One month into the brave new world of ELD-land, harried carriers, brokers and their customers are so focused on moving freight that a key part of the picture — detention practices — apparently isn’t changing, even though drivers’ minutes are becoming more precious every day.

Earlier this week, a Midwest refrigerated carrier executive neatly summed up the situation, telling this blogger “everyone is talking about detention [among shippers], but I don’t have a piece of paper [log] to cover their ‘sins’ anymore.”

Simultaneously, an executive from the broker side illustrated how the overall picture is changing in a potentially scary direction. He says drivers are shortening their days to make sure they don’t run out of hours and delaying deliveries to avoid running out of hours and the risk of being caught by law enforcement. He doesn’t think shippers will move truckers through their facilities faster until they see the economic consequences, which hasn’t happened yet. 

Surely, many readers will respond by saying ‘when brokers start telling shippers that they won’t get a truck, the shipper’s going to change his tune.’ Where does that leave the broker, who could find himself without a customer? How does that help anything in the long run?

Two other factors further dramatize the importance of improving detention behavior.

As crazy as the market is today, experts such as Donald Broughton, founder of Broughton Capital, remind us that it’s still January, when freight is supposed to be slow. What will happen when freight volume begins to pick up, and build toward that summer crescendo?

“We have yet to see the real test of capacity,” Broughton says. “There is broad agreement on that.” 

And, even if freight doesn’t pick up as much as expected, the April 1 date — when non-compliant drivers can be put out of service — could potentially lead more drivers to park their trucks. 

What can anyone do to improve the situation in ELD-land? Here are some suggestions:

Develop — and share — information - Because trucking’s time in ELD-land has been so short, we don’t really know yet how much less time drivers are spending on the road. CarrierLists hopes to have some statistical indicators ready in early February. That’s a great first step. Proof of lost time certainly would dramatize the importance of using minutes better, even if there isn’t any specific information about detention.

Trust the market to fix itself, gradually - ELD-land has been treacherous because last-minute demand from procrastinators and non-believers swamped device suppliers just before the Dec. 18 compliance date, and delayed some equipment deliveries. Some drivers are reporting technical glitches. These issues should get resolved soon, and new users will grow accustomed to the new processes.

Be patient - Shippers have an entire business to run, and transport is just one part of it. ELD-land is new to them, too, and like truckers, shippers appear to have labor shortages of their own. Given past practice, it’s unrealistic to expect that shippers and receivers will suddenly change the way they operate to always please truckers. It hasn’t happened for a century or so, when markets shifted before. Why would the ELD mandate be different?

Recognize detention as an opportunity - Driver detention has been a cause for hand-wringing and complaints whenever capacity tightened in the past. Now it's time to recognize it as an opportunity. Really. Everyone gains if the driver’s day becomes more efficient.

Sadly, one prominent brokerage official reports that some shippers are moving to tighten appointment times. At first glance, that sounds like it’s helping, but it’s not. Consider what happens when widespread traffic congestion causes a driver to miss that tighter window. The shipper’s plans are messed up, the driver is penalized, and the broker has both parties mad at them. 

In fact, tightening a delivery window also misses the important, larger point by doing nothing to address the real problem: cutting down on time spent inside the terminal.

Industry experts such as John Seidl, a former FMCSA inspector, in recent weeks have made another valuable observation. Brokers have an opportunity, and an incentive, to educate customers about the mandate.

Will information, market faith, looking at detention in a positive way, and patience eventually make life better in ELD-land? Maybe or maybe not. Tell us what you think will make it better.

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Rip Watson

Rip Watson’s professional transportation experience spans more than 40 years, including reporting positions at Transport Topics, Bloomberg News and the Journal of Commerce. During that time, he accumulated in-depth experience as well as insight into all aspects of freight transportation, logistics and passenger travel. He gained first-hand experience while working at CSX, Greyhound and arranging student travel for AFS International. Currently, he edits the Intermodal Association of North America’s Insights magazine.

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