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March 28, 2016 8:31 AM, EDT
E-Logs Improve Business Processes, Fleets Say, as Industry Preps for Mandate
Funk, Tarantini, Andresen by Seth Clevenger/TT

This story appears in the March 14 print edition of iTECH, a supplement to Transport Topics.

DALLAS — Electronic driver logs can streamline fleets’ business processes and improve hours-of-service compliance, but driver outreach is key for a successful rollout, trucking executives said.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s final rule on electronic logging devices, published in December, will require nearly all interstate carriers to install ELDs by December 2017 to record drivers’ hours of service.

Executives from three fleets that already have moved to e-logs described their experiences with the technology during a recent panel discussion at Omnitracs’ annual user conference here.

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Gene Funk, vice president and general counsel for Cowan Systems, said e-logs prevent many of the mistakes that drivers can make on paper logs, leading to better scores under the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program. When combined with telematics, he added, e-logs are also a valuable business intelligence tool.

“Until you have e-logs in your trucks, you don’t really know what’s going on,” Funk said.

Cowan’s fleet managers can view drivers’ available hours on their computer screens as they make decisions, so they can’t tell drivers to “just get it done.”

“They have complete awareness of the driver’s situation, and that places the responsibility where it should be — on the planners and the fleet managers,” Funk said.

Cowan, a dry van and refrigerated hauler based in Baltimore, ranks No. 66 on Transport Topics’ Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in the United States and Canada.

Another fleet, MCO Transport, adopted e-logs in 2009 as part of a broader effort to centralize its billing process and go paperless.

“Our decision to move in that direction really was process-driven,” said Ryan Andresen, vice president of operations at the Wilmington, North Carolina-based container drayage and truckload carrier. “We really did improve our back-office functions. . . . We have one person who manages the back end; before it was about five.”

He said e-logs save time for both drivers and back-office personnel.

Carmen Transportation, a dry van and refrigerated carrier based in Toronto, also implemented e-logs to improve its business processes, said Vince Tarantini, the company’s president.

The carrier has integrated its e-logs with its dispatching and sales operations to improve the flow of information and the decision-making process, which in turn has generated savings for the fleet, he said.

The improved insight into drivers’ workdays enables the company to manage them better, which helps with driver turnover, Tarantini said.

Cowan’s Funk, however, said it is crucial that carriers communicate with their drivers as e-logs are implemented.

“Training and educating drivers is most the important thing,” he said. “They feel completely out to sea when they look at one these things for the first time.”

He also said the technology “fundamentally changes the relationship between you and your driver.”

Drivers often prefer to simply pick up a load, go where they’re told to go and be left alone, but the growth of ELDs, telematics and the Internet of Things is going to create an atmosphere where they have to work as a team, Funk said.

Despite some initial fears, most drivers at Cowan like using e-logs after becoming acclimated to them, he added.

Funk said a survey of the company’s drivers found that 80% preferred e-logs over paper logs and about 75% of them said e-logs save them time — as much as half an hour to 45 minutes a day.

“The drivers think that they’re a productivity tool,” he said. “Once they start using them, they prefer them.”

No Cowan drivers have quit because of the company’s move to e-logs, he said.

When MCO first adopted e-logs, the company had its drivers use paper logs alongside e-logs for 30 days to ease the transition, Andresen said.

The fleet spent about four months rolling out the technology from terminal to terminal, he said.

Apart from training drivers, fleets also will need to have back-office staff who understand ELDs and carefully monitor the information, Funk added.

He noted that under the ELD mandate, drivers will need to approve any back-office edits to their records of duty to account for mistakes such as forgetting to exit a “yard move” status. That driver approval process could add administrative time for fleets, he said.