Though operations at most distribution centers would hardly be characterized as leisurely, one of the nation's largest trucking companies has been warning its customers that the pressure's about to get worse. Bill Matheson, vice president and general manager of truckload services for Schneider National, warns that once the new hours of service (HOS) rule for truckers kicks in,DCs will find themselves under the gun to speed up shipping and receiving. Those that can't should expect to pay a penalty: Matheson says the rule will add substantial costs to truckload operations—costs that could be passed on to customers that don't run their centers efficiently.
Matheson worries that although transportation specialists understand the potential effects of the rule, which limits the number of hours drivers can work at a time, distribution managers seem to be largely unaware of the rule and its implications. "On the DC side, they don't know what we're talking about," he says.
Some trucking operations will be harder hit than others. Matheson says Schneider estimates that on long hauls where drivers drop and hook trailers, costs may only increase by 2 percent. But on short hauls with multiple stops, costs could jump by as much as 18 percent."[The new rule] places a higher value on making sure the drivers' time is s pent behind the wheel," he says. "Every hour they're not behind the wheel is lost productivity. Then they have to take a 10-hour break. That's a long time to shut a driver down."
Matheson says shippers and receivers can mitigate the higher costs by making sure appointments are kept and by taking steps to eliminate the need to load and unload by hand. (For more tips on holding down costs, see "FastLane" on page 25.) But those who can't or won't take steps to tighten up their operations should expect to pay more for service. "We're being clear with our customers," Matheson says. "Those who [cause] delays will see charges." Like other carriers, Schneider tracks how quickly drivers get in and out of customers' facilities. "We know which consignee facilities are productive and which aren't," he says, noting that grocery and food warehouses tend to be the biggest offenders.
Matheson believes that Schneider will charge directly for delays rather than incorporate the added costs into its general mileage rates. The latter, he said, would force efficient shippers to subsidize inefficient ones. Direct charges provide an incentive to customers to improve operations."If the delays go away," he notes,"the charges will go away."
Matheson adds that Schneider has examined its own practices to find ways to keep drivers on the road for larger portions of their shifts. The company has added mechanics to minimize maintenance time and added fuel islands at some of its centers to reduce delays. Over the next year, the carrier will install satellite tracking on its trailers to further expedite exchanges,he adds. "We want to get the driver to the right place and back out again quickly."