September 2007 | Commentary | Carriers Corner

Helping Truckers Survive and Flourish

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What is the biggest challenge facing carriers today? Pick one: the driver shortage, fuel prices, insurance costs, new equipment costs, shipper and consignee demands, customs delays, border delays, technology demands. And the list goes on and on.

Ask our company that question and we'd answer "drivers."

Insurance companies want us to only hire drivers who have three years of experience. Some insurance companies do not recognize overseas work as driving experience. Others let us recruit drivers from overseas.

Culture Clash

I recently attended a seminar sponsored by an insurance company. The key takeaway was this: a carrier's culture has to change before it can change the driver.

When people emigrate to North America from other countries, they bring with them the will to work. The hardest adjustment is the mentality change required to work within the North American infrastructure. Carriers who don't clearly communicate their ideas, or try to do everything on their own, will go the way of the dinosaur.

On the other hand, should carriers turn over their equipment and set new drivers upon the unsuspecting public simply because they have experience? No, not until carriers do due diligence.

We need to check new drivers' background, credit history, driving history, medical history, and previous employment history—all within the constraints of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).

Who pays for all this? Who pays when carriers are requested to drop their equipment and return at a later date to pick it up? Who pays when goods move in-bond? Who pays when a driver is delayed at Customs? Who pays to help defray the costs of installing and running C-TPAT-compliant software? Who pays to help defray the cost of being an ACE-compliant company? Who pays the added costs involved in staying ahead of security concerns on both sides of the border?

The carriers.

Yet some shippers and consignees continue to push the market into a downward spiral through high-pressure rate negotiations.

To the reasonable shippers and consignees, as some of the larger companies are, the trucking industry says, "thank you." Your goods will make it to market and you have agreed to pay accordingly.

Reputable carriers, load brokers, third-party logistics providers, and 4PLs will continue to flourish and grow, while the ones knocking on your door trying to save you $5 or $10 will not last. Somewhere along the line, loyalty has to be rewarded.

Why Aren't We Charging?

Recently, one of the many transportation companies we deal with every day instituted an ACE surcharge, a fee the U.S. government is charging all carriers that cross the border. But one shipper who uses that transportation company refused to pay the surcharge, and has ceased using the carrier's services.

When the carrier asked why it wouldn't pay the surcharge, the shipper replied, "No other carrier is charging it, why are you?"

The carrier responded to the customer this way: "We do not tell you what to charge for your product or the costs involved."

But the carrier's second question was directed to the trucking industry: "Why are all the other carriers not charging a surcharge to offset the costs of ACE-compatible computerization, C-TPAT security regulations, fast certification, new hours-of-service regulations, and training, retraining, and updating drivers, office staff, and equipment?"

When both shippers and consignees realize that everything they require of their carriers has an inherent cost involved, they are willing to pay accordingly. That will help good carriers, who are in it for the long term, to flourish and survive.

So-called load brokers, who take the money and run, do not have surety bonds, do not care about the legalities of transportation law, put more terms and conditions on the dispatch sheet to the carrier than the trouble it is worth to move the load, will not.

So much freight moves between Canada and the United States every day that the companies and carriers doing business there need to cooperate better, self-regulate more efficiently, and increase information flow. They also need to monitor and adjust credit in a timely and efficient manner.

What can carriers do as an industry? First, operate safer, within the confines of the law.

Second, don't extend credit to 3PLs or 4PLs just because they hang out a shingle and say they are in business. Credit is not automatically granted, it's a privilege that has to be earned.

Third, exchange information on others within our industry.

The old saying, "when in Rome do as the Romans do" is one we should take to heart. Why?

Because all owners, managers, supervisors, drivers, dispatchers, dock workers, accounts payable/accounts receivable departments, and administrative support staff only want one thing: respect. Carriers who communicate this from the top down will grow, and continue to grow.

Let's continue to grow, prosper, and flourish as an industry by getting back to basics. The trucking industry may not be the most glamorous, or the most high-tech. We may have trouble attracting workers.

Anyone who has been employed in this industry for more than a few years may leave it, but once trucking gets in their blood they always come back. Yes, it is difficult and requires long hours. But it is also exciting, challenging, and rewarding.

We should welcome anyone wanting to break into our industry with open arms. We should welcome the recommendations of anyone who has information that can help us operate smarter, more efficiently, and more effectively.

And we should help in any way possible those institutions that want to educate or train transportation industry workers.

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