Thursday, November 8, 2007

SOME DINOSAURS ARE STILL ALIVE AND WELL

As I write this, I'm not at home. It's Thursday and I'm in southern Kentucky, just north of the Tennessee state line, headed for a delivery in an Atlanta suburb tomorrow morning. From there I hope to be dispatched homeward, after this load is delivered. I'm going to try a little experiment tomorrow, when I send in my "empty at destination" message. It has occurred to me that there has to be a way that I can manipulate the fuel solution I wrote about last week.

I believe that by under-reporting my remaining fuel, which is required information in the empty message, I might be able to generate a "Use Fuel Book" non-solution from the computer at the terminal. That would free me to fuel anywhere, along any route I choose, and avoid any routing conflicts, arguments with dispatch (which drivers most often lose), and other hassles.

That number, from 1 to 8, that I send in is what triggers the "solution" that the computer sends me. An '8' equals nearly full tanks, whereas a '1' would equal "Get me to a truckstop ASAP!! I'm running on fumes!!" In the latter case, the computer would either direct me to the closest fuel stop in my area, or spit out the "Use Fuel Book" mentioned earlier. Hypothetically, I could also over-report the fuel level in my tanks and acheive the same result, although that is riskier and could lead to nearly running me out of fuel. It would all depend on my actual gauge reading when I send the message in.

What I don't know, of course, is how much input a dispatcher has on the fuel solution/routing. The solution is computer-generated, but does a dispatcher select the route?? Hmmmmmmmm. Only one way to find out -- experiment a little. If dispatch chooses my route, then I'm screwed royally, because they would necessarily go by our computerized GPS system, which calculates everything in a straight line and is based on the old Household Movers Guide (HHG) of yesteryear, which companies still stubbornly cling to today.

The HHG is a dinosaur. A living fossil that refuses to be buried. Compiled way back in the 1950's, it calculates the absolute shortest route between points 'A' and 'B' all over the country. This was great for drivers back then, because it saved them lots of time in planning theirtrips. However, in today's world it's obsolete and nearly worthless, mainly because it has almost never been updated in all those years. In the 50's, the Interstate Highway System so common today was in its infancy. Many of today's modern interstates simply didn't exist back then and the byways and backroads were the only way a driver had to get anywhere. The HHG utilizes mainly these backwoods routes, with a little interstate travel thrown in here and there. Hop on the Big Road for a few miles, then back out in the woods again for miles on end. As close to a straight line to a destination as possible, since the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Sounds reasonable on the surface, don't it? It's far from it, though.

Since the HHG has only undergone only a couple of minor upgrades in the years since its inception, and has never had the major overhaul it needs, there are many things that it doesn't take into consideration; things that impact a driver directly. Like all those little backwater towns on the backroads. Those burgs all have traffic lights, stop signs, lowered speed limits, etc., all of which slow you down. Add to that modern-day traffic congestion. There are easily five times the number of vehicles on the roads today than there were in the 1950's. Congestion in those little towns is incredible at certain hours of the day and there aren't as many alternate routes through them as in the larger cities; one main drag and that's about it. And trucks have to stick to that main drag, or a designated truck route in about all of them, so any alternate routes are useless to a trucker anyway. Some have built bypasses, but the vast majority haven't bothered. The interstates passed them by and the local economy won't allow it.

Then there's the two-lane configuration of many of the backroads. Great on a motorcycle, and what I prefer on that mode of transportation, but not so great in a truck, when you have an appointment load to deliver. So many are narrow, no shoulders, nowhere to go if anything should happen. Just a ditch, where you'll roll your rig over a couple of times. Inherently dangerous and totally obsolete for truck transportation, with the exception of local delivery drivers, who have to run them, and for access to rural shippers and receivers. If that's not enough, then you have the inevitable "local yokels" in their cars. Ma and Pa, out for a cruise up the road, tootling along at 35, and completely unmindful of the line of traffic backed up behind them, cursing them fluently. You drive a 70-foot-long tractor-trailer that accelerates like a snail and you'll never get around them, unless you're very lucky, or you like to take crazy chances with your life and the lives of others.

The lack of truck facilities on the backwoods routes are another problem. The interstates took most of the commercial traffic off of them, so there are very few truckstops out in the woods these days. What does a driver do if he/she runs out of hours on those routes? There's nowhere to park, forcing you to use your creativity (and hope you don't get ticketed by some small town cop). Even stopping to use the bathroom is a challenge; half the time it's impossible to find a spot to even pull over and use an "emergency bottle," which most drivers have around, out of necessity. All the amenities are out on the interstate, miles from the routes dictated by the HHG. Those were the main roads back when it was written, but not anymore.

Most OTR drivers nowadays stay on the interstate most of the time. It's faster, with higher speed limits and no stop signs or traffic lights to contend with. That is, of course, the whole idea behind them, the reason they exist in the first place -- safe, high-speed transportation all over the country. Taking an interstate route may be a little longer, but it's quicker and with today's Just-In-Time Freight strategies, "hot" loads, and tight etas, it's almost mandatory. The shortest route has become the slowest one all too often in modern times. There are some drivers, mainly old-timers and a few tightwads, who don't want to give the companies any free miles, and who still take the backwoods approach to driving, but the interstate is the preferred way to travel. So much so that a few companies have abandoned the HHG altogether and now pay drivers what is called "practical miles," based primarily on the interstate routes that most are using.

Far too many companies, though, still base their dispatched mileage on that old dinosaur. The reason?? It makes perfect economic sense for them to do so. They only pay drivers for the dispatched miles, not for actual miles driven. By utilizing the HHG, they keep the dispatched miles as short as possible, and thus don't have to pay out as much to the drivers, all the time fully aware that the majority of their drivers will take the interstate, for the sake of faster delivery and fewer hassles. From a driver's point of view, they are actually screwing us out of the more practical miles we are actually driving, and out of the monetary compensation for running those miles. In the minds of the companies, though, we are screwing ourselves, by taking the longer, though quicker route. We can take the shorter route and not give them those free miles. And risk being late with the loads because it's often so much slower on the backroads. It creates a real dilemma for drivers. Many of them have quit over this and it remains one of the reasons for high driver turnover and the shortage of drivers, many of whom get fed up and pursue other career paths.

Now I hope you see my dilemma with this fuel solution nonsense, and why I'm so opposed to it. That computer is programmed to always put me on the shortest route to my destination, and not the fastest, or most practical one. That's what has given me all the grief, especially when I'm heading home for the weekend. Computers only do what they're programmed to do; they're not "smart." They are electronic imbeciles, in fact. Quite stupid, compared to human intelligence. So, the only solution is better programming; practical miles, instead of HHG miles.

The Household Guide should be scrapped, and ALL companies required, by law, to pay practical miles to their drivers, in my opinion. If the majority of us are running on the interstates, then PAY us for doing so. It's only fair! If not, before long, most of the more experienced ones like myself are going to hang it up and leave our highways filled with 60-day-wonders driving 80,000 pound trucks. Is that what America wants, or needs?

6 comments:

my78novata said...

WAVING HOWDY AT YOU!!!!!!!!  I hoep you got something worked out and a work around that problem on the fuel. it is rediculous the way the system is set up and why companies dnt upgrade I do not know. !!!!!!!! its like my phone situation with att they say yes I free out of my contract but some bug in the system wont let it read that on the internet. What do you think of that ONE????????? wont let htem read it on the next to fix it yeah right like a big company like att cant fix that!!!!!!!

merry1621 said...

I do see your dillema and I hope you are able to get it resolved. Merry

jeanniebuggz said...

Glad to hear you are getting closer to home and will probably be on your way tomorrow.  Hope your little experiment works and you can outdo the computer system.  Good luck.

fanofheartbeats said...

What u need Larry is a hacker.. evil grin.. or a power failure because I would bet Star skimped on their backup juice for their computers and if thats the case, when the electric goes out so will the computers..

And honestly? From a business standpoint it makes no sense to micromanage like Star does.. When you look at the bigger companies, yes they have formulas also.. BUT.. they care more about drawing more business than they do controlling expenses, and to any old Joe Blow from the street this is obvious. If Star paid more attention to their exposure to the public people wouldn't go Star? Never heard the name.. JB Hunt oh yea I know em.. Cuz I personally never heard of star till I met you.

ladydriversammie said...

Don't forget to mention that often the companies set delivery time based on their expectations of you maintaining a high average speed for the shortest route, which is unlikely to ever happen considering the shortest route, as you said, is off in the backwoods and involves slower speed limits, extra traffic, towns, etc.  So not only are they unwilling to pay you the practical miles, they virutally force you to use the practical route in order to even get the load delivered on time.  The only real option for a driver to stay happy with routing is just to learn the quickest routes and accept the fact that you will drive more miles than you are paid for.  In the end that usually works out better since the practical route has the amenities you need for your convenience and will let you spend less time working and more time relaxing.

By the way...that solution to the fuel router should work, at least to some extent.  Been there, done that.  ;)

justkruzn2 said...

I'M A RETIRED DRIVER ... thankfully, I never had to deal with a company fuel policy like this.
  Challenge the smartie in the office:
Take the mileage on the "shortest" route & the "big road" route.
Put it on the calulator ... divide by the est. MPH on each route.
Usually the "big road" wins out to be the quickest.
Therefore, the truck engine is running for a shorter time.
Also, the "big road" doesn't involve as much stopping & starting. bad grades, etc. that take more fuel & make more wear & tear on clutch, tranny, etc.

BIG SISTER:
http://members.aol.com/Justkruzn2/truck/