Early adopters: Getting ahead of the ELD mandate

| August 18, 2015

ELD early adopters photo

Atlanta-based two-truck-fleet owner-operator Rico Muhammad has been running the BigRoad smartphone application for his and his driver’s logs for more than two years. While he’s run with the initial version – not BigRoad’s more recent DashLink, with a connection to the engine’s electronic control module – Muhammad is among some other nonleased independents and small fleets who’ve begun experimenting with otherwise fully compliant automatic onboard recording devices (AOBRDs).

“I don’t want to get caught behind the curve,” says Muhammad.

Watchers note that, as concerns the electronic logging device mandate, there are a lot of trucks that will be newly required to be outfitted with some electronic system, possibly as early as late 2017. Mark Kessler of PeopleNet, an AOBRD and telematics provider, estimates that as many as four million trucks will need some kind of electronic logging system.

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July polling of Overdrive readers shows that only 13 percent of all readers are using a logging device that is compliant under the Code of Federal Regulations section 395.15, meaning it is likely to meet requirements of an ELD mandate. The remaining 87 percent use paper logs or a logbook app or software that is not 395.15-compliant.

Separate polling showed widespread opposition to the ELD mandate itself.

Owner-operator views on the ELD mandate

Note on above: In a separate question, one in 10 operators noted changing opinions on a mandate for e-logs, and equal shares moved from favor to opposition or vice versa.

If the timeline remains as proposed last year, a grandfather clause in the rule will give owners already running with an AOBRD that is compliant under 395.15 an extra two years to do any necessary upgrades that may be required. Such upgrades, in a few instances, may include older systems’ hardware. However, most companies surveyed for this article were confident that upgrades to a system purchased today would be done via either software update or, in the case of BigRoad, a hardware update the company pledges to make without customer cost, if in fact necessary at all.

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That will depend on what’s in the final rule, which will include device specifications and requirements. Such unknowns aren’t particularly daunting to owner-operators such as Muhammad who are less concerned with cost in the near term than with the long-term viability of any system as it relates to their particular trucking operation.

J.J. Keller & Associates’ Encompass system (also pictured at top) can be paired with the company’s specially designed tablet or with operators’ personal Android or iOS devices. Tom Reader, J.J. Keller marketing director, believes the company is well-positioned. “We’re in virtually every truck stop in the country,” he says. “We have a really good track record in the owner-operator market with paper logs. Right now, the electronic log at truck stops? We’re not there yet.” But it’s coming soon. The engine connection retails at about $200.

J.J. Keller & Associates’ Encompass system (also pictured at top) can be paired with the company’s specially designed tablet or with operators’ personal Android or iOS devices. Tom Reader, J.J. Keller marketing director, believes the company is well-positioned. “We’re in virtually every truck stop in the country,” he says. “We have a really good track record in the owner-operator market with paper logs. Right now, the electronic log at truck stops? We’re not there yet.” But it’s coming soon. The engine connection retails at about $200.

The current AOBRD market contains essentially two types of devices. One is those that stand alone, dedicated to the truck in which they’re installed. The other is the “bring your own device” systems capable of pairing with software on operators’ smartphones or tablets over the air via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or the cell network. Both types require a connection to the engine’s electronic control module.

Truckstop.com was on the market early with its uDrove app, a smartphone-based logging platform that also offers business tools for small fleets and owner-operators. The app runs on both iOS- and Android-powered devices.

“We want [e-logs] to be secondary to what we offer with uDrove,” says Thayne Boren, Truckstop.com mobile general manager. “We want to be a productivity tool. Let’s go ahead and send your proof-of-deliveries in faster for faster payment. Let’s track business expenses.”

Engine diagnostics also are made possible with many AOBRD devices. Truck manufacturers also have begun partnering with e-logs/telematics providers to integrate hardware as standard equipment. Kurt Swihart, Kenworth’s marketing director, says customers with new Kenworth Class 8 trucks equipped with the Paccar MX-13 engine and TruckTech+ still will need to add a display interface for the e-logs and register for PeopleNet’s eDriver Logs system.

MX-powered Peterbilts also are outfitted with PeopleNet’s engine-connection hardware. Depending on the other features you select, up to a $400 discount from Paccar will apply.

Zonar’s Fred Fakkema says his company’s 2020 tablet can serve operator AOBRD needs by pairing with engine-connection hardware that comes standard in the Freightliner Cascadia.

Beginning with 2012 models, Mack and Volvo trucks have come equipped with engine-connection hardware. With a BYOD-type option for logs that interfaces simply with the Volvo/Mack hardware, the Telogis WorkPlan suite of apps may end up being the choice of Bill Frerichs, owner of the nine Volvo trucks in the Frerichs Freight Lines small fleet, based in Belleville, Ill.

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Frerichs runs dedicated tablets in each of the trucks, with operators using the non-engine-connected version of BigRoad’s Android app for logs. Frerichs pays a little extra for BigRoad’s dispatch/small fleet management software, giving him visibility into truck location and numerous tools to help manage the business. To go fully AOBRD today, he says, all he would need to do is download Telogis’ app and turn on the logs functionality.

Owners of 2012 and later Volvo and Mack trucks will pay only about $20 to access the most basic Telogis plan, including AOBRD-compliant logs, among the most affordable such monthly plan approaches to electronic logs. The same aftermarket hardware-lease option with Telogis for owners of trucks other than Mack or Volvo would be about $36 monthly. (Omnitracs, maker of the XRS and MCP platforms, recently announced an agreement with Volvo/Mack as well.)

San Francisco then-startup KeepTruckin turned some heads in 2014 with the promise of a free ELD to users of its pre-mandate logbook app on iOS or Android devices. Being revealed as this story goes to press is its hardware engine-connection device that indeed will require $0 in startup fees for all users, not just pre-mandate logbook users. However, as with many other companies, an ongoing monthly fee applies for full AOBRD functionality. At $20, it is one of the most affordable monthly fees, the company says, though operators won’t retain ownership of the hardware. “It’s a free lease,” says Jonathan Sockell, director of marketing. “Our ELD wouldn’t work with other software providers.”

San Francisco then-startup KeepTruckin turned some heads in 2014 with the promise of a free ELD to users of its pre-mandate logbook app on iOS or Android devices. Being revealed as this story goes to press is its hardware engine-connection device that indeed will require $0 in startup fees for all users, not just pre-mandate logbook users. However, as with many other companies, an ongoing monthly fee applies for full AOBRD functionality. At $20, it is one of the most affordable monthly fees, the company says, though operators won’t retain ownership of the hardware. “It’s a free lease,” says Jonathan Sockell, director of marketing. “Our ELD wouldn’t work with other software providers.”

Frerichs believes that “everybody’s product does the same thing. Now it’s just a matter of what you can make most cost-effective for your situation. My concern is who can provide me the biggest bang for the best money.”

With appropriate hardware already in his company’s trucks, worries over “too much hardware involved with other systems” are mitigated. The Telogis WorkPlan app is available for iOS- and Android-powered devices. Like others with tiered fees for various bundles, its functionality extends beyond logs.

Frerichs credits the embrace of new technology in part with “making us whole again” financially following the 2007-’09 recession, largely a result of newer trucks’ fuel economy advantages. He’s hoping to use the Telogis software to create a driver incentive program based on miles per gallon, idle time and out-of-route miles.

The benefits of such technology can help small fleets and owner-operators compensate for tighter restrictions on hours, says Kelly Frey, vice president of product marketing for Telogis. “They will have better tools to notify partners where they are on a facility, sharing location information with shippers and receivers,” he says.

Pictured here is one of the dedicated tablets in a ruggedized casing that small fleet owner Bill Frerichs has installed in each of his Volvo tractors, today running the non-395.15-compliant BigRoad logbook app. Says Frerichs of his guarded embrace of e-logs with a plan to turn to a fully compliant AOBRD later in the year, “I would have probably made this move a couple of years ago.” Like so many others, “I’m kind of waiting on the ruling,” he says. “I don’t want to find out that a year from now, I have to do something else.”

Pictured here is one of the dedicated tablets in a ruggedized casing that small fleet owner Frerichs has installed in each of his Volvo tractors, today running the non-395.15-compliant BigRoad logbook app. Says Frerichs of his guarded embrace of e-logs with a plan to turn to a fully compliant AOBRD later in the year, “I would have probably made this move a couple of years ago.” Like so many others, “I’m kind of waiting on the ruling,” he says. “I don’t want to find out that a year from now, I have to do something else.”

Tom Schmuck of the five-truck Fairway Building Products fleet in Mt. Joy, Pa., says the distribution side of the business has benefited greatly from in-office fleet visibility enabled by BigRoad’s DashLink system, now in all of its trucks. His logistics manager can respond accurately to customers’ questions about arrival times.

Schmuck, like Frerichs, now envisions the ability to update driver bonus programs by establishing improvement goals for fuel efficiency, hard stops and the like by using the expanded window into truck and driver performance. Working with receiver customers on geofencing for automatic alerts that a truck has entered a specified range from the delivery location is “where it’s going,” he says.

Since introduction of its DashLink AOBRD-compliant system a little less than a year ago, BigRoad’s outfitted about 2,000 users with the hardware and mobile software, capable of running on Android and iOS smartphones and tablets.

Since introduction of its DashLink AOBRD-compliant system a little less than a year ago, BigRoad’s outfitted about 2,000 users with the hardware and mobile software, capable of running on Android and iOS smartphones and tablets.

Collaborative sharing of operational information will not be comfortable for everyone – or even beneficial. Owner-operators whose shipper and receiver customers differ daily might not see much use from geofencing, though smartphones in general do enable location sharing with receivers for notifications where it makes sense. (Overdrive’s Trucker Tools app’s “Load track” function is one way, among others, to share information on a load.)

To the extent that fully compliant AOBRDs are little more than a software add-on to an existing device, operators already in the habit of sharing information to improve customer service may see little effort expended to get used to logs and other functionality.

E-log users can post and read reviews of devices via CCJ’s Reader Reviews website. 

For those who want to limit over-the-air transmission of data as much as possible and still “get ahead of the curve” on e-logs, however, there is a 395.15-compliant option without required service plans to pay for airtime: Continental’s VDO RoadLog. It’s a self-contained unit, compliant today and tomorrow under the ELD standard, “at least as far as we can project what the feds will do,” says James McCarthy, in business development with Continental.

“It’s a lot harder for an owner-operator to commit to this technology” today versus a large fleet, he says. Nonetheless, since the product’s introduction years ago, the owner-operator and small fleet owner have been Continental’s focus.

Continental’s VDO RoadLog AOBRD is virtually alone in the market today with a product that includes an option for accommodating enforcement officers by providing them with logs as they’re used to seeing them – on paper. Also unique is RoadLog’s lack of ongoing monthly fees.

Continental’s VDO RoadLog AOBRD is virtually alone in the market today with a product that includes an option for accommodating enforcement officers by providing them with logs as they’re used to seeing them – on paper. Also unique is RoadLog’s lack of ongoing monthly fees.

His pitch to owner-operators rests on the unique nature of the basic RoadLog device in a market saturated with Internet-connected devices that enable at least the potential of over-the-air communication of driver hours information. RoadLog’s basic version does not have that capability; operators receive notifications from it in-cab, and a built-in printer is used during inspections.

“If you’re handing a cell phone to someone” to check your logs, McCarthy notes, it’s good to keep in mind that “you’re handing a very personal device to that patrolman.”

RoadLog in its basic form, however, is a single-function device. Hours information for storage is pulled off with the driver key that then can be plugged into a laptop computer. Updates to the software on the device run from the operator’s computer back to the device. Essentially, McCarthy says, with the plug into the data port to the ECM, the RoadLog is reading the odometer and also using GPS within the device for location.

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Muhammad, however, was after something more. After getting some pushback from the driver in his second truck on the BigRoad app’s data usage on his data plan (the driver was footing the bill), Muhammad looked into a more dedicated unit he could provide for logs that offered dispatch utility and other services in a single truck-dedicated package. He took a new Rand McNally TND760 AOBRD unit on its maiden voyage last month on his regular Atlanta-to-Raleigh/Durham reefer run.

View basic specs on 13 different electronic logging systems currently compliant under the AOBRD standard in the comparative chart at this link.

“If you’re not willing to adapt to change, you’ll get left behind,” he adds. “History is full of examples of people who were pigheaded and didn’t want to adapt to what the going way was at the time.”

Get ready, he suggests. Change is coming.

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