Wes Memphis answers your questions on ELDs’ potential income effect

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The reality of running fully electronic — with a device connected to the truck’s engine control module automating drive time recording — versus with paper logs or their laptop/smartphone-program equivalents is staring down most owner-operators, as we know. The conventional wisdom is that e-logs represent a threat to income, as you can see in this poll, conducted here at OverdriveOnline.com over a couple weeks. The first graph comprises responses to the question only from those not yet running e-logs:

What (if any) income effect do you expect from a switch to engine-connected e-logs?

A whopping 9 in 10 Overdrive readers who haven’t switched to e-logs expect a negative effect on income with ELDs. However, for those who’ve already made the switch, mostly leased owner-operators if trends seen in our surveys from last year hold, actual results show a much more mixed distribution of positive, negative and neutral outcomes, with the last nearly as likely as the negative so many have seen:

Former owner-operator, current company driver (and pseudonymous Channel 19 contributor) Wes Memphis told his story of switching to e-logs at a small-to-mid-size Midwest carrier last year. He returned to the blog a couple weeks back with a report on his own income numbers for the first, mostly full year of e-logs, compared to the year before that. As noted then, he found a more or less neutral effect, though he did make about $50 more, all things considered (and a lot of them at that), in the first e-log year. There were several questions asked in the comments. (Also in those comments, some howled like a President of the United States, delivering charges of fake news and the like, at the reality he noted — that $50 I mentioned earlier.)

In any case, Memphis particularly wanted to respond directly to some the questions, which follow. If you missed his prior check-in, you can read that via this link:

Memphis’ responses follow:

The Other Mike asks:
“New trailers, invest time and effort into a new drop-and-hook system, pay raise, better paying loads over the other drivers, higher speeds, cost of two different ELD systems, etc. I’m doing the math in my head and it is not adding up…. That is quite a bit of money [invested by the carrier] to pay a guy an extra $50 a year. Or did I fall and hit my head? This would break many small carriers in a matter of months.”

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Great points, Mike. I work for a small carrier with about 100 trucks. The addition of more trailers to the fleet has been taking place over the course of the last few years, as has the acquisition of more drop-and-hook accounts. The pilot program for the ELDs used just 10 drivers. Trust me, the company was none too happy to have to scrap that first system and upgrade to a better one, as there were two-year contracts out on the tablets. Last I heard they were going to fight the first e-log provider over the early termination fees they incurred on the grounds they, the provider, were in breach due to chronic service failures. As I mentioned, yes, my loads were easier at first, but they have gotten tougher as more hands have switched over. I suppose another way to look at it would be if you were in management, and it strikes me you may have been at some point, and you were tasked with implementing an ELD model, would you start your guinea pigs out on drop and hook one and one-, two-day 1,100-mile freight? Or would you put them down for those good ol’ one and three, live-load, 670-mile overnight ball busters? As for turning up the trucks, bear in mind that was just for the drivers who have switched over to ELDs, and I think we’re at about 25 total now.

Just between you and me, I don’t see how faster trucks will be sustainable in the long run. I’m down to 6.2 from 6.9 mpg. That’s a lot of dough. That said, we have a gentleman here in his late 60s who has been working for these folks for nearly 20 years. He related to me that, upon reading the announcement in the monthly newsletter that the company, as much as they hated having to do this, would be gradually transitioning to ELDs in anticipation of the 12/18 deadline, walked upstairs to the president’s office and told him, “The day you put one of those things in my truck is the day I retire.”

Well, several months passed, and he kept getting his doors blown off by the e-loggers. A lot of them were newbies. Some he’d never even seen before. Long story short, last I heard he was running “on the clock,” as they call it around the shop. Honestly, to your point, it wouldn’t surprise me if they took some of that speed away at some point.

Wayne asks:
“How much home time was lost?”

Wayne, this was the best question anyone had, because it caused me to dig into some numbers and alter my own opinion. Incidentally, I have just now figured my days out for the tax lady. I counted 268 days out in 2016 on ELDs, versus 247 days out in 2015. So, if my longhand division is still intact, that’s nearly 9 percent more days out to make the same dough. When this all began, the big boss told me they figured we were in for a 15 percent hit, so they gave us a raise which amounted to six percent and turned our trucks up. By staying out 9 percent more or, roughly, two extra days a month, I was at least able to maintain my level of income; moreover, I talked to an old friend of maybe 20 years. We’ve been co-workers at two different companies together, and compare year-end numbers. He was out 267 days, nearly identical to me, and had made nearly $5,000 more. So, while I was able to take up the slack, the numbers are about what the old man said they would be. Thanks for the question, and happy trails.

Joel Howell asks:
“So you’ve never missed a meal because you couldn’t afford to stop because it would mess up your hours? Never parked where you are worried about maybe getting a ticket because you ran out of hours? Never skipped a shower because you can’t afford to stop? Never drove into traffic during rush hour because you can’t afford to wait it out? Never get stressed about being on a clock when things go wrong? Never are late for pickups or deliveries? Never drive tired because the e-log says you are good to go? Never miss a connection because of e-logs?”

Yes, Joel, all these things happen from time to time, the worst one being the inability to avoid rush-hour traffic, which is something I deal with all the time. But the hardest thing about e-logs is something you haven’t mentioned — the inability to sleep for hours when you get stopped. I try to walk when I get stopped. The company has installed Dish TVs in trucks for whoever is willing to pay the monthly charge. I’m a cheapskate; I just Youtube and blog. That said, the scenarios you detail are more a function of unrealistic expectations by dispatch than a 14-hour clock. If you’re not chronically overtasked by overzealous planning, most of these are periodic annoyances. I’ve had to learn to simply do the best I can and let things fail if they must.

This is counterintuitive to everything we learn about what a good driver does. I’ve always maintained that in order to be successful as a reefer hauler, it’s imperative you be from a dysfunctional family — a little alcoholism here, a little spousal abandonment there — because you still have no voice, and whenever anything goes wrong it’s always going to be your fault, just like when you were a kid. When you’re placed on an interactive grid, though, it begins a conversation about real-world transit times. One of the most interesting developments , as more and more drivers have come on board to ELDs  is the profile of who actually volunteers. It’s usually someone in middle age who has been the go-to guy or gal, and has had a recent medical scare. One driver confided that he was coming aboard so he could simply tell the produce division to stick it. In a very real sense, for these drivers, who have made the grueling overnighters work for years, ELDs became an act of protest, like a work slowdown by the Eastern Airline pilots, circa 1976, if you will.

So here’s the thing — despite some virulent accusations to the contrary, I’m really not an advocate for ELDs. I’m not fake news. Just pinched myself. I’m real. It really doesn’t matter to me what any of y’all do. To be completely candid, it would be in my own best interests from a pure market standpoint if about 200,000 drivers said, “Screw it. I’m done.” Then there would be plenty of freight, rates would skyrocket, and maybe I could  make it to the finish line before unmanned trucks make all of our jobs obsolete. But before packing it in, I decided to see what ELDs looked like with competent management, decent people who care in charge; and the message I carry is, this isn’t always easy, but it’s not doomsday either. As one ol’ boy told me last week, “These ain’t as hateful as I thought they’d be, but they’re still a real pain in the ass, sometimes.”

About the best way I can describe it — it’s like when John Wayne had to die in “The Cowboys.” Nobody likes dying in their own movie, and make no mistake, transitioning to ELDs has meant the death of a way of life, one’s view of what makes a good hand. In fact, what I read in a great many of your remarks reflect  Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ groundbreaking five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining and Acceptance. There’s a lot of pissed-off Rooster Cogburns in these comments. There are some who got through this all right, and some who didn’t.

According to Bruce Dern,the day The Duke arrived on the set knowing his character Wil Andersen was about to die, he had already polished off a fifth of Wild Turkey, and was well into his second bottle. During that legendary fight scene, Wayne pulled no punches, and literally broke Dern’s nose against a tree. But when it was all said and done, after Andersen was shot in the back by Dern’s character, the despicable Longhair, the Duke did all any good ol’ boy could do. He picked up his bottle and went home. He was still John Wayne. He just went out and found a new script, a new role and shot a new movie. This probably isn’t going to kill you in real life, hand. Just try not to beat the hell out of anybody.

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