It’s all up to the Old Man now. We did our part. We traveled 19,600 miles EXPEDITED — meaning go, go, go — for four weeks setting up Santa for his final run. In the retail world, it’s called two-day delivery.
While consumers delight in this service, it’s a tough business for drivers. So tough that, literally, hours after we completed our final run, I was down with a cough and sore throat, worn out by the four weeks.
It’s a pace, a corporate policy, set by what we call, the evil-MBA department to maximize profits.
We have run team expedited freight before this Christmas, for a year and a half we were owner operators at Forward Air. Their running times were based on a blended speed limit, between 48 mph in California where the truck speed limit is 55 mph and as high as 56 when crossing the country because speed limits are 75 in Texas, Wyoming, Arizona and New Mexico. I think its significant that some of the we-hate-government-rules states like Idaho and Arkansas, have a 70 mph speed limit and a 65 mph TRUCK limit.
Many of the states with high speed limits have terrible roads, like Arizona. Currently the winner of my vote for the worst roads in the US particularly westbound out of Flagstaff on I-40 and eastbound out of Tucson on I-10. Rough roads and high speeds is a bad combination.
The new 85 mph speed limit on the Texas toll road out of Austin is ridiculously stupid. I will not drive on a road where maniacs can travel at 85 mph while they text and eat an ice cream cone at the same time. I have now decided I cannot wait for driverless cars, even though driverless trucks — which are coming too — will end this business for us.
My feeling is just because you can drive at 75 mph, it should not be assumed that you will drive at 75 mph, or 70 or 65 or even 60. If there’s a crash, and the driver goes before a judge, I can tell you the first question asked. “Driver what did your common sense tell you about the conditions and your speed?”
Driving an inappropriate speed for the conditions is a charge. If a truck driver crashes, then the speed was inappropriate, simple as that.
There there is the stress, overtly and covertly, of meeting a schedule, especially during the winter. One of our Santa runs this month was an average of 58 mph, which means we’d need to travel consistently at 70 in order to have time to fuel, change drivers and pee, never mind actually sitting for 15 minutes to eat a sandwich. We alerted everyone to our concern from the day we received the run information, and were given assurances not to worry. The day we picked up the load the transit time was unchanged. We announced we’d be late and the freaking out started.
“You have to be there,” we were told. “It’s a three-day sort.”
Because of our initiative we picked up the load early and were only one hour late, but once we arrived we were grateful for the six hour window before the next load to rest up.
On another leg from Denver, Colorado to Los Angeles, California, in a snowstorm, we crossed three mountain ranges between 8,000 feet and 11,000 feet, which required throwing our automatic tire chains to keep moving. When we arrived we were told that we were 15 minutes late, but, we were to park the trailer in the lot across the street because it wouldn’t be unloaded for another 24 hours, then go to another lot to wait six hours for our next load. Go figure!
The biggest surprise — since Christmas is not a recent discovery and shopping, two-day delivery and package shipping has been underway for many years, if not decades, and every year contractor trucks are recruited to augment capacity for existing fleets — is how little information we received about the routes and delivery locations.
Before trucking, I would have thought that we’d receive a package with maps AND detailed directions for each location with a contact phone number. That’s what I’d do if I was in charge of the operation. We received some maps, which were mostly useless and no directions to augment the maps. The attitude seemed to be, if you do this again, you’ll know.
Memo to Corporate your official addresses is not where the big trucks enter, it’s where the executives go. MapQuest is not reliable big truck directions, the GPS is not reliable for some of the out-of-the-way depots we visited and your entrance signs with the small type are at eye-level only if you’re driving a Lambourghini.
Dispatch in every terminal we visited was helpful, especially with the gps-will-tell-you-but-don’t-turn-down-that-street tips, but I had to ask each time for a contact phone number.
There’s nothing scarier than turning down a narrow road, pulling a 53 foot trailer wondering how you will turn around if you have made a mistake.
Flashback to leaving the new METS stadium in Flushing, Queens in November with a Hurricane Sandy load. We knew the dangers. We were given bum directions. The GPS was useless, there were no directional signs posted by the DOT or New York City and questionable low clearance signs everywhere. We came face-to-face with a REAL 12’ 2” clearance sign. We were 13’ 6” high.
In rush hour traffic, in the dark, I had to back MacGyver down almost a half a mile, forcing the car traffic around us, to turn right. Half way down that block we realized we were still heading the wrong way.
A band of roving Canadian electrical workers from Toronto, working on the hurricane clean up and restoration, helped us by stopping traffic on three streets so that we could turn around and head back the other way. It took an hour to get ourselves out of that predicament and onto the right highway.
Typically these two-day delivery runs are handled by drivers on a regular run, who know the roads, the conditions, the construction, the traffic but to me it shows the giant disconnect between shipping and safety and the perseverance and professionalism of most truck drivers.
If the goal is true safety, not safety-as-dictated-by-the-corporate-bottom-line, and so far the federal regulators and politicians are blinded by the corporate line, that Electronic On Board Recorders, EOBRs, will improve safety, then shippers must be brought into the regulation equation. As it stands now, the incentive for drivers, who are working to earn a living because delivering the nations goods is a job, not a charity, is to drive at the top of the speed limit to meet the it-works-on-paper demands.
The American Trucking Association, the ATA, is fighting the new Hours of Service rules, which shorten the driving day, and lengthen and limit the 34 hour restart because it is potentially a drag on their profits — my profits don’t count — not because they worry about safety.
So listen up Anne Ferro, she is the head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, it is this corporate mandated pace, not the length of the driving day that is a contributing factor in crashes. The Hours of Service changes which take effect in 2013 have a good chance of contributing to, not preventing big truck crashes because they are upping the pace required for drivers to make a living and owner operators to earn a profit.
The evidence supporting an 11-hour driving day as a crash indicator is sketchy at best, mostly keyed on by safety groups, politicians and regulators who have only received packages, never delivered them, but the evidence shows that a combination of driving too fast and following too closely — both for car drivers, as well as truck drivers — is a leading cause of crashes. We see this daily.
Thank you for interest in these pages this past year.
Merry Christmas from Santa’s elves.