How have things changed since the ELD mandate?
BUSRide explores the current state of the motorcoach industry’s device adoption, issues and future perspectives with industry experts.
Since the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandate has taken effect, how do you feel that the motorcoach industry is keeping up, and to what degree has the industry adopted ELD successfully?
Fred Fakkema: I think there are those that set the trend and have been there for a while, that have been utilizing the AOBRDs and are still on them until next December. As far as adoption across the board, especially in motorcoach, it’s anywhere from 80 to 90 percent.
I think there’s a good adoption happening. The FMCSA administrator recently spoke to a committee at a conference I attended, and he said that since the first of the year, the hours of service violations have decreased by 50 percent.
John Gaither: My sense of the adoption rate within the motorcoach industry is that it is quite high. I suspect that it’s higher than the overall transportation industry adoption,
just based on some empirical evidence of speaking with trade association members and others at meetings. As a booth participant at UMA this year, quite a few visitors indicated that they already had a system from someone, and some were seeking information about alternate choices to what they’d already implemented.
Jay McCarthy: We think the motorcoach industry has been an early adopter because of their focus on safety. The adoption was a little earlier in motorcoach than by the trucking industry as a whole. Currently what we’re seeing is a lot of churn in the marketplace. A lot of people who have some time under their belt with other manufacturers, have learned what an ELD is, and how it works, are working on either dialing in to their needs and wants with a different supplier or are really unhappy with what’s going on with their current supplier.
Mike McDonal: The motorcoach industry embraced this early on. I think one factor to
consider is that everybody is using ELD as a generic term, and a lot of people are hanging onto AOBRD for various reasons, but they’re not communicating that all the way through to their driver. So, if they get to a roadside inspection, the driver says, “I have an ELD.” It doesn’t act, it doesn’t react, or it doesn’t transfer correctly. This creates a lot of issues at the roadside.
I had seven customers go through compliance reviews last week, and the biggest challenge I see in the motorcoach industry is that people are not keeping up with their day-to-day reports. They’re not tracking their electronic logging system as they did their paper logging system, and people get a whole lot of heartache and heartburn when they get that one to two-week phone call to go back and manage all of their electronic log data in a very short amount of time. As others have mentioned, some people are reshopping.
Tim Wilson: One of the things I find particularly unique is that we are dealing with an
industry where most motorcoach companies don’t have a strong sense of technology. But, through visiting some of our customers, I’ve been quite impressed with how they have embraced ELD implementation.
One of the challenges that I see as I visit clients, is data management. We have clients that we see periodically, and when we look at how they’re managing data, it’s presenting a challenge. This could be from driver conflicts, whether that’s from unidentified vehicle movements or if it’s just a matter of data being managed properly.
Overall, the motorcoach industry is grasping this mandate very well. Now they’re just wrapping their hands around it and trying to settle in with a provider that they want to continue to work with.
What effect has the mandate had? And what effect has mandate enforcement had on different elements of a motorcoach operation?
Wilson: I’ll start off with addressing the driver. I’ve spent a great deal of time with some of our clients doing training and working directly with their drivers to explain the biggest misconception amongst the driver community. That is that the hours of service law changed with this ELD mandate. The biggest challenge was to explain to the drivers, “Nothing has changed in terms of hours of service. We have simply changed our record keeping method of the hours of service.” Once we break down that barrier, things will usually progress.
The second biggest challenge is getting the drivers to understand and interact with the technology, especially when I walk into a client that has an aging driver crew, because there is another misconception that when the term ELD is used, for some drivers that mean automatic. “I don’t have to interact with the device.” Which is totally incorrect. We all know that.
Breaking down those challenges has changed the culture. We have a client here in the D.C. area who actually had to phase out some drivers, because they just couldn’t grasp the technology. In terms of the inner office staff, it has set a different standard. The safety managers are now keener.
McDonal: One of the words that Tim just used was culture, and it has to stem all the way through from the top to the bottom, and that has to go, ultimately, to the customer. We educate the drivers, operational employees, sales employees, and the customer, because that trip that you may have been doing for the past 10 years in that same way, you’re not going to be able to do anymore because that driver made his log book work.
They’ve had to go and put in relief drivers at certain times, whether it be on the front end or the back end of the trip, which is an additional cost. Do you end up pushing that cost to your customers and end user? One of the least talked about parts of the mandate is the harassment and coercion aspect, that there’s some real teeth in this regulation now that if the driver calls in and asks for relief, then the dispatcher says, “I don’t have one. Bring it home.” Now that’s a violation of the regulation. Or when you coerce a driver into having them do a trip that that the dispatcher knows will put them out of the hours, that’s in violation of the hours of service.
There’s a lot of training that goes along with it, and people are finding out exactly how many times that these drivers on paper have been making their day’s work to either increase their pocket book or to do that extra for these customers, that the company may or may not know about.
McCarthy: We’re seeing two categories of adoption. One category would be the adopters who are fully engaged, want to understand the product and want to understand how to bring it into their company and their culture. The second is the set is the ‘set it and forget it’ group. This group thinks that they’ve hired us, plugged the ELD in, and don’t want to think about it. You really do need to take an active role to successfully bring this technology into your company.
Many of our customers have had great success and have found ways to increase their driver hours because of some of the limitations of the paper log. But the concept of being able to jump from a log to ELD technology and not have a learning curve, is a big pitfall for these organizations. A lot of companies don’t fully understand the regulatory language and how to integrate those regulations into their companies.
Gaither: I’d like to just relate an observation that came directly from a driver. He shared an experience that a number of others have also observed.
He was taking a tour to a place, and at the end of the agenda for the day, the tour operator tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Hey, we’d like to go to the mall.” And this is the kind of thing where drivers often find themselves in an uncomfortable position of being asked to do things that in the past they could cover it up with a paper log.
This particular driver merely pointed to the screen showing how many hours he had remaining, and explained to the tour operator, “I’ve got 45 minutes remaining available to drive today before I’ll be out of compliance, and if we go to the mall, I’m going to probably run out of hours. So really the choice is, I can take you to the mall and drop you off and go back to the hotel, and you guys will have to get an Uber or something back to the hotel. But I really can’t do this without violating the law, and so I’m sorry, but that’s the new reality that we find ourselves in.”
The gist of that story was that drivers can use this device in a beneficial way to keep themselves from being leveraged by tour operators to do things that in the past they were very uncomfortable with, but often were felt like they had to do it to keep the customer happy.
Fakkema: I think one of the biggest things that we’ve seen is training, whether it is the lack thereof, or companies that are doing it correctly and spending a lot of time in training their employees. This includes not only the driver, but those on the back end understanding how to utilize the information that’s available to them now, to be more proactive and effective at the same time.
Coming from the law enforcement side, the more you train, the more instincts you have through the training, the more it comes naturally, and the easier it is to use. What safety directors need to do is continue to train those drivers over and over, so it becomes just a normal day of habit utilizing the ELD itself.
The next topic is the big data. There’s so much data that can be derived from any ELD now that they can utilize to be effective in their company. Now I think that’s really driven some of those that have embraced the electronic concept to how can I utilize this in pre- and post-trips? How can I utilize this for other things that we may be doing? And that really starts to drive the effectiveness home for those operators.
What kind of advice would you give to operators who feel like they rushed into their ELD purchase, and who have discovered that the kind of equipment they selected is not functioning either the way that it was sold to them, or that they expected?
McCarthy: We’re getting calls daily on this very topic. We have been contacted by many customers of other ELD manufacturers who are looking for advice on how to part ways with their current supplier. There are a lot of moving parts when you talk about ELD. This isn’t an easy thing to tackle.
Many companies and vendors jumped on the ELD band wagon to take advantage of the mandate and create a quick cash grab. This has not worked out well for some because their systems are falling in either performance or inadequate product support. You really need to do your research before you buy. You need to understand the heritage of the company you choose as your ELD supplier, and make sure that they have provided a stable technology and have the ability to stand behind it in the long run.
When you’re dealing with the regulatory compliance, you’re dealing with law enforcement. You don’t want to be on the side of the road with a provider that isn’t backing your ELD. That’s our advice.
Wilson: Do your due diligence. I know that it can be quite an overwhelming task with about 300 providers on the market. I liken this ELD mandate as the gold rush of 2018. Everybody saw dollar signs and a way to make this work, or at least an attempt to make it work.
But one of the things we tell the customers each and every day, is that if you’re looking at changing providers, you have to assess your current situation. Number one, to make sure financially that you can walk away from the situation. One of the things that we have done, is we have helped about two or three customers that we’ve brought over to our product to get out of their current contract by showing that the product was not compliant and did not live up to the terms of the contract that they had signed.
Going through and demonstrating the product is what we push for any customer that’s interested in our service. You want to make sure that your provider is willing to even set up a possible pilot for you, because it has to work for your operation. With so many providers, every operation has their own unique set of requirements that they’re looking for, so the product has to fit your operation.
Gaither: The first thing that we try to do is to suggest to this company that they make certain that they’ve communicated as much as possible, as they can, with their current provider to discover if there’s any way that they can remediate, or improve their experience, and make certain that their experience is not born of an inaccurate view of their supplier’s capabilities.
Once you’ve made the decision that you need to change, then the second thing you need to do is find out what are your obligations to that current provider? How much money is it going to cost you to exit? Do you have a contract that you have to buy out? How much is the loss of equipment? Can any of the equipment be used again for whatever purpose?
When looking for a new provider, search the marketplace for reliable suppliers. Speak to fellow operators that you know. We recommend that you try to narrow your choices to as few as three, and schedule very thorough online demonstrations of those products. Then, narrow the choice to one vendor that you think is the best, and validate that choice with a short four- or six- week pilot demonstration on a limited number of vehicles to validate your solution.
You need a supplier that is willing to work with you and make certain that the training of your drivers, your dispatchers, and your safety and compliance employees all takes place simultaneously. It’s going to be difficult. You want a supplier that understands the difficulties and can try to make the experience as smooth as possible.
Fakkema: As others on the panel have said, make sure you do your due diligence and know whether or not that provider actually meets the requirements in the mandate. When you have over 300 vendors who are now on the list, they’re not all going to be compliant, and the self-certification process is lacking.
My advice is to go back to the checklist put out by FMCSA, and spend time talking to those vendors who are good at what they do and have been around for a long time. In fact, there was an article just the other day. There is one ELD vendor that’s already closed their doors. We’re shortly into it and you already have popup companies that are closing their doors.
Ask the right questions. Does it meet what you need? There are so many different providers, but they all produce the same thing. But does that variety meet your specific need? Does it help that pain point that you’re working through to try to get there? And does it give you the option to go further? Is it just ELD you’re trying to solve, or do you want other options to go with the electronic aspect of it?
McDonal: We are finding that when a lot of companies chose their first provider it was very price-driven, and they’re finding out that they got what they paid for. A couple of things to do is to, number one, go through the contract that they have with their current provider. We’ve been successful in helping many of them shoot holes in their contract by proving that the device that they have is truly not compliant.
When you’re looking for a provider, there are different things to consider. A lot of these devices are truck-driven. This means it’s also property-driven, with a different set of rules because there’s 560,000 registered truck DOT numbers out there. There are only about 4,000 registered passenger carriers out there. You need to ask a potential provider what is their direct experience as a passenger carrier? How many successful compliance reviews have you been through with FMCSA as a passenger provider? And what more could you offer in the passenger arena, other than just the ELD and telematics? This means all of the data collected on the back end.
What is a benefit of ELDs that operators with a fully functioning system might be able to yield that they previously couldn’t?
McDonal: Before electronics came to be in fleet management systems, when our drivers left the lot, we had no idea what they were doing. We didn’t know how fast they were going, we didn’t know what routes they were taking. They were flying blind from the company, and there were a lot of liberties taken by drivers during that time as well. Now we know how fast they’re going. We know how long they idle. We know more about the vehicle than we ever have known before. We know when there’s potential engine problem, or a transmission problem going on, right down to what we now call predictive maintenance.
On top of that there are video systems that can monitor your driver’s behavior, which leads back to efficiencies, cost savings and risk control, and, ultimately, the bottom line.
When I was an operator five years ago and I put the system into my fleet of 70 buses, just in fuel savings alone and risk management, I was able to pay for my entire investment in less than two years without taking any money from the bottom line of our company. This was simply by saving and using the efficiencies of the system.
McCarthy: Our system focuses on the owner operators and smaller motor coach operators that are looking for basic regulatory compliance. There is also the ability to grow with our product and add telematics features. The add-ons to our system give you more visibility into your fleet’s operations and driver behavior. Nevertheless, the core of our product remains HOS regulatory compliance.
We see some huge benefits for motorcoach fleets, almost the first month, just by adding our core system to their operation. Now, the operational staff in the back office will be looking at complete spreadsheets and organized data instead of manually compiling data and archiving it. Computerizing those activities alleviates many headaches in the office environment, the reporting environment, and the interaction between drivers and internal management. The automated system is really helping solidify and make it a lot easier for these companies to operate.
Wilson: With our solution, we give them more than just an ELD only system. From the data, there are reports to the telematics that they can use to implement in their fleets, to their day-to-day business operations. One thing in particular that we heard from a customer here locally in the Washington, D.C., area is that this has helped carriers to begin to improve efficiency within their operations. With this efficiency, operators can make better decision based upon the data they now have access to.
There are things that they can do to begin to increase efficiency, and that’s one of the things that we like to focus on in our company. We see ELDs as a way of being able to do that.
Fakkema: Zonar is a fleet management system, so it’s a service with the option of ELD or AOBRD. It’s like a cable company. We have packages, so we include navigation, two-way messaging, and forms-based messaging. We also have a driver coach option, which is a forward-facing camera that can be utilized to help coach the drivers and improve driving techniques from lane travel, to braking, to speeding, to all of the other options.
What we’re really known for is the pre- and post-trip inspection. We have an electronic-verified inspection report where we put RFID tags around the coach, and the driver takes the ELD tablet and goes around the coach and does a pre-trip inspection as he’s being told what to do in each zone. This information goes to the back office for maintenance and repair. It has cameras and the ability to attach photos as well.
I think that’s what we’ve seen the most, is those companies that came in that just meet the ELD mandate get really get comfortable with it, and come back and say, “Hey, we want that navigation option.” Or, “We want the inspection option,” and “What can we do to make that work?”
Gaither: At GPS Insight, our ELD solution is an extension of our telematics offerings. We do not offer a bare bones, ELD-only solution. All of our ELD customers are provided with the total of all the solutions that we’ve been developing since the founding of our company in 2004. So, over that period of time, we’ve developed a lot of solutions for fleets to employ, including telematics-based products.
The best benefits that we can provide revolve around enhancing productivity in the fleet, reducing risk, and reducing costs. So many of our solutions will revolve around those three major benefit areas, and we have developed a lot of products, and reports, and capabilities that revolve around those concepts over the years. This includes things like monitoring for driver behavior-related issues, driving above a posted speed limit, and real-time alert notifications about important subjects that can be routed to various people within the fleet.
We have developed a fully robust API library that our customers can use to share the data that we’re storing for our customers with third party software solutions very easily, so that they can integrate that data with other dispatch and maintenance-related products.
GPS Insight provides the product and we’ll teach the customers how to use it. We never charge for training, we never charge for support, and we have an ongoing customer account manager relationship. This enables our customers to, on a quarterly basis, learn more about their product and how it can be utilized in ways that perhaps they haven’t thought about.