ELDs, hours, parking: Owner-operators’ top 3 critical issues

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Updated Nov 30, 2015

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Following the American Transportation Research Institute’s annual release of its top 10 critical-issues survey and report, based in part of surveys of fleet representatives and others in trucking (including many operators), Overdrive asked readers to name their No. 1 concern among the ATRI top ten. Results follow, based on more than 1,100 responses.

Owner-operators’ ranking of the top 10 critical issues

You can review the ranks from ATRI’s report at the following link.

Considerable common ground is seen in hours of service, CSA, parking (No. 1, No.2 and No. 5, respectively, in ATRI’s rankings) and related issues, with owner-operators giving significantly more weight to the impending electronic-logs mandate (No. 6 in the ATRI list) than ATRI’s survey participants.

Not in ATRI’s list was an issue C.W. Moore believes should be considered in future, four-wheelers’ “lack of knowledge” and accountability on the highways: “I don’t care if I’m considered a ‘professional’ driver and they are not, they should still be held accountable for their actions, as we are held accountable for ours. There should be more education for noncommercial drivers, including continuing education courses on safety, sharing the road with other types of vehicles and driving in adverse weather conditions.”

Concerns with all of these issues were on offer in the discussion that followed publication of the “Getting in bed with the railroad” story about Jeff Schwartz’s Missouri Truck Ferry project. As previously reported, the project remains in development. In essence, the idea is for a driver up against the edge of his 14-hour clock or 11 hours of drive time to drive his own truck onto a railroad flatcar and shut down, retiring to a crew car up ahead for needed, federally mandated rest, for the trip across, in this instance, Missouri.

Such projects, if widely put in place, might hold potential to be impactful in several of the critical areas most important to Overdrive readers, to be part of a solution to the interconnected trucking problems associated with parking, the hours of service and the related electronic-log issue, angst over inspections and CSA and more, project lead Jeff Schwartz hopes.

Answering owner-operator Gordon Alkire’s question in a comment at OverdriveOnline.com – “But at what financial cost and to whom?” – Schwartz, of Metropolitan Community College in Kansas City, Mo., noted he planned to build the fee structure to be roughly equivalent to what would otherwise be operators’ costs to make the roughly five-hour run across Missouri, “so that the drivers keep their profit.”

Philip Frank, also commenting, however, speculated that fleets would find a way to use such service as a path toward reducing truck “rates to shippers. … They will not hesitate to not pay company drivers for time they are available to drive while onboard the train. These same execs will point to the partial truth that they are not keeping it, of course — they gave it to the shippers. They will do the right thing and what is right for them is to profit, so all means to that end is justified and right.”

Dave Pittman, who said he like the idea in theory, offered a similar perspective for an eventual future: “The only people who will make out [in the positive are those] who pay for the freight and the railroad. I like the theory behind it, but I don’t like what I see for its future.”

Others viewed the idea, however, as “new and novel,” as Alkire put it. “It does have merit.”

A reader commenting only as John T. noted he could see potential utility on one of his regular lanes from Ohio to Denver, Colo. “I always get into Missouri someplace before I shut down for the day. It may be Kingdom City, it may be Higginsville. If I can shut down in St. Louis and start up in K.C. I’m ahead of the game but the cost is the final factor. I’ve pulled enough trailers out of Denver rail yards to know there could be a big problem if you are going in and out the same gates as the locals. There needs to be a dedicated gate and staging area for only truck-ferry traffic.”

For an owner-operator who will be paid the same regardless of whether the wheels are in fact turning, “If you can drive [the distance across Missouri] in 5 hours,” Schwartz asks, “why would we take the train in 10? Really, it’s a comparison with 10 hours on the train” and 10 hours sitting still.

A trip across the state on a train, by such calculations, could be worth whatever the 250 miles is worth in net income — about $155, based on the average numbers of independent clients of ATBS.

And, of course: theoretically, at least, it would reduce the chances of a time-consuming encounter with one of those Missouri inspectors and their penchant for hours, brake and tire violations.

Another notable difference in owner-operators’ concerns versus the overall ATRI poll was the higher ranking for the national economy and its health, which placed in the top five in Overdrive‘s poll but was at No. 8 in ATRI’s ranking. Anecdotal reports of slow freight this fall — reflected in a variety of spot market analyses — has prompted further worry of a potential wider recession to come in recent months, though analysts recently estimated the chances as particularly small, at least in 2016.

As owner-operator Richard Fassett put it earlier, in June, however, watching the economic numbers and spot market activity on the load boards: “Owner-operators better tighten their belts now. If I’m seeing the cards right, there is rough water ahead.”

How does the economy look from where you’re sitting? If you’re reading on a smartphone, tap the image to call and leave us a message to weigh in. We’ll round up responses in a special mailbag podcast. Alternately, drop a comment below. If you’re on a desktop, call 530-408-6423. Make sure to tell us your name and state of residence.How does the economy look from where you’re sitting? If you’re reading on a smartphone, tap the image to call and leave us a message to weigh in. We’ll round up responses in a special mailbag podcast. Alternately, drop a comment below. If you’re on a desktop, call 530-408-6423. Make sure to tell us your name and state of residence.

Join the discussion on the Missouri Truck Ferry project under the story at the following link:

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