NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. – By training its drivers on fuel efficient driving techniques, Bison Transport saved enough money to pay for its $1 million simulator training program in just one year.
Rob Penner, vice-president of operations, was on-hand at the Private Motor Truck Council annual general meeting to share some of Bison’s fuel efficiency strategies with private fleets in attendance.
Spec’ for fuel mileage
For starters, Penner said Bison spec’s trucks for fuel efficiency.
“We spend a lot of time trying to understand what our base tractors can do for us,” he said.
All Bison tractors have speed governors activated and all new tractors are equipped with automated transmissions.
Penner said the bottom third of Bison’s poor fuel performers disappeared overnight when the auto gearboxes were introduced.
Bison also uses the Eaton Vorad system in many of its trucks which includes a Smart Cruise function that maintains a safe following distance from the vehicle in front of the truck.
Fuel efficient tires are an important spec’ for Bison and the carrier is now using wide-base super singles where permitted.
Bison is also actively testing many aerodynamic devices such as fully-skirted trailers and boat tails (which aren’t widely used due to length restrictions).
Penner explained Bison does in-depth testing on new fuel-efficient equipment to generate data which helps the company decide whether or not the technology lives up to its promises.
When the Espar and ProHeat cab heating systems first hit the market, Bison was quick to install them on its trucks, almost instantly eliminating winter idling. However, summer idling remained an issue with a “horrendous” 45% summer idle time, Penner said.
Since then, the company has been equipping its trucks with auxiliary power units for heating and cooling.
“Every driver in our fleet understands we don’t tolerate idle time,” Penner said.
Bison uses SensorTRACS to monitor things such as speed and hard braking and Penner said “Our drivers have come to expect nothing less of us.”
To further reduce its environmental footprint, Bison relies upon the transport modes that make the most sense economically and environmentally.
In many cases, this means shifting freight to rail.
“We have started an intermodal division and whenever possible we’ll switch freight to trains,” Penner said.
Bison is also one of Canada’s largest users of long combination vehicles (LCVs) – where they’re allowed.
Bison has about 120 tractors dedicated to pulling double 53-ft trailers in the Prairies.
“We have an intricate switch network set up across the Prairies,” Penner said. “We’ve worked really hard to expand the network of highways that allow this.”
Bison’s LCVs – or turnpike doubles – average 5.6 mpg. “Very few tractors average 11 mpg with a single trailer,” Penner quipped, noting the fuel savings resulting from LCVs is significant.
He added LCVs are piloted by the company’s safest drivers and that the reluctance to allow them in Ontario is based on fears that are “strictly visual.”
Developing the driver
Of all the fuel efficient technologies employed by Bison, Penner said it’s the drivers the company is “most proud of.”
Bison’s Tatonka program has been well-publicized. Each driver must go through four mandatory training sessions per year.
By implementing the Tatonka program, Bison realized a 3% fuel efficiency gain through its entire roster – without considering changes to equipment.
Rather than handing drivers the keys to a new truck and sending them out on the road, Bison puts its drivers through a half-day orientation on new equipment and how to operate it most efficiently.
“Each driver knows what their spec’ is supposed to get for fuel mileage,” Penner said.
Educating drivers on how to best operate a particular truck also simplifies the maintenance process, as drivers recognize problems when the truck is not operating properly.
“Instead of our maintenance people chasing down problems, our drivers recognize problems,” said Penner.
Bison has a driver reward program called ‘Share the Savings’ in which drivers are paid a percentage of any fuel savings they achieve beyond a pre-determined benchmark.