To hear Derek J. Leathers, president and chief operating officer of truckload and logistics company Werner Enterprises Inc., tell it, the federal government's mandate that all trucks be equipped with electronic logging devices (ELD) by the end of next year is unpleasant but necessary medicine.
The productivity hit to come, he said at a panel session yesterday at NASSTRAC's shipper conference and expo in Orlando, could be much worse than the 3- to 5-percent punch absorbed by the early adopters, mostly large fleets, that voluntarily installed the systems in the past several years only to struggle with the implementation of converting from paper logbooks. Leathers said about half of the U.S. truck fleet is non-ELD compliant. However, Bob Costello, chief economist of the American Trucking Associations (ATA), said today at NASSTRAC that the noncompliance figure is as high as 80 percent.
The mandate is expected to lay the heaviest blows on smaller fleets, which lack the resources to effectively overcome any operational disruptions without a severe shock to their productivity. Another concern is the growing number of shippers demanding their carrier partners be fully ELD compliant by the start of 2017, forcing fleets to accelerate their timetables for transition, Leathers said.
Still, Leathers said, it's time for all truckers to bite the collective bullet and mentally reframe the ELD proposition. All carriers need to be on the same page in terms of ELD adoption for the sake of highway safety and supply chain visibility, he said. Most stakeholders want it for no other reason than to keep truck drivers honest, he added. The rules guarantee that "the driver who says he's going to drive eight hours, drives eight hours," Leathers said during a question-and-answer session.
The regulations, developed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) are designed to ensure compliance with the agency's driver hours-of-service rules, which govern a driver's time behind the wheel, the number of work hours in a day and week, and driver meal and rest breaks.
Late last month, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) asked the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the ELD mandate, saying it violates the Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures by requiring the prolonged use of a warrantless Global Positioning System device. Because ELDs only track the location of vehicles and must rely on drivers to manually input changes in their duty status, the rule fails to comply with a congressional statute requiring ELDs to accurately and automatically record those changes, OOIDA said. As a result, the devices are no more reliable than paper logbooks for recording hours-of-service compliance, according to the trade group.
Leathers, for his part, said he has a "hard time believing (the courts) are going to overturn" the mandate.
Separately, the Werner executive said he is very concerned about the dramatic drop in new heavy-truck orders, warning such declines could spawn a tightening of capacity a year out. Earlier this month, consultancy ACT Research Co. LLC reported March orders for new big rigs plunged 37 percent from year-earlier levels, and about 67,000 heavy-duty trucks were sitting unsold on dealer lots, the highest inventory count since early 2007.
Omaha-based Werner projects 2016 capital expenditures of between $400 million and $450 million, with much of that spent on new trucks. Leathers told the group that Werner would buy more new tractors in 2016 than during any year in its 60-year history. He wouldn't specify the number of trucks, but it is believed Werner wants to end the year with 7,800 trucks, up from 7,400.
The carrier's main objective is to refresh the age of its fleet. As of the end of March, Werner's average fleet age was 20 months; it wants to reach 18 months by year's end.