after midnight when I was well past my 14-hour limit, yet more lucid than I’d been all day. Demonstrating that I couldn’t possibly be a truck driver these days and live with the absurdly arbitrary hours-of-service regime we’re presently forced to endure. But I digress.
So what did my compliance guy have to say about ELDs?
“I love ’em and my drivers love ’em,” he said enthusiastically.
Why? In his case because he can whip out his iPad at any time, anywhere, to check on any driver he wants, instantly seeing detail on hours and more. Drivers are happy because they can’t work more hours than they’re legally allowed to work, and because the paperwork burden has disappeared. I hear the latter point all the time.
I think it all makes for something of a watershed moment in North American trucking, truly. I’ve been saying for ages that we need to change the post-deregulation economic model on which this industry is based, and here’s our chance to change one major aspect of it: the way drivers are paid.
As my colleague Steve Bouchard, editor of sister magazine Transport Routier, reports, one Quebec flatbed fleet has responded to the ELD challenge by paying its long-haul drivers hourly.
“The goal was to make sure the drivers did not pay the price of the new regulations,” says Marc-André Hubert, operations manager at CH Express in Jean-Sur-Richelieu, QC. “We wanted to reassure them that the amount would be the same – or even more – with the electronic log.”
“The decision is kind of our statement that we were not afraid of the new regulation,” says president Serge Hubert.
I also learned recently that Trimac is alone amongst fuel-hauling tanker fleets to pay drivers on an hourly basis.
Bravo to both those fleets, I say. This is the way forward.
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