Preparing for the ELD mandate

BUSRide spoke with experts in the transportation industry to hear their thoughts the rapidly approaching deadline for motorcoach operators to install Electronic Logging Devices (ELD) on December 18, 2017. This roundtable discussion featured the following panelists:

Chris Nelson – vice president – ISE Fleet Services

Fred Fakkema – vice president, compliance – Zonar Systems

James McCarthyVDO Roadlog ELD marketing manager –
Continental Commercial Vehicles & Aftermarket

John Gaither – ELD product specialist – GPS Insight

Michael McDonal – product director, regulatory compliance
Saucon Technologies

Sid Nair – senior director, transport practice – Teletrac Navman


Which bus and coach drivers are affected by the ELD regulation?

Chris Nelson: According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the ELD rule applies to most motor carriers and drivers who are required to maintain a record of duty status per part 395.8A. The rule applies to commercial buses as well as trucks and to Canada and Mexico domicile drivers. The rule does allow some limits and exemptions to the ELD mandate.

Fred Fakkema: The simple answer is this: if you’re currently recording driver hours on paper, you need to transition to ELDs. There are exceptions, like the 100-mile radius rule for short haul but, other than those cases, you need an ELD.

Michael McDonal: People have to realize that Hours of Service (HOS) rules are not changing – just the manner in which we are recording them. The biggest change within that is on paper logs we’re held to a 15-minute increment to be able to show our time, whereas with ELDs we’ll be measuring down to the second.

What resources can operators use to figure out which of their drivers are required to comply with the ELD mandate?

James McCarthy: We really have to refer back to the regulation. In the motorcoach industry, we find that people are pretty up to speed with regulation. That is going to dictate who needs to operate with an ELD. There are resources out there that they can hire to get some insight into that. We are more than willing and able to help them. They really need to dive into the regulation and get some education there to begin with.

How can operators can simplify the search for an ELD?

McDonal: There’s the testing protocol that FMCSA recommends but it’s not required for the self-certification process. I would ask the vendor about what testing protocols they used before they did their self-certification. Within ELDs, there is a lot of data componentry that makes the ELD valid, especially information coming from the engine. What other subsidiary data and what other types of offerings will that company have to go along with it?

One of the things that ties in with electronic logs is an electronic DVIR and, in the motorcoach company, other types of technology can partner within the ELD framework. The hardware that’s installed on a bus can pair with other software in the industry to include video passenger counting, ticket sales and other data points.

John Gaither: As they undertake making a choice, we advise operators first to trust the facts and their own research, but also trust their gut. Choose a vendor that you trust for whatever reasons that you think are applicable to your business. We recommend that you look for a vendor with an established track record of business longevity, profitability, and service to the industry. Ask yourself if your vendor would be able to survive this initial period of high demand. Will they be there to help you years later? Things of this nature go well beyond the rule itself and the certification, and we believe are valid criteria for choosing a vendor partner that you expect support you for a number of years.

What constitutes an FMCSA-certified ELD vendor? What should operators be looking for in a vendor, and what questions and cost benefit considerations should they be considering in their search?

Fakkema: You can go to the FMCSA website and look to see who’s self-certified or claims to be, and the operator needs to make sure they review the information that’s provided to see whether or not they followed appropriate procedures for testing.

Nelson: The certification on the FMCSA’s website is fairly easy to do. It is a self-certification process. Currently, there is no one on the FMCSA side that is there to monitor and either back up or deny someone’s claim that they’re compliant. Qualifying the vendor up front, even before getting into certification, is important because, as an example, if a vendor solution has not held up to an FMCSA’s audit, that’s huge. As you know, there are a lot of new vendors on the FMCSA- certified site that have never been through a regulation change. When there is a change in the rules, many vendors have not lived through that. Many of them have not been through an FMCSA audit. So a lot of their data could come into question.

Operators should ask how long a vendor has been involved in the HOS field. Most of the vendors in the space today are telematics providers, not necessarily HOS providers. They don’t have that background or they have not partnered with someone that does. Asking how long they have been doing this – not just telematics, but the HOS side- really gives a good indication.

If the vendor’s not on the FMCSA-certified site, it is important to ask them what their path is to ELD compliance. Most vendors today are just simply saying, “We’ll get there, don’t worry about it.” If they’re reputable they will provide a detailed plan as to how they’re going to get there and what they’re going to provide. Maybe it’s a phased approach, features that become available. That way it’s proven that they’re headed in the right direction. There’s a lot of up-front work that someone must do before you get into the features and before you get into being certified. You want to make sure that you’re not wasting your time down the road by choosing a non-reputable vendor.

Sid Nair: Talking about it is beyond just the certification, it’s your overall value proposition – what is the vendor bringing to the table? I think a couple of questions you should ask alongside, “How long have you been doing HOS?” are: “Do you know what an ECM (Electronic Control Module) means, or can you connect to a J-bus? Can get data out of that vehicle?”

The other easy thing you can do as a user is go to the self-certification website and download the user guides. It’s an easy way to review what a customer user experience is going to be. The very clear difference with the mandate now is that drivers have a lot of burden on what they do. Downloading a user guide would be a good start toward showing how drivers can get used to it.

What are the supporting documents and/or requirements that this regulation is going to mandate?

McDonal: With the current regulation paper logs require up to 10 forms of supporting documentation. With the new regulation it goes down to eight. One of the things that I like to tell people about, that FMCSA just announced in December, was that there is always going to be a period when a driver is using both paper and electronic logs as they’re training in to that system. FMCSA has determined that even if drivers are still using the paper log as the enforceable log, the electronic log can be used as a supporting document on the vehicle since it is there and available.

Gaither: One of the more interesting and new experiences that operators may have when they move from paper to electronic logs refers to hiding information. One of the requirements of these systems, for a long time actually, is that any time that vehicle moves a driving event will be created and it must be assigned to the appropriate driver. If, for whatever reason, that’s not happening, then during a compliance review a trained review officer will typically look for unassigned driving activity as evidence the fleet is managing those occurrences in a responsible manner.

When training new customers, we recommend that they pay close attention to driver training, because those issues are very minor when drivers are trained and operating the systems properly. But if they do occur, it’s diligence on the part of the fleet, the administrator, and operator in the safety compliance department to assign that activity to the appropriate driver and then to train them to use the system. These steps are evidence that they’ve taken a proactive approach to compliance. A compliance review officer will find unassigned activities very quickly.

How can operators most effectively plan the transition for their fleet, which has no AOBRD, to ELD?

Fakkema: In working with the vendor that they’ve selected, I think the training will be the most important part. Any time you’re introducing technology there will be road bumps and a learning curve that they’ll have to get used to. Once the vehicle goes in motion you have that drive event. They’re going from using paper and having a 15-minute interval, to a second, because the drive event picks up right away. Their timing is going to be a little bit different, and they’re going to have to get used to the device that they’re going to be utilizing.

You will have to find somebody that will be the go-to person, who has some experience in technology or likes technology and has started to utilize the system. This person can be a trainer and a supporter for the transition into the ELD.

You’ll have to understand the backend, as well. It’s so important for the backend to be utilized appropriately, whether it’s for an audit or just to manage drivers and vehicles in the locations.

Make sure you have the equipment and installs ready at the same time, and that it coordinates with the training, so that you don’t have a driver jumping in the vehicle without the proper training trying to use an ELD.

How can you effectively plan transitioning from AOBRD to ELD?

McCarthy: Really look at the partner that you’ve chosen and do a little bit of homework before you even get started. Make sure that if you are working with an AOBRD vendor you ask questions about their path to ELD, and get an understanding of the hidden pitfalls. Do you have a technology that is a simple software flash to ELD or are you purchasing new hardware? If it is a hardware change, how do you support that hardware change? What are the installation requirements? How is this going to impact you in terms of down time? It starts with a vendor and due diligence in making sure that you’re asking the right questions of the vendor. That way you’re not caught in a transition point where they aren’t rolling out ELD in the same timeline as you would like for your fleet, or at a time when you don’t have the resources and the capital to do a full hardware change two or three years into it.

If you have an established vendor, it’s about calling up that vendor and getting an understanding of their path to ELD. Then you have to make the determination if you want to stay with that vendor or start with a new vendor. If you do that little bit of research and ask the right questions, you should be able to align with a partner that carries the ball for you.

Nair: I think the biggest point to make here is that change is hard and change management is harder. One of the things that you should think about as an operating company, is having a champion within the organization that understands the concept of ELD, and how they can corral the different entities within your own organization. It could be maintenance, it could be the driver team, it could be the dispatcher team, it could be somebody else. Who is that single point of expertise? That will help you transition. It doesn’t matter if you’re transitioning between paper to ELD or AOBRD to ELD, helping manage that change across the people, the process, and the technology is going to be critical. Ensuring that there’s a single point of contact in your own organization, that will absolutely leverage the broader vendor that you’re working with to make sure they have the set of knowledge there to help you out as well.

What are the different FMCSA-permitted interfaces for the ELD mandate that our operators might be working with?

Nelson: As far as wireless devices, FMCSA talks about how portable ELDs must be mounted in a fixed position during the commercial motor vehicle operation and visible to the driver from a normal seated driving position. Most of this information would be found in the ELD mandate section 395.22G.

Additionally, if the provider is using a smartphone or a wireless device as an ELD, it must meet all malfunction and diagnostic requirements. The reason why that is important is because many people that are bringing what we call a BYOD, or bring your own device, solution. It’s not always a managed system. For example, it might not have the capability to show malfunction indicators or show diagnostic requirements.

In the industry, for smartphones, we hear concerns around leaving your phone in the window of your vehicle where the heat or cold hits it and it doesn’t operate. If the driver leaves it at home, if it breaks, if the battery is dead – there are a litany of concerns and issues around that. Some companies have done very well and put in managed systems to help with that. If you’re going to head in that direction you have got to make sure that you do your research on the devices and how it’s going to work within your organization, and determine whether it’s going to be something helpful or hurtful.

What are the best practices to enact change in terms of company culture that promote a team effort with drivers – rather than the feeling that they are being constantly monitored?

McDonal: Training is the key to it. Drivers are simply the first round of training because after we train our drivers we have to train our dispatchers and our operational people. What are they going to do with all the data that is going to be streaming in, not just from hours of service but from a fleet management perspective?

After that we must train our charter personnel, the people that are taking the orders as they come into the company. Every company I’ve dealt with has had to make some type of operational modification to trips that they’ve been doing for a long time.

Then finally we must educate our customers. What companies are finding out is about all the extras that their drivers have been doing that they haven’t been compensated for. We’ve been doing the same sports team for 10 years and it seems like every away trip that they have there’s an athlete on the bus that has a family member that lives close by and we go to their house for a pool party or for dinner. It’s not on the itinerary or it’s not on the driver’s logbook, but it will be now.

Nelson: One of the things that we’ve put in place with our folks is talking to them about creating a detailed implementation road map. Of course, this should include day one activities and who owns what tasks. It should also include target dates for completion to help keep the team focused. The level of complexity of an implementation is going to help determine whether or not there are five to 500 tasks.

We also look at some proven techniques, communicate early and often, and create a day in the life of a driver showing today versus tomorrow, so you can demonstrate how things are going to change for the driver. This will help illustrate how the driver’s lives are potentially going to change for the better. We recommend bringing the ELD vendor in to your organization and make them feel like part of the team. Having them outside of the situation makes them feel like they’re not invited and that usually doesn’t fare very well. The best thing to do is create a network of driver ambassadors that believe ELD is going to help so that they can talk to the other drivers and make them more true believers.

The last thing that I can think of that we concentrate on is not only the culture from the management, but creating an implementation team that includes people from every realm. Whether it’s maintenance, whether it’s safety, operations- everyone comes together and operates as a team as far as implementation goes. It helps keep the message consistent and easy across the board and makes things go a lot smoother. Those are some of the things that we do.

Nair: Culture starts with this question: why are we here? If you think about that as a business, and safety is not inherently part of the culture, it should be. We know that fatigue contributes to one out of five accidents. We know that ELDs are one way to solve that problem. Making that part of your DNA is important.

Creating a communication model is important. The part that we don’t talk about often is the net bottom line benefit to the organization when you get an ELD. You save money by being more effective. You save money by being more compliant. You save money by having a better CSA score. Can you start incentivizing your team? Can you start incentivizing your drivers? Can you start incentivizing your dispatchers? Use that to help promote that adoption as well.

Fakkema: It takes a long time to change culture inside an organization. The main point is that, effective December of this year, you must use an ELD. There’s not an option, that has to be what’s done.

It helps to take that mandate and look at the positive things that the ELD will do for the drivers, such as save time. They don’t have to stop and sit and try to remember where they were, what they’ve done or where they’ve driven, it’s all done for them. Once they get used to the electronic logs, 98 percent of the time drivers don’t want to get rid of them because they like them. Focus on that positive. Brass tacks is that you have to use it starting the end of this year and I don’t think operators should lose sight of that.  They should share that message and show the benefits of ELD over the negative aspects of it.

McCarthy: The one thing, again, you have to harp on is being positive. You need to start early, adopt early, and be positive about it. We’ve had fleets that have decided to go the negative route and use it as a penalty. They think, “We’re going to outfit our worst drivers on it and get them in line and then we’ll roll it out to the rest of the company.” It’s looked at as a negative thing. It just perpetuates what the buzz in the industry is, that these things are going to make you less efficient, cost you more money and ultimately not be a benefit. Stay positive, get this technology in early and the culture will carry.

Gaither: My experience with electronic driver log implementations began in 1991. I’ve done this for a long time and I’ve had an opportunity to observe how some fleets were more successful in making
those changes than others. Having a culture of compliance and dedication and having a person at the very top who believes that safety and compliance are interlinked is extremely important.

Having a person who culturally believes that compliance to the “Nth degree” is just as important as anything else in running a successful business. Making that transition is often a reflection of the ownership of the company right on down the line. Having that anchor person in the company that everybody knows they can turn to, who is technology proficient and understands the systems, is important to the success of it.

We find that in passenger-carrying fleets there are many drivers that are often part-time drivers who have second jobs. They have a unique challenge in that they have to create hours of service records away from vehicles. They have to have a way to do that. The ELD vendor needs to be accommodating to that environment that’s commonly found in passenger carrying companies. Those drivers that don’t drive every day need to be able to remember how to use a device on those days that they are driving. Therefore, an easy-to-use interface becomes more critical.

We recommend that a go-to person be available to drivers at all times.  This person is often the project lead or systems administrator for the ELD project and is often the HOS Compliance Director or a person with similar responsibilities.  This person should understand the benefits that accrue to drivers as a by-product of ELDs – always having accurate logs; gaining available drive time over the course of the work week; less stressful and quicker road-side inspections; less paperwork, etc.  This person should be able to communicate these benefits clearly and back it up with examples of drivers who have learned the system and are using it daily. We also recommend that a small team of senior drivers be designated as trainers and support resources for the other drivers.  Drivers can relate to these driver/trainers without worrying so much what a management person might think if these questions are asked of a supervisor.

My recommendation to any passenger-carrying customer is do not wait. Start now. Get serious. The estimates are that between 2 and 3 million vehicles of all types will need to be equipped with ELD technology and in place, trained and operating on December 18. It’s a massive requirement for the entire fleet industry. We anticipate that in the second half of this year the demand, the strain on the entire industry, to adequately supply this technology and the training, support and installation resources to accomplish this on the benefit of our customers, is going to be nothing short of a tidal wave. It’s going to be massive.