View from the Edge

Best Fleets to Drive For: An Early Look at Operations

Best Fleets to Drive For is the only annual program dedicated to uncovering the best workplaces in the North American trucking industry. Produced by CarriersEdge, in partnership with Truckload Carriers Association, the program evaluates more than 100 nominated fleets and collects thousands of driver surveys each year. The resulting data provides a clear picture of what's working at fleets of all sizes.

The annual Best Fleets to Drive For survey and contest evaluates fleets across a range of performance criteria, identifying the companies having the most success with their drivers. The evaluation process is difficult, requiring data to be collected from all departments and surveys from a healthy number of drivers, all in a short timeframe at the busiest time of year. As a result, nearly half of each year's nominated fleets don't make it through to the finals. Those that do demonstrate that they've got a strong team and the ability to communicate and collaborate effectively. Fleets that make it further - being named a Best Fleet to Drive For - have really figured out the recipe for success.

Scoring for the 2019 edition of the program wrapped up in early January, and this year's participants demonstrated creative thinking across the full range of evaluation metrics. One area that stood out was operational strategy - what fleets do through their daily operations to make life better for drivers.

There have been many stories over the past year about fleets changing or increasing their driver pay, but what fleets do to keep drivers moving and productive can be just as important. Those daily experiences can often have more impact on a driver's overall satisfaction level than any specific detail of a pay package, and this year's Best Fleets have focused their attention in a couple of areas that help with this substantially.

Minimizing Maintenance Downtime

Keeping the equipment running smoothly and reliably has long been a focus for Best Fleets, and this year's finalists are no different. The vast majority have taken advantage of technology to manage Preventive Maintenance (PM) scheduling, and have processes in place to ensure drivers get routed into a shop with minimal headaches.

A new scoring metric that emerged this year is how long it actually takes for the PMs to be completed. While the PM itself takes roughly the same amount of time everywhere, the impact on the driver's day can be vastly different. Some fleets schedule PMs during the day, at their terminal, so drivers effectively lose half a day while the service gets done. On the other hand, an appreciable number of this year's finalists make a point of scheduling PMs for weekends or overnights, when the driver is already off duty, cutting that downtime to zero - the driver drops the truck on Friday, goes home for the weekend, then returns to find the service completed. A nice experience for the driver, but also more efficient for the company as well since the freight moves more smoothly with less disruption.

For independent contractor fleets, the focus on equipment uptime takes a slightly different route. While fleets have to be careful what services they offer, they are typically providing free inspections for contractor vehicles, discounted labor at company shops, and most have arranged substantial parts discounts for contractors as well. Put together, these options can dramatically improve the efficiency and lower the cost of routine maintenance for contractor vehicles.

Minimizing Shipper Delays

Fleets have always paid drivers for excess waiting time, but what constitutes “excess” time has been changing over the past few years. As fleets find more ways to improve the overall experience for drivers, and remove the problem areas that lead to frustration, the average wait time before receiving detention pay has decreased significantly. Instead of having to wait 3-4 hours before detention pay kicks in, the standard now appears to be 2 hours - 55% of this year's finalists pay drivers at that point. However, another 38% of the finalists pay sooner than that, with 22% paying out after 90 minutes, and another 11% starting to pay detention after an hour. A few even start the clock as soon as the driver enters the yard, effectively paying for all pickup and delivery time, regardless of how long it takes. The final 7% are the fleets where detention pay starts after 3 or more hours, or the fleets that only pay if they recoup from the customer. Given the shift in this area, those fleets are definitely at a disadvantage.

Use of trailer pools is increasing, with more fleets using dropped trailers to speed the loading/unloading process for drivers. This continues to be a popular option for drivers, allowing them to get in and out quickly rather than waiting around.

With more freight than drivers, the majority of this year's finalists have also taken the opportunity to improve the driver experience at shipping points, relying on feedback from drivers to do so. More fleets are using customer scorecards to track metrics such as ease of access, use of washrooms and other facilities, general treatment, and speed of loading/unloading. Several have adopted Amazon-style rate-this-load surveys through their mobile apps, giving drivers an opportunity to provide quick feedback while it's still top of mind after delivery.

Of course, collecting feedback is only half the battle - doing something with it is what counts. Most fleets using scorecards or surveys have formal processes in place to share that feedback with customers, and some have regular meetings setup to review the results and discuss opportunities for improvement.

It's worth noting that many of these proactive customer management tools are just as common in contractor fleets as they in fleets using company drivers. In fact, 82% of contractor-only fleets this year have some kind of customer scorecard or post-delivery survey to collect feedback on the experience. While many don't pay contractors for their waiting time, the majority are collecting feedback on ways to improve the process.

Put together, these efforts can make a big difference in the overall experience for drivers. If they can have PMs completed without losing productive time, get paid for everything except minor delays at the customer site, have the opportunity to provide feedback on those customers, and see that feedback translate into changes and improvements through the company's follow-up efforts, then the driver's job can get a whole lot better.

The 2019 Top 20 Best Fleets to Drive For will be announced on January 29.

View from the Edge is a periodic review of best practices in risk management, driver development, and technology for the trucking industry, produced by CarriersEdge.

CarriersEdge provides interactive online driver training for the North American trucking industry. A comprehensive library of safety and compliance courses is supplemented with extensive content creation and customization options, full featured survey tools, detailed management reports, and the industry's first dedicated mobile app for driver training.

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