TORONTO, Ont. – Shock wasn’t the only fallout from the U.S. Court of Appeal’s midsummer rejection of the new U.S. hours of service rules.
Industry players who invested time and money to comply with the new rules (which came into effect in January) have also been left feeling somewhat sore in the seat.
In short, preparing for the latest U.S. hours of service rule is beginning to look like a very expensive exercise in futility.
“People are frustrated,” said Tanya Theroux, compliance supervisor for Challenger Motor Freight. “If you put a dollar value on getting ready for the new rules, it cost us between $45,000 and $50,000. We had to do it, but if the rule changes, it wasn’t money well spent.”
Challenger held a solid six weeks of training sessions for its 1,500 drivers (including those of its sister companies) through last fall, during which drivers and owner/operators were pulled off the road and into the classroom.
Staff were pulled away from their normal duties to provide the training. And further training sessions and one-on-one meetings with drivers were held as the rules and their interpretations changed.
Challenger was still training drivers as late as this spring.
“We’d just gotten a handle on the new rules, when the court overturned them,” said Theroux.
But carriers aren’t the only ones who are feeling frustrated.
The companies who provide driver log software are having trouble sitting down too.
They had to put in significant extra man-hours when the companies with which they have ongoing maintenance contracts suddenly needed them to completely rewrite their software.
“In the end I suppose you could say we’ll sell more software,” said software developer Joey Frazee, of Trip Data and Safety Management, based in Moncton, N.B. – a software company used by Canadian and U.S. carriers alike.
“But we did put a lot of time and effort into it and still are. Companies are calling us all the time to explain the software, the reports and how the new rules work. That takes a lot of time. And the amount a company pays annually for maintenance remains the same.”
Enter the violins playing the same old sad music for drivers and owner/operators, who spent time in the classroom instead of on the road making money.
“I suppose they could have been waiting in line somewhere anyway, but then again, maybe not,” said Theroux.
The compliance supervisor is feeling doubly frustrated by the fact the same effort will have to be made again unless the new rules stay intact.
“If we go back to the old rules, we’ll have to retrain all the new drivers we’ve hired since January, who’ve never worked under the old rules. And if we get new, new rules, we’ll have to retrain everyone again,” she said. “We don’t have a choice.”
As for software companies, the ideal scenario would be a return to the old rules, at least in terms of software development itself.
“We’ve still got the code for the old rules on hand,” said Frazee.
In the meantime, uncertainty reigns.
Opinions differ as to whether the court ruling will cast a chill on carrier investment in driver log software.
While most software companies do have ongoing maintenance contracts with their carriers, new purchases may be hard to come by.
“I think it’s possible some carriers will decide to hold off on purchasing new software until they know what’s going to happen,” said Marnie Keller-Krikava, corporate manager of strategic planning, and head of the hours of service task force for J.J. Keller and Associates, a major software provider.
After the court’s mid-July ruling, the FMCSA was given 45 days to respond.
There were three courses of action the association could have taken:
Appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court;
Rescind the previous rules and return to the previous ones then write another set of rules with a specific time frame; or
Continue with the new rules and develop even newer ones within a specific time frame.
On Aug. 30, the FMCSA opted to ask for more time. According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA) the U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion on behalf of the FMCSA, asking the federal appeals court to stay its reversal of the new hours of service rule for another six months.
The court’s response was not available at press time.
If a new rule is the end result of the court challenges, Keller-Krikava, for one, is not looking forward to it.
“It took five years to come up with this one.
“And the first proposed rule came out in 2000, if my memory serves. There was nothing for about 60 years, and now this!”