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What’s Up With The Spot Freight Market?

Have you been using the truckload spot freight market a lot less? If so, you aren’t alone. Due to the depressed rates over the last year, many have given up on spot freight. Still, it may be time to give it a second look.

Taking a closer look at the numbers, external pressures that had been pushing rates down may be balancing out, although this doesn’t mean they will be returning to last year’s levels any time soon, or the record-breaking highs of 2014.

The Full Story

So while the spot freight market hit a big bump in 2015, things didn’t really start to improve in any measurable way until this past spring. The reasons behind the price fluctuations can be traced right back to what has been affecting the overall economy, mainly the big drop in fuel prices.

When the oil industry all but collapsed, there was also a crunch in moving commodities, which had a spill-over effect in the spot freight market. First, flatbed freight saw the biggest hit, followed by van freight. With California’s continuing drought, the produce spot freight market also dried up.

Still, with the oil industry on the rebound, there may be some movement again in the spot freight market. Consider that retail sales in April and May increased at a rapid clip. In June and July oil and fuel prices started to creep up. California even saw some relief with improvements in their ongoing drought conditions.

And whether you call this a coincidence or not, the North American Freight Index took a big jump over the course of the spring and into the summer. Yet, the market isn’t completely out of the water just yet, as there are still factors at play that might put a cap on industry growth.

One such example is in linehaul rates. Considering there was a race to cut rates in the first half of the year, the added capacity brought online in 2015 only compounded the issue. Manufacturing also remains week, which puts a crimp on overall spot freight performance.

Even with the headwinds, big players are hopping back into the market. Swift Transportation recently announced that it has increased its spot freight activity somewhat, mainly due to the dearth of available freight in some areas. The fact is, operating in the spot freight market is a lot better than having your trucks sitting idle and generating no revenue at all.

What Does the Data Say?

The fact is, spot prices have been rising far more than contract prices. If you take a look at the data going back to 2008, just before the Great Recession, you will see that since the bottom, contract prices have seen their growth expand by about 1% year over year.

Yet if you look at spot prices, even with last year’s downturn, growth in prices has averaged around 2%. What this means is that random freight is increasingly making its way in from the edges of contracts back into the spot market. As rates have improved, so has volume.

One item to note, however, is that spot prices do tend to be more volatile. As capacity pressures go through some wild swings, so will price changes within the spot market. There is also a shorter lag time between market events and price responses.

On the flipside, contract rates have a much more defined lag. Contract prices will generally hit their peak around two quarters after spot rates make their move. Part of the reason behind this lies in the nature of data collection and contract renewal schedules.

Expect these kinds of lags, whether in spot freight or contract work, to improve over time as new forecasting tools and technological innovations emerge. And yet, with the market changing, you can expect both carriers and shippers to sustain these conditions for a while. After all, it’s just human nature.

Potential Reactions to the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Phase 2 Rules

Earlier this month the White House, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Transportation Safety Administration put out their final “Phase 2” rules for greenhouse gas/fuel economy for medium and heavy duty commercial vehicles.

The rules are set to cover all semi-trucks, vans and large pickup trucks. They will also govern buses and work trucks manufactured during the model years 2021 – 2027. Once the standards have been completely phased in, future tractor-trailer combinations will be required to knock a full quarter percent off of their carbon dioxide emissions and fuel consumption when compared to an equivalent vehicle with a 2018 manufacturing date.

What it Covers

When it comes to what kind of equipment you buy and how that equipment will function when getting the job done, these rules will apply. While there were some negative early reactions, most of the response has been positive. The fact is, fuel economy and carbon emissions are a reality, and the trucking industry is facing them head on.

With the United States facing some serious challenges in greenhouse gas reduction, manufacturers and government agencies will need to partner up to develop innovative new solutions to fuel economy and emissions problems.

For many, building on existing industry leadership will be crucial in this endeavor. Many major manufacturers are already showing support for regulations designed to lower greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption.

What many wanted to see in the new rule was a collaborative effort. They expected the final rule to provide clear, long-term targets that apply not just to the engine, but to the entire vehicle itself. They also wanted the rule to give industry players enough time to adapt and choose how to achieve the reductions in a way that doesn’t harm their business.

Potential Engineering Challenges

There are also engineering feats to consider. Although many are proud of their achievements, manufacturers understand that it will take a serious effort, backed up with a lot of brain power, to achieve a 25% reduction in both emissions and fuel consumption.

Considering big players like Cummins and Daimler have already proven their capability in meeting Phase 1 efforts, getting to Phase 2 shouldn’t be extraordinarily difficult. With industry players getting to work with the EPA and NHTSA during the draft review process, the final rule is able to better clarify how it impacts the needs of both motor carriers and their customers.

Trailer makers are, of course, definitely a concerned participant in the conversation, and the final ruling does include trailers. Some trailer manufacturers have called the final eco2 targets “more stringent,” but are vowing to find ways to comply.

One manufacturer, Great Dane Trailers, has reported working on some of the lightest reefer and flatbeds on the market. While they expect to see a jump in initial acquisition costs, they do note that their customers will see improvements in their cost of ownership over the long-term.

What Does the ATA Say?

Unsurprisingly, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) quickly came out with an extensive statement evaluating the GHG proposals. According to their statement, they “developed and adopted a set of 15 guiding principles.” These guiding principles would serve as parameters for inclusion once the rule was finalized.

They went on to express pleasure that their concerns were heard and included in the final rule. A few things they recommended included:

  • Adequate lead time
  • Technology development markers
  • National harmonization of standards
  • Manufacturer flexibility

In the end, the ATA reports that they will continue to work with the EPA and NHTSA, though they did highlight transparency and accommodation to industry-sensitive concerns as sticking points. As the GHG Phase 2 rule is rolled out, we’ll see how this story evolves over time.

The fact is, improved fuel economy is a goal that shouldn’t be hard for stakeholders to unite around. While the new targets may represent a challenge to some in the industry, most are focused on meeting their goals in a way that has a minimal impact on fleets or other industry participants.

Trucking’s Regulatory Handbook For 2017 And Beyond – The ELD Mandate

It’s no secret: the trucking industry is experiencing some pretty big changes in regulations. Whether you are talking about electronic logging devices (ELD) or speed limiters, there is plenty to remember when it comes to staying in regulatory compliance.

Yet, when the rules change or are complex or confusing, keeping up can be difficult. So the best way to stay ahead of the game is to always have the right information. You have to know what it all means and how it affects your business.

In this new ongoing series, we are going to take a deeper look at all of the regulations that will impact our industry, from 2017 on. Today, we are going to take a look at the ELD Mandate.

The ELD Mandate

Let’s get right into the details. First, if you are operating vehicles using Automatic Onboard Recording Devices – which are essentially early versions of ELDs – you have an extra two years to upgrade your equipment to meet the new regulatory standards.

You can also be exempted if you are a short haul or time card driver. This includes vehicles operating within a 100 air-mile radius or non-CDL drivers who are operating within a 10 air-mile radius. One exemption to this rule includes any truck driver exceeding service limits on a time card for more than eight days in a rolling 30-day period.

Trucks manufactured before 2000 will also be exempt from ELD requirements for the simple reason that their onboard computers will not be able to interface with today’s advanced electronic logging devices.

Larger fleets welcome the new regulation mainly because of the number of benefits they get from using the devices. In a world of paperless logs, a fleet manager will be better able to discern and verify drivers’ records. If an accident occurs, the information will all be cataloged.

Things like acceleration and breaking data become easily accessible. Time presenting information back to inspectors can be cut in half.

What You Need to Know

When it comes to the type of ELD they use, fleets do have some leeway in meeting government requirements. ELDs can either be a dedicated device or can connect up to a laptop, tablet or smartphone.

Motor carriers can also have data wirelessly transmitted to their facilities or downloaded by wire into a company computer every 13 days. There are specific requirements that, though complex, outline how the ELD should be used.

They include:

  • The ELD must automatically records at certain intervals.
  • The ELD must record date, time, location, engine hours, vehicle miles, and driver identification information.
  • The ELD must be available to be read outside the cab by a law enforcement officer or another authorized individual. Whether it is wired or wireless, it must be able to be handed to someone outside the vehicle.
  • When the vehicle is in motion the ELD must be mounted.
  • The ELD must capture locations down to within one mile. There is an exception here: When the truck driver is operating under ‘personal conveyance,’ such as driving an unloaded truck from a terminal or to their place of residence.
  • THE ELD must be tamper resistant and from an approved manufacturer. The data within the ELD must be encrypted to prevent hacking.
  • Anyone who drives the vehicle must have their own unique identification code entered into the ELD. Whether it be a mechanic testing the vehicle or a shop worker moving it from one place to another, they must have an identification number put into the ELD.
  • The ELD must have a mute button.
  • ELD logs must be kept on file for at least six months. Any log changes must be certified by the operator.

While this is just a base summarization of these complex rules, it represents the meat and bones of what you need to know. Join us in our next installment of this series when we take a look at the latest on the Safety Fitness Determination Rule.

How GPS Improves Truck Driver Behavior and Fleet Performance – Part II

Last week we took a closer look at how you can utilize advanced telematics and GPS technologies to improve your fleet’s performance. Whether you are looking at safety measured, truck driver performance or fuel savings, GPS can make a big impact on your bottom line.

Today we will dig into other aspects of GPS utilization to drive fleet performance. First up is how to mitigate or completely prevent unauthorized vehicle use.

Tracking Your Vehicles

The fact is, when your fleet’s vehicles are being used unauthorized, it eats up fuel costs and can cause maintenance and longevity issues down the road. By using GPS telematics, a wise fleet manager has access to a number of tools used to monitor after-hours vehicle usage.

First, you can use an odd hours report, which identifies when your vehicles are being driven on weekends or during other times when they shouldn’t be on the road. By setting up alerts, you can instantly be notified once a vehicle is put into motion.

Finally, when your truck drivers know this system is in place, it acts as a deterrent. When these systems are put into place, unauthorized vehicle usage declines.

Productivity to the Rescue

There are a number of ways you can use advances technologies to increase your fleet’s productivity levels. You can do things like tracking vehicle start and stop times and alert necessary parties when the systems reveal behaviors that don’t comply with company policy.

Increase your levels of customer service engagement through improving on-time arrivals. These systems allow your drivers to deliver their loads more efficiently. They can do more jobs without causing you to have to spend more money. Better routing also improves operational efficiency.

Your bottom line benefits because when your people are more efficient, you increase revenues. Through service-call and on-time delivery improvement you will satisfy more customers and deliver on a more agile and responsive level of service.

Getting More Out of Fuel

One of the things most on the mind of today’s fleet manager is fuel usage. This is one of the most important ways to keep carrier costs in check. But are you ensuring a focus on fuel is a company-wide endeavor?

By utilizing telematics and GPS systems you can give yourself the information you need to improve fuel efficiency. Things like excessive speed or idle time both uselessly drain fuel and add costs to your bottom line.

Some advanced systems even include a partnership with a national fuel card option. This gives you the power you need to maintain control over your truck drivers’ fuel purchases. You can both verify transactions and usage details in real-time and through reports.

How Coaching Helps

Are you coaching your people? If not, you may not be getting the most out of their performance. When you are trying to change truck driver behavior you need to do things like set goals, educate and coach them. Finally, they must be rewarded for good performance.

When you bring on new systems, you need to make sure your drivers embrace its use. Because of this, you must emphasize the positive aspects that this new technology brings to the table. Create procedures that clearly outline how the technology will be used and in what ways it will impact your people’s performance.

While you want to make it clear that noncompliance won’t be tolerated, make the primary focus of the program how the truck drivers can be rewarded for good performance and exemplary driving habits. Whether you give them a gift card, time off or something else, these types of systems can be used to motivate drivers and create better habits among your fleet.

In the end, through the use of a GPS or network telematics solution, you can do everything from cut costs to increase operational efficiency and process effectiveness. When everyone understands how these systems impact fleet performance, the whole team benefits.

What’s Going On With ELDs In Canada?

With all the talk of ELDs on this side of the border, we sometimes forget that the trucking industry is a North American operation, not just an American one. Our brothers and sisters in Canada are as much a part of the equation as we are.

And yet, despite getting ahead of the game where the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) standard is concerned, regulators north of the border are now struggling to catch up with the United States and have something in place by December of 2017.

Oh, Canada

Even though Canada has been considering the ELD devices since as far back as 2007, work didn’t begin in on a new standard until 2010. With a first draft completed in 2013, the Canadian rule was intended to follow the first ELD rule published by the FMCSA, but it was vacated by a Canadian court on the grounds that there was some ambiguity in the driver coercion clause.

Now, after deciding to wait, they are catching up to the U.S, who is now putting out the final rule. According to the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators’ Compliance and Regulatory Affairs Committee, they believed their initial decision was “justified.”

And even though the final rule was published at the tail end of 2015, Canada was a little burned because the U.S. didn’t involve them in the consultation process. According to a Canadian official, they were flummoxed as to why the U.S. didn’t include them, but reports that the FMCSA is now doing everything they can to resolve some of the differences between both policies.

By the time the final rule was laid out, Canadian officials met to determine what the differences were between the U.S. rule and the Canadian rule from 2013. They also set out to make whatever changes were required to align the two documents. This job was made all the more difficult by there being a significant number of differences between the policies.

Waiting for a Resolution

The final cut of the standard has now been completed and was revealed back in July. Industry partners and others involved in the process were allowed to comment and a final draft will be delivered to government ministers no later than April of 2017.

Although some say the timetable will be very tight, September of 2017 has been mentioned as the absolute final deadline before the Canadian rule must be delivered to the ministers. The extension is born mainly out of the fact that there are quite significant regulatory issues that must be worked through. Such examples include:

  • How to certify the devices.
  • Should current devices remain in service?
  • How should future ELD devices be certified?

Currently, Canada’s HOS rule call for ELDs, but only in a limited scope. Rule makers in Canada will likely need to put a grandfathering provision in place – much like the one we use here in the United States.

At the same time, the FMCSA is requiring that vendors self-certify. Still, they haven’t laid out specific policies or provided tools or test cases for companies to emulate. Individual jurisdictions in both countries are hesitant to set their own certification process, lest they run afoul of the final federal rule.

Yet because of the way the government is set up in Canada, the central government cannot force individual provinces to utilize a mandate applied to carriers operating within a province. The federal government can require ELDs for between provinces, but the provinces themselves must finalize the rules through specific legislation.

So what does this mean for the provinces themselves? While some have come out in full support of mandatory ELDs, others still haven’t bought into the idea and have clearly stated so. There are a number of positions being held, including the federal government’s. It looks like only time will tell how the ELD mandate debate will play out north of the border.

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