Blockchain could tame the blame game for owner-operators

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Our January cover story, “Your link in the blockchain,” introduced readers to a broad technology that could render a lot of finger-pointing in the supply chain a moot issue.

Blockchain will likely affect owner-operators in a good way, given that some of their problems have lingered for decades due to the lack of accountability among shippers, brokers and other parties. The accuracy and immediacy of blockchain records, typically called a “distributed ledger,” could bring some needed change.

Faster processing of accurate detention pay isn’t the only benefit drivers could gain through blockchain’s documentation of steps in the supply chain.Faster processing of accurate detention pay isn’t the only benefit drivers could gain through blockchain’s documentation of steps in the supply chain.

It could well mirror part of what happened with another technology of precision: electronic logging devices. Many owner-operators who opposed e-logs later came to appreciate the relief from pressure to drive well over hours and fudge the logs, not to mention escaping the tedium of manual logging. Much of the remaining opposition is based on losing the productivity edge that came from minor fudging to grab a few extra miles and resolve the absurd technicalities of how the hours of service rule plays out in real life.

As the ELD mandate took hold, more individuals and organizations, including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, acknowledged that ELDs are just a tool pointing to the real problem: the hours rule itself. The ongoing legislative proposals that resulted might not have happened if a technological advance had not magnified the rule’s inherent problems for all to see.

Now it’s blockchain technology that aspires to shine a light into trucking’s shadows. One of the first such benefits cited for owner-operators has been detention pay. Blockchain promises to go beyond just GPS records with a more thorough record of all delivery details and, more importantly, real-time sharing of that information with every party that needs to know them. Detention pay, where contracted, should be fair and speedy.

Quick pay, made possible by invoices rapidly verified and shared, was among topics of potential benefit to owner-operators that surfaced during last month’s Transparency18 conference in Atlanta. It was put on by data company Freightwaves and tied to the Blockchain in Transport Alliance.

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Another idea was a Learning Machine system using blockchain for placing “ownership of records in the hands of the recipient.” That includes drivers, who would no longer be subject to the delays or inaccuracies common when records are held only by a government agency or a fleet.

A service by PEIR relies on time- and location-stamped smartphone photos in the blockchain to help narrow the blame when cargo or containers are damaged. “It’s very cheap insurance,” said David Carnes of PEIR.

Owner-operators and fleets have been the whipping boys too often when a delivery goes awry. If technology grabs snapshots of the truth and blockchain rubber-stamps them for all to see, that’s a step forward.