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The industry needs a good cleanse


I received a critical e-mail about a recent column, one on new tech toys that I’d like to see invented, and I couldn’t be happier. The suggestions of the column were based on numerous past experiences with  drivers who wouldn’t grease their fifth wheel, turned in logbooks that even a magician couldn’t read, drive with straps flopping in the breeze, or had a pre-trip consisting of: 1) open the door, and 2) start the engine.

The e-mail suggested an opinion that I’ve heard spoken repeatedly, but now I finally have it in print. The gentleman wasn’t pleased that all my tech ideas would ‘put the driver in the hot seat,’ and suggested that a more beneficial improvement would automatically report unrepaired problems to the Ministry of Transportation. He thought the current system in which a driver can call the MTO if his repair requests aren’t honoured is ineffective, because ‘We know we’ll be history with the company…as soon as possible.’ Why this constant urge to keep a bad job driving unfit equipment?

My response (which could have been much longer) was, ‘Some drivers need to be put on the hot seat, if not the unemployment line.’

Other than other smaller trucking company owners (maybe some large ones), I’m going to make a lot of enemies in the first part of this column. Read to the end – you may come back.

The reader’s e-mail suggested the same attitude I’ve heard for 20 years: ‘This industry treats me terribly, but since I’m just a driver, I’ll just bitch about it, put up with it, and never work toward change.’ Sound familiar?

I don’t normally condone militant behaviour, uprisings, or protests, but in this case, it’s sadly overdue. Stop complaining and quit, if nobody’s listening.

Almost sounds like I’m trying to destroy the industry, doesn’t it? To some degree, rebuilding always requires some level of demolition.

Carriers who, in this day and age, insist on running substandard equipment or constantly breaking the rules, have no place in the industry. Since the driver is ultimately responsible for the equipment, your future, based on your CSA score, will suffer from a carrier who runs scrap equipment or insists you break the rules. There are too many jobs to choose from to put up with this. Conversely, licensed drivers who can’t conduct a proper pre-trip, or who drive dangerously and without common sense, should be tossed. Why should a good carrier’s record be sullied by these people?

I’ve heard a lot of drivers complain of consistently being sent out on a Thursday, with only 15 hours left in their logbook. They arrive somewhere mid-Saturday only to wait there for their Monday delivery. Why couldn’t they stay home until Saturday, and have their reset at home? If this is your situation on a regular basis, find a new job. This is frankly poor, perhaps lazy, planning thinly disguised as ‘efficiency.’ When the recruiting revolving door stops swinging in but swings faster going out, dispatch methods will change.

So how about the pay? Stop putting up with a pay rate that’s at least a decade behind reality. Try a day job for a while. Most day jobs, which allow you to be home daily, eat decent food, and not sleep in a tin box surrounded by noise, pay almost as much as an average over-the-highway job – more, if you factor in your on-road expenses. Even if you enjoy the highway life, you may enjoy more home time with the same or higher net income.

So, just what kind of a bloodbath have I just endorsed? A necessary one, I think. Read almost every edition of Truck News from the past year, and you’ll find someone mentioning increasing freight rates related to capacity. If you’re the only one of 10 carriers that actually still has drivers, you’d certainly have the upper hand related to capacity. I’m oversimplifying the issue terribly, but I think you see my point. Those of us who try to improve rates and pay are tired of being beaten down by rate-cutting carriers. If carriers are forced to improve, or at least better maintain their equipment, and to consider the fact that drivers are human beings, not a numbered machine, things will change. Certain carriers will cease operation, and to most of them, I say good riddance.

More thought will be given to how dispatching affects the driver as a person, and pay will climb dramatically. To support this, freight rates need to increase drastically. If drivers are nearly non-existent otherwise, manufacturers and distributors need to pay much more if they are to get trucks at all.

If they won’t, good luck to them. Try to function without trucks. The global economy has survived off our backs long enough. I’ve argued before that we should all be here for our financial wellbeing. It’s not our responsibility to suffer so the rest of the economy can prosper.

Drastic and extreme? Definitely, but I believe it’s necessary.

It’ll cause a ton of short-term pain, but create a much better, more lucrative industry. Our current business model hasn’t worked sensibly for a couple decades. But it won’t happen, will it? Why not?

***

Bill Cameron and his wife Nancy own and operate Parks Transportation, a flatdeck trucking company. Bill can be reached at williamcameron.bc@gmail.com.


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