Hurry up and wait – a trucker’s worst nightmare

Owner-operator Laird Fuller said his most recent detention cost him about $1,200 – the amount of revenue he’d generate in his $200,000 rig if he was running miles and not sitting on a dock trying hard to control his anger and frustration. ( Photo: Laird Fuller )

Owner-operator Laird Fuller said his most recent detention cost him about $1,200 – the amount of revenue he’d generate in his $200,000 rig if he was running miles and not sitting on a dock trying hard to control his anger and frustration. (Photo: Laird Fuller)

One thing that hasn’t changed (yet) with the ELD mandate is the way drivers get treated at shippers and receivers. The old adage of “hurry up and wait” has never been more apt, especially in the over-the-road truckload sector. There’s nothing more demoralizing for a driver who’s doing the right thing by being on time for an appointment to load or unload, only to be told, “we’re not ready for you yet, but we’ll let you know as soon as we are.”

If shippers and receivers understood the risk and personal sacrifice truckers take to hold up their end of the bargain, things would be different…very different. The reality is that many shippers and receivers simply don't care and are all too happy to treat truckers like second-class citizens.

Truckers are beginning to have their say now that the ELD mandate has forced them to record unloading and loading on line 4 of their log, i.e. on-duty non-driving. And, even though they’re not driving but resting in their cab, the burdensome and punitive 14-hour clock keeps ticking, reducing their opportunity to work and earn a living.

Truckers across the country, including long-haul owner-operator Laird Fuller, tell FreightWaves, “Shippers and receivers don't have to work for free, why should we”?

In the last few days, Laird, like many truckers, reached his tipping point and is demanding the industry stand up for what he calls an abusive system where “shippers and receivers set our appointment times and it’s on them to be ready when we get there.”

Laird’s frustration reached a boiling point after waiting to load over the weekend. His widely circulated video told an all-too familiar story. “I’ve been here 10 hours and might be halfway loaded, they knew I was coming and when I got here they said the product wasn’t ready, and when the product arrived they said it wasn’t authorized to be loaded into my trailer.” For Laird Fuller, the opportunity cost of this most recent delay is around $1,200 – that’s the amount of revenue he’d generate in his $200,000 rig if he was running miles and not sitting on a dock trying hard to control his anger and frustration.

Laird believes that shippers and receivers, “should be given 1 hour to load or unload his trailer, anything after an hour past the appointment time they set, they should be held accountable and required to pay detention time.” Fuller is both an owner-operator and strong advocate for the trucking industry and is encouraging other drivers to speak with one voice on this subject, and it’s not just a matter of turning down a load because those actions will work against you.

“Reputation is everything and if you choose to drop a load on a customer it will count against you, and the more you do it the harder it will be to book loads. For us small guys at the end of the day, all we have is our name and our word, and if you choose to run your name into the ground you’ll eventually end up sitting at home scratching your head trying to figure out why you can’t book a load,” Fuller said.

FreightWaves spoke to other drivers for this story and all declined to go on record for fear of retribution at the shippers and receivers they work out of – a classic catch-22 situation. Speak up and at best get delayed even more, or at worst get banned from the site completely. Staying silent is not much better and in the end, most feel it’s a no-win situation.

The following is a sample of driver responses and in the interest of working with shippers and receivers to find a workable solution, FreightWaves has elected not to name names.

  • “It once took 2 days to load frozen chickens at a plant in Arkansas.”
  • “It took 14 hours to pick up a load of underwear. My appointment to load was at 3 p.m. so I arrived an hour early to make sure I was ready. At 5 a.m. the next day I finally signed the paperwork.”
  • “Your timing is perfect….I’ve literally just sat in Greeley, CO, for 6.5 hours for 10 pallets of  lamb.”
  • “I’m in Oklahoma City and even though it only took 2 hours to unload today, it took 7 hours to get onto a dock.”
  • “I got to an appointment today at 3:30 p.m. to unload. Says 4 p.m. on the rate con and the shipper said it wasn’t until 5 p.m. The broker tried arguing with me and I told him regardless he’s paying me detention, or his load won’t get delivered.”
  •  “There’s a cold store in Richland, WA, that punishes late drivers. They don’t care the reason why, but if you’re more than 30 minutes late it’s a $100 fine and up to 24-hour load time. I once had to wait 18 hours to load then another 3 hours for a rework after they tried to send me away weighing 82k. Will never go back.”
  • “At a chicken farm in Summit, MS, I spent over 24 hours getting the run around and they would pound on the side of the truck to wake you up. I had to move doors more than once, and in the end, they loaded meat at a random empty dock they had all along.”
  • “This bakery plant I’m at right now - just passed 14 hours since I’ve checked in. I got a door but that was after me going to two other doors. I’m in Indianapolis and supposed to be in Groveland, FL, tomorrow. Gonna be a fun time.”
  • “I was an hour late for a pickup and ended up sitting at the dock for 30 hours not making a dime. This is one of the reasons I stopped driving, much happier now.”

So, what about solutions?

There’s an old saying that you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar. If shippers and receivers began to realize that truckers aren’t an interruption to their supply chain, but a critical link in it, their productivity will increase, and overall transport costs will decrease.

After all, the cost of excessive trucker detention when absorbed by truckers like Laird Fuller, ultimately end up in the very rates shippers are charged to haul their freight in the first place.

The lack of transparency between shipper, receiver and trucker has changed forever with the advent of electronic logging devices. Data is king and for the first time every trucker has ELD data at their disposal that can quantify the opportunity costs of loading dock inefficiency.

The ELD mandate will ultimately force shippers and receivers hands – get trucks on and off docks quicker or be prepared to pay detention verified by electronic log data which records truck activity down to the minute.

Freight-booking company Convoy has built a web-based solution to the detention problem where shippers can book and truckers can accept loads via a mobile application. What’s unique about Convoy is that drivers who are in the Convoy network get paid for detention regardless of whether or not the shipper pays detention. Convoy will pay the driver $40 per hour for detention following 2 hours of free time.

 Convoy research has found 1 in 8 shipments incurs detention costing shippers nearly $8 billion per year in detention fees. According to DAT, nearly 63% of drivers spend more than 3 hours at the shipper’s dock each time they’re loaded or unloaded. All that time adds up to more than 4 billion hours that truck drivers spend waiting at facilities each year.

Just this week Texas Rep. (R) Brian Babin introduced a bill in the House with the support of OOIDA Acting President Todd Spencer. It’s called “The Responsible and Effective Standards for Truckers (REST) Act” requiring the Department of Transportation to update hours-of-service regulations to allow a rest break once per 14-hour duty period for up to 3 consecutive hours as long as the driver is off-duty, effectively pausing the 14-clock.

The most important question truckers need to ask

Other truckers we spoke to think the solution is much simpler and it involves asking brokers or driver-managers just one question before accepting a load:

  • Is detention being paid on this load and at what point does it kick in?

The Convoy solution automatically answers this question and as of this week DAT is reporting the van load-to-truck ratio is at 6.9 loads per truck, so it would seem truckers are finally in the driving seat.

Time will tell.