Monday, December 8, 2014

Any job worth doing …

For quite some time now we’ve been hearing a refrain from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration about the need to regulate shippers and receivers and get a handle on detention time in the trucking industry.

It’s been encouraging. Dare we say we were almost hopeful that for once FMCSA was going to do something that would actually help drivers and (gasp) maybe even empower them.

I was rather excited when I received my copy of the agency’s study on detention time. That excitement didn’t even last past the 10th page. It was quickly replaced by anger and disappointment.

FMCSA contracted with Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to conduct the study. To gather the “real world” field data, VTTI hired two third-party vendors.

The half-hearted effort put into this study shows a crystal clear case of highway robbery of taxpayer money. The third-party vendors surveyed 31 motor carriers. Not a typo. Really, just 31. There will be some who might argue that surveying 31 motor carriers out of 2.4 million is “statistically valid.” Whatever.

But what launched me into orbit was the fact that out of the 31 motor carriers they surveyed, only two had fewer than 50 trucks. Two.

Let that sink in. Two.

For perspective, 97 percent of this industry is made up of companies with 20 or fewer trucks. I don’t have a good stat on 50 or fewer trucks, and since we’re being lazy here, I’m not going to bother. Suffice it to say, the vast majority of the industry is not made up of medium and large fleets.

Once I finally simmered down and continued reading the study, there is some good to be taken from it. It does show an industry-wide average of detention time of about 1.4 hours above the standard accepted two hours for loading/unloading.

It shows that refrigerated operations tend to be detained more than dry van and flatbed. It shows that large motor carriers (yep, them, the big guys) are detained less than smaller operations.

So at least it didn’t counter what everyone already knows.

But the particularly disheartening part is in the conclusion. VTTI, and thereby FMCSA who actually released this study, admits it fell well short of the goal line of actually wrapping its head around detention time in the industry.

The study report admits that the data was collected from “a relatively small number of carriers, which may not provide an accurate representation of the entire trucking industry.” Duh. Ya think?

Second, the report concedes that “there was a lack of data from small carriers, with the data set only containing information from two small carriers.” Here’s the real kick in the pants. The report goes into the proverbial confessional when it says that tracking only two small carriers is “especially unfortunate given that small carriers and owner-operators are thought to be the ones who would suffer the most due to detention time.”

In the end, the study report concludes that the estimate of detention time in the current study is “likely conservative.”

Gee. Imagine that.

FMCSA has a track record of using half-baked and shortsighted research. Research has even been tortured into submission to present FMCSA’s perception of issues in the industry (uh, hmm, speed limiters).

All that said, this study, while not hurtful to the reality in the industry, most certainly was a lazy, half-assed effort and waste of taxpayer money.

VTTI and the vendors need to be fired. At the least they should be refunding the taxpayer money they took to do their part of the research.

Come on, FMCSA, you can do better than this. If you were a kid talking to a teacher over homework, you’d be sitting back at your desk starting all over again. In fact, that’s what needs to be done. Because any job worth doing …