Thursday, July 21, 2016

New dock delay survey echoes controversial study 17 years ago

Waiting to load or unload while earning not a cent is the curse of our industry. Everybody talks about the problem, but that’s about it. Just talk.

Earlier this month, Land Line Staff Writer Tyson Fisher reported on a survey conducted by DAT Solutions, the load-board company. According to the survey, “nearly 63 percent of drivers spend more than three hours at a shipper’s dock waiting to get loaded and unloaded.” DAT’s press release noted that of 257 carriers surveyed, 9 percent said delays of five hours or more were common.

Trucking veterans know there’s nothing new about such delays. Some may remember a more startling survey conducted by the Truckload Carriers Association. That 1999 study said truckload drivers spent an average of 33.5 hours a week loading, unloading, or simply waiting.

Not an impressive number? Try this one: Drivers of refrigerated trucks spent 44 hours a week at loading docks.

The TCA was presumably trying to impress the government – or somebody – with the extent of the problem. Sure enough, the study made an impression but probably not what the TCA was hoping for. Anyone who did the math could see all the time drivers spent at loading docks left little or no time within the hours of service to earn a living.

At that time, the TCA said its drivers earned $33,000 a year on average. To earn that amount in the hours legally left to drive they would have to average something like 77 mph for the entire year. Refrigerated trucks would have to average more than 100 mph. That estimate, based on 30 cents per mile, may have been overstated, but not really over the top. Some drivers earned more than 30 cents a mile at the time, but some earned less.

Clearly the numbers did not add up – or multiply as the case may be. Either the study was wrong or many drivers had to fudge their logs just to earn a living. It may have been a little of both. In any case, something needed to be done.

The safety and regulatory communities paid lip service to the unpaid drivers, but focused on those allegedly fudged logs. As usual, they came down on drivers rather than on the source of the problem. Not long afterward, authorities cracked down on HOS violations. Meanwhile, regulators were on their way to the mandated ELDs that OOIDA is currently fighting.

Delays at the root of the problem? Nothing was done. As we see from the DAT survey, they’re still with us.

Yes, the FMCSA just announced they’re going to do their own study of driver delays. Will it change anything?

In my opinion, nope.

One thing is different about the DAT survey. Delays were expressed as percentages and general estimates, not the number of hours involved. No one can extrapolate compliance estimates from the DAT survey.

Will the TCA ever again release the kind of numbers it did in 1999?

No way.

(Editor's note: FMCSA is also tackling the issue of detention time in an audit mandated by the FAST Act. OOIDA has long lobbied the federal government to address the issue and its impact on safety, driver retention and overall efficiency.)