It’s a typical ad on the back of a truck: DRIVERS WANTED. FAIR PAY. FAIR TREATMENT. MORE TIME HOME WITH FAMILY.
Truck drivers are absolutely essential to the United States economy. According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), 15.5 million trucks deliver nearly 70 percent of all freight transported annually in the U.S., and 3.5 million truck drivers make sure it all happens. Yet the freight industry has a massive problem attracting and retaining them.
According to The Washington Post, there was a shortage of 51,000 truck drivers at the end of 2017, up from 36,000 in 2016. The ATA now estimates that, by 2026, that figure could surpass 174,000. The problem is not just in finding truck drivers; it’s keeping them, too. The annualized truck driver turnover rate at large truckload carriers rose to 94 percent in the first quarter of 2018, up 20 percent from a year earlier. That means a typical trucker is either shifting employers every year or leaving the field entirely.
In this, the ATA National Truck Driver Appreciation Week (September 9-15), how do we ensure that truck drivers feel… well, appreciated? One way to create happier drivers that you may never have considered is the implementation of automated route planning and scheduling software. Here’s why.
Driver compensation is about more than per-hour or per-drop pay rates. It’s also about drivers maximizing their earning potential, especially with the Hours of Service (HoS) limits now enforced via the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandate introduced this year. The Journal of Commerce reported in August evidence that truckers are now over-estimating the time taken to make a delivery in order to avoid potential HoS violations and fines. As a consequence, estimates of transit times on 450- to 550-mile lanes have risen by as much as 16 percent, post-ELD enforcement, according to a survey by Zipline Logistics.
The Zipline survey also found that 95 percent of respondents are struggling to make deliveries under the Mandate. Drivers are now forced to formally include the time they spend waiting at shippers and receivers in their hours of service records, which means they have less time to drive. Because drivers typically get paid for miles driven or deliveries made, rather than driving time, the consequence is that driver pay is taking a hit.
One of the problems is the inefficiencies that come from less-than-ideal route planning and execution. Many companies still use manual or rudimentary route planning methodologies, which deliver at best a rough guess about how many hours or minutes to allocate to each delivery. Multi-drop routes are a particular problem. A delay at one delivery location accumulates across the rest of the route, usually resulting in a driver having to abandon one or more later deliveries – reducing the number of hours driven and the pay earned.
With automated route planning and scheduling software, a computer algorithm – rather than a human brain – figures out exactly how much time is needed for deliveries and how to pack as many hours into an HoS-restricted day as possible. The software also allows for real-world information to be fed back into the system to improve the accuracy of planning. For example, drivers can report habitual delays at a particular customer site, so that schedules can be adjusted to minimize the impact of those delays. Allowing a planner to maximize the time drivers are actually driving, rather than waiting, benefits the driver, because they are more likely to clock and get paid for the most number of hours, right up to the HoS limits.
Further, because route optimization automatically calculates how many hours a driver has already done, and assigns routes that will keep him or her within the limits, drivers can rest assured they’re compliant with HoS regulations and will avoid fines.
It’s not uncommon for us to hear of younger drivers or drivers with a shorter track record getting the routes left over when dispatchers have given the choice routes to other, more experienced drivers; or sometimes just the more vocal ones! The favoritism may actually be unintended, and simply the result of a driver asking to stick to the routes they already know.
Better route planning and scheduling software makes it easier for a dispatcher to deal with new drivers fairly, while at the same time treating established ones right. It also allows dispatchers to arrange for new drivers to work alongside seasoned drivers when teams are required, helping spread decades of road know-how to the new recruits.
Another element of “fairness” is avoiding asking drivers to do a job they’re not trained to do – adjusting delivery schedules on the fly. All too often, drivers receive instructions from the transport office that they believe, rightly or wrongly, won’t suit traffic conditions, delivery windows, or congestion at the point of delivery. They will then re-order their drops or pick-ups to suit “real world” road conditions. But route planning and scheduling is not the skill drivers are paid for, and there’s no reason they should be performing this task. Route optimization software automatically assesses dozens of “real world” criteria, allowing the driver to confidently focus on driving, not route planning.
Getting home in time for dinner or the weekend is something increasingly cited as a make-or-break factor for drivers. As this typical trucking blog argues: “Home time is one of the most important considerations you should make when choosing a truck driving job.”
Route optimization software can take into account personal factors, not least the request to design routes that get a driver home with their families at night. The schedule can be tailored to make sure a driver’s specific needs or restrictions are catered to – while fitting in with an efficient route plan.
Route optimization software takes multiple factors into account – pre-arranged delivery windows, drop-off hours, historical average road speeds, and even regular events such as sporting fixtures. Route plans are more realistic and achievable, so drivers aren’t worrying about making an appointment in time, or encountering closed delivery entry gates, or heavy congestion caused by Major League Baseball games. Being able to trust that they’ll be where they’re supposed to be, exactly when they’re supposed to be there, also makes it far more likely that drivers will end their shifts on time for that most important appointment – arriving home.
All in all, the freight industry is faced with the serious challenge of focusing on truck driver appreciation – something, frankly, it hasn’t typically bothered with much in the past. As this May 28, 2018 feature in The Washington Post highlights, many drivers feel a huge lack of respect, and also that the job involves kissing their social life goodbye. With the average age of a truck driver edging over 50, the industry desperately needs to attract younger drivers. It’s hard to imagine Generation Y or Z agreeing to accept these working conditions which – we would argue – are largely unnecessary.
Commenting on a recent online poll of 8,500 drivers by Stifel Capital Markets, WorkHound’s CEO said: “Ultimately the thing that stood out to us is that trucking is still a people business and that relationships ultimately matter to drivers. So in order to facilitate that, we have to make sure that drivers are being respected and get treated well.”
We couldn’t agree more. Deploying automated route planning and scheduling software that gives drivers a fairer shake while maximizing their pay and time home with family is a good way to start.
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