Electronic logs for truckers will force shippers and receivers to be more efficient (it would seem)

October 8, 2017


My fellow truckers caused me a headache the other day in advance of my planned return to the road after taking a two-month hiatus. They snarled traffic with a kind of rolling blockade or slow-moving convoy. I was on my way to have dinner with my younger daughter and her partner, and it was a long drive that took me through Sacramento. As it happens these protesting truckers were on that route. Actually I did not get caught up in it directly but I think I felt some of the effects of the aftermath with traffic that was still backed up in the Sacramento area. But the other problem was the usual accidents on the highway — there had been several of them, and this was past the truck convoy route (so not the truckers’ fault). As far as I could see they were likely caused by people driving too fast. The weather was perfect. Really no excuse. There is a tie in here to what I want to say below.

If you are not in long-haul trucking or not somehow connected to it or don’t know anyone in it you may not give a hang. But then you could still be curious as to what is the beef.

Mostly independent owner-operators are protesting the new law and regulation that will force them to install electronic logging devices in their trucks to replace the quite cheatable paper logs. No more fudging on the hours to rack up the miles (or to get where you need to be). Long-haul works at a piece rate (miles x so many cents per).

The e-log mandate’s official purpose is to promote safety by forcing the truckers to abide by hours of service rules, thus avoiding accidents caused by tired drivers.

But here’s the deal from my perspective as someone who has worked at long-haul for two decades and counting: there are two basic reasons to fudge (the law calls it “falsification”, even if it is simple human error in calculation — by the way, and the fines are heavy):

  1. You simply want to go the extra miles to make more money.
  2. You want to get to a safe and comfortable and legal place to park — and that is not easy a lot of times.
  3. Okay, I have to add a third reason: you simply want to go home — like you’re 20 minutes away but you are out of hours.

So, truckers fudge or as the law calls it, “falsify”, their logs for a combination of those reasons.

Now simply to make more money is indefensible. I don’t see that they, or we (since I am a driver), have a right to jeopardize the safety of the motoring public because we want to make more money. On the other hand, since the practice of fudging has been so widespread and ingrained in the business there has been built up an expectation among the drivers and the companies who hire them that they can cover x number of miles in a day, regardless of the law. Both the companies and the drivers have built their economies around the practice.

Within a company drivers get mixed messages: obey the law/get there on time. One official, who will remain nameless, once told me: “there are two types of logs, legal ones and ones that ‘look’ legal. I’ll take looks legal every time.” Now if my current employer is reading this, I note that I did not say which company — I have worked for three.

But this is a new day. My hope is that if everyone is on the same page, that is if everyone is using e-logs, this fact may force some efficiencies into the whole business.

The main problems in it all right now are the shippers and receivers (not all) who do not give a hoot how long they hold a truck for loading and unloading, thus eating up the drivers’ hours, and the fact that maybe there are far too many trucks on the road and not enough parking spots. Also at times (it goes back and forth) there are too many trucks chasing too few loads, allowing shippers and receivers to abuse truckers by holding them too long, thus robbing them of their ability to make miles in a day and forcing them to eat up their hours sitting and waiting. Of course traffic delays are a major problem as well.

But if truckers could no longer fudge on their hours the truckers simply could not sit around so long and the shippers and receivers would have to be more efficient.

And it can be done, even though some would say it can’t.

Costco is a prime example. Back in the older times I hated to go to a Costco distribution center. Too much waiting. But then they came up with a new paperless system. You drive up to a window and they hand you one of those discs like they use in some restaurants to tell you when your table is ready, and then they actually assign you a dock number right then — and no standing in line with your paper work , they just scan it. You go to the dock and usually within a fairly short time you are unloaded but your product still needs to be counted but that does not usually take long and then the disc starts making noise and the lights go off and you are probably in your sleeper and are startled but happy you can get out of there and hit the road to make more money or go home.

If all shippers and receivers handled it that way it would nearly solve the whole problem of staying within safe driving hours.

My hope is that the e-log will force this.

Simply put, when the truckers can no longer fudge or cheat or falsify their logs, they won’t be able to play the shipper and receiver waiting game (at least it would seem that way).

As I understand it, the big trucking companies are all for the e-log for two main reasons:

It may well force many smaller companies and owner-operators out of the business and they can keep better track of their own drivers.

Now I am all for safety out on the road.

So what are we going to do about all these unsafe car drivers? Maybe they need e-logs too.

I think I have written all this to psyche myself out for using e-logs. Up till now I have not. But upon my planned return to work (set for this week as of now), I will be forced to use the e-log system.

At the moment, my concern is more about how I can get the job done than the potential loss of money — however a loss of earning power could put me out of business too. I am not an owner-operator, though. I simply work for a small company as a driver employee. When the truck breaks down (all mechanical things do) or when it needs tires or brakes it does not come out of my pocket. When you break down out on the road you are vulnerable. The repair places know this. The sky is the limit for work. For that matter, the sky is the limit for food out there. That’s why so many truckers pack their own and forgo the restaurants, most of which have shut down. A lot of them do use fast food (not my favorite).

But can I do this e-log thing?

Here is a real-life case in point:

There is a load I often have to do. I usually get it after I have gotten up early in the morning to make a delivery in perhaps the San Francisco Bay area. I might be unloaded by, say, 11 a.m. or even earlier. Now I get this load. I have to drive an hour or more to it. Problem is, I cannot check in for it until maybe 8 p.m. and then the problem is that I usually am not done there till after midnight. By this time I am out of legal hours. Also I have not necessarily been able to sleep all the waiting time due to various reasons, such as having to move  the truck and checking on the loading process. And another problem is the shipper, due to lack of room if nothing else, does not allow me to stay there. So I am forced by circumstances to drive at least an hour to a truck stop that may be full with no place to park. Some truckers simply pull over to the side of the road, even though it is not legal, and go to bed. My company tells me that is a no, no. Our late safety director (poor man passed away too young from some malady) called it one of his “unforgivable five”. But, God rest his soul, when I would ask him what I should do in such a circumstance, he simply either shrugged his shoulders or said: plan out your day. How can I plan when I do not know in advance where I will be or how long? Safety directors and dispatchers never have an answer for that except: “do the best you can (which to me is code for break the law but don’t get caught).

But if I decide to return to work (and that is up in their air at this time) I’ll just have to see how it goes.

I do know that even with e-logs there is some fudging going on. Computers can obviously be manipulated. However, I suspect the authorities will be better able to catch that with the electronic systems.

In some ways drivers such as I should be better off with e-logs. No longer should I have to worry that by simple miscalculation of my paper log I could be fined two thousand dollars or more (I mean I would never knowingly cheat…).

Also, I have talked to drivers who claim they actually get more miles because the e-log measures time up to the minute. On a paper log you have to round up in 15-minute increments. Often you rob yourself of time because of that — you spent eight minutes but have to round up to 15 — that all adds up rather quickly.

My problem is efficiency. While I consider myself a hard and responsible worker, stuff happens. You go to slide your trailer tandems to adjust to legal weight and they are stuck. All that time on an e-log would be subtracted from your available hours for drive time. On a paper, log, well that delay just did not happen or goes down as break time.

But this is a new day. I have to get used to it or get out of the game.

As far as the money goes, as far as the recalcitrant shippers and receivers go, if everyone is on the same playing field I would think something has to give.

Back in 2005 the hours of service rules were amended to add a 14-hour window in which you had to get everything done — previous to that the 18 or even 24-hour day was common. And I noticed some move to efficiency then (not enough, though).

Oh, and we need more, much more truck parking.

All forms of freight transportation are important (trucking, rail, air, shipping on water), but our system depends upon trucks — you just could not get the bulk of the goods to where they are needed without trucks, at least in some segment of the trip. So even if you are not into the business you are affected by it.

p.s.

The hours of service rules for long-haul trucks are basically this: 11 hours per day driving limit to be done within a 14-hour window, with a 30-minute break required after 8 hours of driving, and a 10-hour rest period after 11 hours of driving and a total of 70 hours allowed per week if it is for a seven-day operating company. Sounds like a lot of time. It is, but all the built-in delays, including traffic, subtract from that.


Some of all this does not directly apply to all trucking. I was talking long-haul. But there are other types in which drivers are paid by the hour and in which loads are relayed from one driver to another, thus overcoming the hours of service restrictions. But since the great de-regulation of the trucking industry a few decades ago we have developed this crazy long-haul system — a crazy system that came to my rescue 22 years ago when I was out of work and has sustained me for all that time.

From time to time you will hear talk about going to an hourly rate for long-haul. But that is problematic due to the fact of the unpredictability of it all — almost no set schedules for loading and unloading, making it nearly impossible to calculate pay versus production. But then again, with e-logs, why not? I don’t know. I am not in management.

 

 

 

 


Sacrificing school children did not move congress, but it seems killing country music fans might have — strange…

October 5, 2017

The headlines today indicate that congress might be willing to at least ban something called bump stocks that make semi-automatic rifles fire more like automatic rifles because that is what the Las Vegas shooter was using apparently.

That is encouraging if a little puzzling.

I mean there was no movement when those school children were mowed down in Connecticut several years ago.

But shoot up a crowd full of country music fans and something has to be done.

Ironically, the killer reportedly complained about people playing country music too loudly in the room below him sometime before the massacre. I’m not trying to make a sick joke, but maybe he was not a country music fan — or maybe he just wanted to catch some sleep.

Die-hard gun righters like to criticize gun control advocates for being ignorant about the nomenclature of weapons, such as referring to semi-automatic weapons as automatic. One tweet or comment on an article in favor of gun control I read claimed the writer lost his credibility in the first sentence by claiming the Las Vegas shooter fired “automatic” weapons — when in fact, I guess, he fired semi-automatic weapons modified with that bump stock to enhance the rapid fire capability.

You know what? I don’t give a hang for all the technicalities or nomenclatures. I know everything and nothing about weapons at the same time. I served in the army and fired several different kinds — not in combat but in practice. Although I am not a hunter, I have fired a hunting rifle a time or two. Who cares about distinctions, except the collectors and arms dealers, and murderers? The point is fully automatic or bump stock modified these things are made to kill human beings on a mass scale (I mean the technology was developed for war, not for hunting deer or repelling an intruder in your home). The laws or lack of laws that make it easy for people to obtain these war weapons, these instruments of mass murder, are obviously endangering us all. If it took the mass murder of country music fans to make some recalcitrant congressmen who thus far have been lackeys for the NRA, well that is sad indeed and still puzzling to me — I mean it is okay to sacrifice the lives of school children in Connecticut — but when you shoot up country music fans that is going too far.

(Shooting up a bunch of homosexuals in Florida did not move congress either. But to be fair in my criticism, I must note that there has been a plethora of mass shootings in recent years and maybe finally something is sinking in among some of our more timid congressmen who are afraid that if the gun lobby got them ousted they would not be able to find another job. (I’d hate to live like that. And that may be the flaw of the practice of having career politicians — they often are scared of doing the right thing.)

In my next post I am going to try to tackle the Second Amendment. I have nominally supported it or have been neutral towards it. But I think it is important for all of us to understand what it really says or what its intent was. I have read some things on it, but it is hard to grasp sometimes because the world was so different back in the 18th Century and the framers of our Constitution and its Bill of Rights could have in no way envisioned the conditions of today.

I am not yet against the Second Amendment; I just want to understand it and wish others did too. We certainly don’t want to be too hasty when it comes to our rights. What if people began to question the First Amendment and its liberal views on speech and freedom of religion (or freedom from religion as I sometimes put it)?

p.s.

I would not want anyone to think that I don’t like country music. But my concept or appreciation of country music is stuck in the time period from the mid 1960s back. Much of what has come after (not all) is mostly unrecognizable as country music to me. And that has nothing whatsoever to do with mass murder and the security of our society. I just wanted to clear that up.

 

 

 

 

 


If the press is lying to me why do I have to assume that you have the truth?

October 4, 2017

I don’t have much more useful to say about the Las Vegas massacre at this time other than the usual conspiracy theories are out there along with the notion that any reporting by the mainstream media is some kind of propaganda from the new world order.

I scanned some of the conspiracy theories but could not make much sense of them or figure out what would be the point, other than any that claim it just did not happen.

(As in the Holocaust never happened. We never landed a man on the moon, just the New Mexico desert.)

The people who were there, the survivors, the police, and the families of the victims know it did.

Sure, we do not yet know all the facts and we may never know all the facts.

So I am not going to go into all the nutty conspiracy theories but I have often wondered why they are always out there.

I think one reason is that it’s kind of like the Cliff Clavin guy at the bar, or the loudmouth truck driver at the coffee shop counter who has an answer for everything — these people want attention and want people to look up to them.

And before I go further on that, yes, sometimes things are not as they seem, but eventually the truth usually comes out and the errors in reporting are not necessarily part of any plot but simply initial confusion and the competition to be first in reporting.

But this the-government-is-lying-to-us-along-with-the-mainstream-media thing has to do with the fact that, well, yes, sometimes the forces in power in our government do lie to us or reshape the truth. We are winning. There is light at the end of the tunnel in Vietnam, when the government’s own secret assessment showed the opposite.

In that case, right-wing war hawks wanted to keep pursuing an unwinnable war if for no other reason than to preserve our honor rather than quitting a fight we could not win.

But right-wing yahoos think what they call “the media” (as if there was just one all-powerful conspiratorial organization) wants to ruin everything they claim to hold dear: motherhood, apple pie, the right to amass military-style arsenals on a personal basis, the proclaiming of Christianity as the official faith of the U.S. (ignoring the First Amendment), and the practice of blaming rape on female victims, and most importantly of all, making it a crime on the order of treason to question policy made by right-wing politicians.

But then the question is for all of those, right and left, who don’t believe anything that is reported in the so-called mainstream media: who do you trust? and why?

Personally I do my best to keep an open mind and check as many sources as possible or practical. And I have to admit time and cost can limit some of that checking, but still I do try to scan the various sources available, even the ever-present conspiracy theorists.

I mean the most convoluted murder story I can recall might be the JFK assassination that occurred when I was a freshman in high school. Even though the official story is that a lone gunman fired the shots from the window of a tall building, there were immediate reports of a suspicious person or persons on a “grassy knoll”. And then, in one of the most bizarre moments ever caught live on national television, a man walks up and shoots the suspect dead as he was being led to a vehicle to change cell locations in what amounted to a police-staged perp walk for “the media”. Things like that do unfortunately give some credence to conspiracy buffs.

There have been numerous books written and a plethora of dark and evil conspiracy theories posited on who supposedly was behind the assassination of JFK, including the CIA, Fidel Castro, and even vice president Lyndon Johnson, who got the promotion of his life when the president died.

And then today there are just plain malicious people who like to play around with tragedy or maybe gain hits on websites to draw paid advertising.

There is always an element of the public who will go for the conspiracy theory every time over the more plausible mainstream media story.

But if you are telling me “they” are lying to me, why is it that I am supposed to assume you have the truth?

p.s.

And I always forget something. These days we have Russians trying to mess with our minds and thus weaken our nation via fake news.

 

 

 

 


Increased gun control not likely, so always keep an eye out and if you see something, say something

October 3, 2017

Since gun control or limitations on gun ownership seem problematic in the United States, I would suppose improved security measures, especially for public events, is the only answer to the dangers of mass shootings such as the one in Las Vegas that now stands at 59 dead and 527 wounded after the Sunday night massacre at a concert there.

You have people congregated not far from a very tall building. Well that could be anywhere, but this was near the Mandalay Bay Hotel. I have driven past there many times.

Easy access in a society where we rightfully prize our freedom of movement is always a security risk. And if you belong in a place but have evil in mind, that even leads to a larger potential for danger.

Lee Harvey Oswald worked at the Texas School Book Depository in a tall building. So no one questioned him being there. He of course assassinated president Kennedy. Kennedy had been advised by security officials to use the protective bubble on his limousine but he was in campaign mode and preferred to be in full display of the people. That was in 1963.

In 1966, a man climbed a tall tower at the University of Texas and shot 16 people dead and 31 were wounded. I don’t know what the security situation was then and there.

The Las Vegas shooter belonged where he was because he simply rented a room.

Kind of hard to get away from tall buildings in Las Vegas. What was nothing more than a wide main drag with not-so-tall buildings but much neon lighting the night when I was a teenager has turned into a huge collection of palatial skyscrapers with an adult Disneyland atmosphere.

I don’t know. We put up with long lines at security check points to board airliners, especially for international flights, but not likely people would go through all that for a concert. Or would they put up with it just to check into a hotel?

(You’ll pardon me. I don’t know what security one goes though for concerts. I don’t attend them.)

But I guess people figure that the chances of getting killed attending a concert, even with the recent shootings at such events, are less likely than simply driving your car on the freeway, statistically speaking.

And I keep saying it, but if a class full of school children can be mowed down in Connecticut and no action is taken on gun control, I don’t think there is much hope any will ever be taken. All politics is local and your local congressman does not want to face the wrath of hunters and the National Rifle Association (NRA), which by the way I consider more a lobby for the arms trade than for gun owners. I had an uncle who was a World War II veteran and an avid hunter, but at some point he decided he had no use for the NRA and its brand of politics.

Ironically I think polling shows that the majority of Americans support increased gun control but at the same time the uniquely American gun culture is ingrained in our society and has a stranglehold on politicians hungry for votes and campaign donations and fearful of being branded as the enemy by the NRA.

And I have to admit, even I have sympathy to the notion that a citizen should have the right to defend himself. But am I going to go out and buy military-style weapons to do so? I don’t see that as safe nor practical. We have police and the military for that and through our demoratic system we have a mechanism to keep them in check. And if worse came to worse we would rebel against authority gone awry, no matter the law — we did in 1776.

(There is more to the story of 1776 than that, that is a more complicated interpretation, but that is a different subject.)

So I suppose strengthened security measures for public events is the only practical answer. But you just cannot protect against every contingency.

I’ve probably written this several times before but as a truck driver I have witnessed how easy it is to wander around a place with no one ever questioning you. I have done this simply trying to find out where my truck is supposed to be or where the unloading personnel are.

The murderer at Las Vegas rented a room at the hotel. He reportedly hauled in — not all at once maybe — ten suitcases. The police found a huge arsenal in his room — after the fact of course. No one thought all those suitcases were suspicious? I guess since he did not bring them in all at once there was no outright sign of anything out of the ordinary.

So, it’s a dangerous world. In the United States we have collectively decided that preserving our right to amass arsenals of weapons on an individual basis is worth the risk of mentally disturbed people (and terrorists would be included — they are not right-minded) taking advantage of the freedom.

You just always need to pay attention to your surroundings and look for an escape route and if you see something say something.

p.s.

Islamic terrorists have tried to take credit for the latest massacre but from what I have read so far any chances that could be true are remote.

 

 

 


When does the gun madness stop?! Massacre in Las Vegas…

October 2, 2017

I just got home from a long trip this past evening and awoke two or so hours after going to bed and could not get back to sleep and then I look at my computer to discover there has been a mass shooting in Las Vegas — current count as I write this: more than 50 dead and at least 200 injured. The gunman is believed to have killed himself. It is among the worst mass shootings in U.S. history I think.


UPDATE: I’m writing commentary not up-to-the-minute news, nevertheless as the morning after progresses I note that the death toll as I write this update is 58, with 515 injured.

———————————————————————————————————————————–

And I am posting this without even reading the whole story.

But when does the gun madness stop? I live in gun country. The right to keep and bear arms, for every man woman and child to pack a gun (okay a little exaggeration), is held sacrosanct. Most of the people I know here don’t read my blog. I mean I can’t say what I really think in public around here for fear of being ostracized. I am not against personal gun ownership or at least have not been. But with that shooting of a full class of school children several years ago and now this (plus all the others in between) I have to ask, why cannot we limit the free flow of guns that allows nut cases to perpetrate these horrific murders?

And this one just now in Las Vegas hits (and pardon that expression) too close to home. Not much more than 24 hours ago I was talking to a man headed for Las Vegas at an airport in Philadelphia. He could have be a victim. Worse (for me) I often drive to and in or through Las Vegas as a truck driver.

Folks, no matter what your position is on guns and gun control — we have to stop the madness. No we cannot control every action of every person. Yes, there will always be murderers and victims — but this free flow of weapons has to STOP!

And I know Second Amendment diehards (and again, pardon the unfortunate use of words) will never let go of their absolutism. But do they care about their fellow human beings? I wonder sometimes. And everyone packing their own gun would have not likely been able to stop this person in time.

Yes, I need more details. I will read them all. We all should.


Good to be back home, but what about those homeless?

October 1, 2017

Looks like I got out of Spain just in time. Some violence has reportedly broken out in Catalonia where what is described by the central government in Madrid as an illegal referendum on independence for that region is taking place. I was not in Catalonia. I spent almost all of my time in Navarra. But I know just enough about Spanish politics to understand that just like in the U.S. there is always the conflict between the central government and regional and local governments.

And actually I almost wished I was still there, being the one-time journalist I am. Last year the night before I left Madrid there was excitement over the truce between rebels and the government in Colombia, with a happy demonstration on the Puerta del Sol.

But I will go no further now into the politics of either of those nations (Spain or Columbia), one because I am not knowledgeable enough, and two because that is not the reason I am posting today.

Just wanted to say there is no place like home. As happy as I always am to visit Spain — this being my fourth trip there now just completed — I am always happy to return to my homeland.

In fact, I am just south of the city of my birth at this time. I am in South San Francisco. I was born in San Francisco — the most beautiful city on earth, as far as I know — and Madrid is beautiful too and so many other places are, but since San Francisco is my birthplace I am partial to it. Can’t afford to live there though. Always amazed that my humble family (my parents and my siblings) lived there once upon a time and quite comfortably — that was then, this is now.

I live up at the north end of the Sacramento Valley these days and have for more years than anywhere else.

Redding is a nice place but it is being overrun by the homeless. I don’t know why.

The running story, true or not, maybe a meme (not sure that is the correct word) is that the homeless are bussed into Redding from other locales, especially from out-of-state. And for some reason, supposedly, the homeless thrive in Redding with assistance from welfare officials.

Personally I have little to no sympathy for them. Sure if someone is just down on his (or her) luck or if a family is in distress that is different. But I have dealt with these people, that is having to wade my way through them or dodge them as they saunter across the street without a care as to the traffic or congregate at the entrance to the library. My youngest daughter lived in a modest but clean apartment complex but was physically run out by the homeless who came up from the creek below and molested the inhabitants. The police don’t seem to be able to do anything except sometimes move them from one part of town to the other.

I would be perfectly okay with my tax money used, that is some of it, to provide shelter for these individuals — who range from the mentally ill and substance abusers to just people down on their luck. It would be good for both them and the rest of us.

But I don’t know what the current case-law is. In the past in California I know that Sacramento at one time tried to force the homeless to accept shelter, rather than live on the streets but the courts ruled essentially that they have a right to be street people.

I in no way envy the homeless. But it is kind of galling that at 68 I am still working for a living, paying my way, while these people line up fo  their free phones (and that is no fiction) and ride around on bicycles, and even have pets (do we pay for that too?).

Perhaps if the judges who are so lenient had to suffer the abuse of the homeless rather than live in protected enclaves, they would change their tune.

I know they have done a lot of despoil the enjoyment of my native San Francisco too.

Hey, but it’s good to be home.

p.s.

I always describe myself as middle of the road in politics and ideology. Ultra conservatives reading things I have written might consider me just another liberal (strange, when and where I grew up that was not necessarily an insult), but when it comes to putting up with abuse from the homeless, I am the type who wishes it was like the old days when vagrancy was against the law. No, I don’t want to see the return of work houses or debtor prisons. I just think for the betterment of society we should provide safe and secure shelters for those who for whatever reason cannot provide for themselves.

I mean, does a bear go doo doo in the woods? Where do you think the homeless go?