Thanks to government mandates in the U.S. and soon Canada, electronic logging devices (ELDs) have been one of the most talked about aspects of the trucking industry for the past several years.
However, when ELDs are discussed it is usually for their ability to track a driver’s hours-of-service (HOS), and several additional features that can be beneficial to carriers are often ignored.
“The technology has dramatically changed, particularly from 2010 and beyond,” says Rob Eskens, vice-president of sales for Manitoulin Transport.
Manitoulin has been using on-board computer systems for many years and made the transition to PeopleNet’s ELD and on-board system in 2010 because it offered the ability to gather all the big data being collected from the company’s fleet, placing it in one spot through new programs that made the information more manageable to analyze.
“It increased our efficiencies in what we were looking at and what’s happening with each particular unit,” says Eskens, adding that the ELD makes up just one component of the company’s entire on-board computer system.
“The actual on-board computer is monitoring things like idling and speed,” he adds. “It helps us reduce stuff like truck exhaust emissions.”
Lowering emissions is important to Manitoulin, and not just for the obvious reasons of reducing fuel consumption and saving money.
Eskens said with most carriers now looking to lower their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and customers wanting fleets they do business with to do the same, ELDs and on-board computers have enabled Manitoulin to position itself in the market by being able to prove it is curbing its carbon footprint.
Tom Cuthbertson is the vice-president of regulatory compliance for Omnitracs, and he says companies need to understand the difference between fleet management products and ELDs, which may not record fleet management information.
“Omnitracs’ fleet management products capture information for fuel management, vehicle performance, dispatch messaging, driver behavior, and comprehensive integration with fleet management systems to support all if not most of the operations of a carrier, regardless of their size,” says Cuthbertson.
Like Eskens, Cuthbertson said the evolution of ELDs and on-board computer systems have come a long way over the past decade, producing specific exception reporting structures that are more comprehensive for a carrier’s day-to-day needs.
There are alerts for low hours, aiding the driver and shipper when it comes to service level needs, as well as fuel management to help with international fuel tax agreement payments.
With Omnitracs and other technology companies developing new tools to help fleets manage their operations, and a Canadian ELD mandate set to kick in by 2020, Cuthbertson says it is important for trucking companies to be on the ball.
“I would remind carriers to be sure that the training is company-wide and the driver gets sufficient time,” he says.
Ken Davey, director of IT and loss prevention for Accord Transportation, says his company helped drivers get used to the idea of operating ELDs by making the use of smartphones mandatory prior to implementing e-logs.
“We provided our safety department employees and even our IT department personnel as tech trainers and support to assist drivers with advice and support on the use of their smartphone and some apps,” Davey says. “Gradually, by the time we introduced e-logs, our drivers were all using their smartphones to scan documents, email with dispatch, and report accidents or damaged freight with pictures included.”
Training is essential with respect to ELDs, and not just for drivers, but all employees due to the multitude of functions today’s devices offer.
Manitoulin uses ELDs to track shipments through ongoing communication with its drivers.
“Sometimes the status of the shipment is more important than the shipment itself, so our drivers are using it for real-time pickup and delivery information,” says Eskens. “The device as a communication tool is almost as important as monitoring the hours-of-service and the exhaust emissions.”
Because its ELDs are GPS enabled, Manitoulin can locate its trucks, automatically dispatch, and better understand each shipment’s arrival times.
“It has reduced the phone call volume into our company,” says Eskens. “It has improved our online presence and ability to supply information that customers want very quickly.”
Eskens says PeopleNet did a good job a selling its products to Manitoulin, highlighting the benefits of using on-board computer systems and ELDs.
“They were right,” he says. “The ability to gather data and actually be able to analyze it quickly without a lot of manual intervention has been useful.”
That usefulness has also turned into a profitable tool.
“It helped us realize this dramatic cost reduction in our operations,” says Eskens. “They have paid for themselves.”
Terry Shaw, executive director of the Manitoba Trucking Association, says a study conducted by Transport Canada on the use of ELDs claims the return on investment is somewhere in the area of two-to-one.
“Increased HOS compliance from all heavy commercial road users is a benefit,” Shaw says. “Administratively, for companies there are benefits through streamlined awareness of a driver’s hours, and for drivers, the administrative burden of tracking and managing their hours is certainly reduced. As well for the enforcement community both roadside and during audits, ELDs provide clearer and more reliable information than paper logs do.”
With new technology, the training can at times seem endless.
Despite what can be a steep learning curve for some, Peter McDonald, safety director for TransX, says drivers who are reluctant to make the switch from paper logs to ELDs warm up the device once they learn how to operate them.
McDonald says the features on ELDs and on-board computer systems continues to improve, and one he’d like to see in the future is something that integrates trip plans within an ELD system so drivers can plan their entire day through an application like Google Maps and have the ELD estimate the number of required hours to complete the plan.
“That would really be a great feature to have for a driver,” he says.