A small fleet whose owner I know well recently had a problem getting through to his ELD provider’s account reps about the return of hardware he wasn’t using, had been attempting to return for quite some time, and was still being charged for. I reached out to the ELD company’s press office with details of the situation, and within the span of a day the problem was resolved. Though a company with its shop in order might never have to triage a customer-service case after being contacted by an editor of a magazine, this one was illustrative at least of a service provider willing to do what’s right.
A different small fleet owner, Thomas Holland, is a retired law enforcement officer who lives out in the Los Angeles area. For the past few years, he’s grown a trucking company headquartered in Lancaster, California, Holland Logistics -- MC# 1143553, USDOT# 3482656. Last fall, brokers he used began giving him an unexpected piece of news -- according to a third-party lookup service those middlemen used to check a carrier’s authority, Holland Logistics was not authorized to carry property freight, they told him.
Yet then and now, Thomas Holland’s carrier authority in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Safer system database showed as follows, Holland said. That's right. Authorized.
The third-party lookup tool’s reps, Holland said, claimed any issue was FMCSA’s, stemming from a system outage in August of 2022 that required a reset of the federal system and the loss of a considerable amount of data. Yet when Holland reached out to FMCSA, he said, reps there told him what amounted to the opposite, that a private third party mining federal data and having issues of accuracy representing the reality within the federal system would seem to have issues of its own.
In efforts to see if I might be able to help Holland in his own efforts to resolve the discrepancy, I reached out to the third-party provider and to FMCSA about potential issues on their end. The provider dug its heels in, alternately denying there was a problem and then blaming FMCSA for it, while FMCSA insisted that data in its own system is accurate as to Holland Logistics' authority. Reps in the FMCSA public affairs office noted they would reach out in an attempt to work with the third party provider to get the issue resolved. I truly hope those efforts bear fruit, though Holland notes his experience with the third party to date doesn’t give him much hope.
It's worth noting: other third parties that carriers and insurance providers use (and which I have the capability to check), and some that brokers use, according to Holland, do not have the same problem representing Holland Logistics’ authority as it is, active.
The confusion the issue puts in the minds even of brokers Holland has worked with repeatedly -- and most definitely those he hasn't -- has so hampered his efforts to secure freight that he feels like he’s staring down the end of the line for his business. “When you get on the phone with these brokers,” he said, “they don’t want to take the time to go to Safer,” the authority-lookup standard FMCSA urges all parties to rely on. The back-and-forth Holland and his staff experience over questions about their authority means, often enough, by the time set-up is achieved, whatever load they were initially talking about is well on its way, behind the truck of another carrier.
Having grown to four trucks in the business’s first couple years, with this issue ongoing now for more than six months amid an increasingly difficult spot freight market, Holland said, revenue is down considerably. He’s sitting at just two company drivers and two company trucks, he said, with a third truck leased on with another carrier.
“My dispatcher is calling me all day, saying, ‘another load gone,’” he said, given extended conversations about authority validation, throwing a wrench in the freight-procurement process.
Third parties using public data to my way of thinking have a huge responsibility to represent that data as accurately as possible. Though in this case Holland is no customer of the service at issue, utilized and paid for by brokers as it is, he ought to be treated like he is a customer, given the importance of the data about his business.
The upshot: Brokers, next time you verify a carrier’s authority, take the time to type in the company MC at this link to FMCSA’s Safer lookup for a gut check. If you’re on the phone with Holland Logistics, here’s the reality when it comes to the company’s authority.
[Related: A $21K overdue bill for ELD service never used? The power of personal networks for 2022 solutions]