Opinion: New Rules for Moving Freight

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By David Beaudry

Director of Logistics Engineering and Consulting

AmeriQuest Transportation Services

This Opinion piece appears in the Aug. 19 print edition of Transport Topics.

Two sets of changes in the way freight is moved in the United States will require fleet operators to take a fresh look at transportation strategy and fleet utilization.

The first changes — those introduced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s new hours-of-service regulation — went into effect July 1. The new HOS rule will tighten capacity and reduce productivity by forcing fleet managers to take trucks and drivers off the road more often.

The next changes coming into focus on transportation’s horizon are courtesy of the Federal Highway Administration, whose Safe and Efficient Transportation Act has just been reintroduced to Congress. If passed and signed, the bill would increase the federal weight limit of trucks on interstate highways from 80,000 pounds to 97,000 pounds.

 Supporters and opponents of SETA are now providing input, with a congressional report due at the end of 2014. If the measure passes and is implemented, the proposed increases in weight and changes in capacity obviously would have a significant effect on route planning and driver scheduling. Freight now being shipped using 10 routes might be delivered in nine or fewer routes, requiring fewer miles and fewer hours.

But while SETA is still a maybe, the revised HOS rule is being implemented now, and a key provision changes the 34-hour rule aimed at ensuring drivers get more rest between routes. In fact, the new rules may very well require additional manpower and route reshuffling. That will make scheduling far more complicated — particularly for smaller fleets.

The good news here is that technology has evolved along with the HOS. In particular, electronic on-board recorders are now available to help carriers and drivers keep track of hours used and hours available.

Likewise, today’s advanced modeling technology can help fleet owners of any size optimize routing and fleet utilization to gain maximum productivity. The quality of computer modeling software programs, which create an abstract model that simulates the behavior and response of systems and prototypes, has increased significantly in the past few years.

Coming up with a solid plan that will deliver maximum productivity while dealing with the realities of HOS may seem daunting — even overwhelming — to fleets still clinging to long-established procedures and not willing to embrace the benefits today’s transportation technology can deliver.

Many carriers will want to call in consultants to help with the process, which would then typically begin with a logistical consultation during which virtually every detail involved in running a fleet is scrutinized to identify ways to save money while retaining a high level of customer service.

There are a variety of companies today that provide logistics consulting services. A simple search of the Web will turn up many companies that can help you.

 With or without outside help, the process unfolds as data are collected on a weekly or monthly basis for things such as pickup-and-delivery orders; number and types of vehicles; sequence of deliveries; total weight of shipments and cubes; time spent servicing customers; and distance and time traveled.

In light of the new HOS rules, particular attention will be paid to scheduling drivers. For example, what long haul-shipment drivers may have been completing in three days might now require four days.

With the new HOS, fleets of all sizes can benefit by examining their operations and staffing in an entirely new light to identify new — maybe even unconventional — ways they can increase productivity.

These same considerations also apply to SETA, now that measure is re-entering the lawmaking process with the goal of increasing the federal weight limit of trucks on interstate highways.

American Trucking Associations has estimated that the trucking industry will haul 30% more tons in 2021 than it does today — requiring 18% more trucks on the road that drive 27% more miles than they do now.

With increased weight limits, fewer trucks would be required to haul the same amount of freight, with potential savings in operations costs and environmental benefits through reduced fuel consumption.

Fleet managers dealing with SETA can follow the same process as with the revised HOS, working with advanced technology to identify ways to turn fewer routes and fewer miles driven into maximum bottom-line profit.

AmeriQuest Transportation Services, Cherry Hill, N.J., offers consulting services to the transportation industry.

Article Source:Transport Topics