Devil’s Advocate on EOBRs
As FMCSA works toward an electronic logs mandate, one small fleet owner locates uncommon benefit
Could EOBRs solve the excess detention dilemma? Tom Blake certainly thinks so. About a year ago, the small fleet owner installed PeopleNet Blu-model electronic onboard recorder units in each of his fleet’s five current trucks, plus one owner-operator’s truck running under his authority.
That includes the 2005 Pete 379 he drives. He paid $1,400 apiece for the units, plus a monthly service fee. The units not only automatically track hours, but they save the small fleet owner-operator loads of time auditing logs in the back office, he says, dealing with trip sheets, and computing and reporting fuel taxes. “If you figure it costs me $50 a month for” the unit in the owner-operator’s truck, “I guarantee you it’s a wash the time that I’m saving.”
More time, he says, he can spend hustling container freight. Since he transitioned from a longtime leased, one-truck operation, he’s contracted with a particular container shipper for regular short runs of mostly 20-foot containers, expanding slowly over the years and adding trucks and drivers. Today, the Thomas Blake Trucking fleet operates primarily within 160 miles of Kansas City, Mo., rail yards.
The EOBRs’ benefits also included something he didn’t expect. They gave Blake a powerful tool with his customers and the shipping/receiving facilities he dealt with relative to detention time. Blake believes if all carriers had EOBRs, an industry standard would quickly develop for detention pay in customer contracts. “If the government ever decided to make it mandatory to have EOBRs, every trucking company would have a tool to show the delay and where it’s happening — either they could raise the freight rate to adjust for that time so that overhead is still being met and drivers are being paid a higher rate, or you could charge detention on the dock.”
Given that so many operators are against any mandate to install the devices, Blake can feel the criticism coming, he says. But he wants readers to know that, for a long time, he was against the devices himself: “But … when you’re looking at what minor violations can do to your scores — with DOT doing everything they’re doing with CSA and coming after carriers — I basically decided I had to make a choice if I wanted to stay in the trucking business. It’s either adapt and go with the changes, or close the doors.
“Now that I’m running this way, there are instances where we’ve been getting loaded and something’s gone haywire. I can send my customer a printout of the time the driver’s been sitting at the dock instantly. If every trucking company did that, I believe, they would start getting compensated for that time. Drivers would not be forced to fudge anymore.”
| Meet ‘Uncle Pete’ | The I-40 regulars among you will no doubt know Uncle Pete’s Truck Stop — formerly Tennessee 40 — at 1210 Sparta Pike in Lebanon, Tenn. It might well give any stop east of the Mississippi a run for the money for the “most distinctive” honor. Adorning its walls is a collection of “4,875 coffee cups” and counting up, says Uncle Pete Norman himself (pictured), the stop’s owner. “Never bought one, but I’ve drank out of every one.”
We met him while shooting Truckers News’ Celebrity Series video chat with Aaron Tippin, a personal friend. The collection, as with so many good things, started out with a joke. When Norman took over the business, “we had about six coffee cups” that weren’t broken, he says, so an employee offered up a large number she’d been planning to get rid of at a yard sale. When finally they got in their first order of standard mugs, Norman adds, they took those old cups and “set them in the window ledges.” Soon enough, drivers started asking about them. “Are you collecting coffee cups?”
“We’re going after the Guinness World Record,” Norman said, time after time. Soon enough again, people started taking that seriously and bringing cups to add to the collection. It grew over the 21 years the stop’s been in business to what it is today, with cups of all shapes and sizes lining the upper parts of nearly every wall in the restaurant — and C-store, too. “We have cups from 44 countries, every state and all U.S. islands and territories,” Norman says.