Talking Tech with Truckers (Part 2)

Monday, June 25, 2018

Truckers are dealing every day with tech innovators and disruptors like ELDs and Uberization—and related uncertainty. Following is another excerpt (Part 1 is here) from my appearance on Road Dog Trucking, the Sirius XM radio program, hosted by Mark Willis, with 1.2 million daily listeners.

Mark Willis: All right, let’s go to Brad in Mississippi. Hello, welcome to the program. What do you think about all this technology and how it will affect tow truck drivers?

Brad: I know it’s frowned upon, but I am a heavy tow truck driver and we don’t technically run log books quite often— pretty much the only time that we run them is if we’re going over a hundred air miles or crossing state lines. My question is, if we can get Steve’s feedback—with the new electronic logs, what am I supposed to do, because now obviously all of my drive hours are going to be accounted for? If a driver calls me up in the middle of the night and he’s stuck on the side of the road, am I supposed to tell him, “Sorry I don’t have any hours. I can’t come get you off the road and get you to a safe haven”? That’s the disruption I see coming with it. And there’s a lot of rumors going on about how it’s going to affect tow truck operators. I’m trying to get some positive feedback, whether it's going to affect us in a negative way or not.

Mark Willis: Thanks, Brad, for the call and Steve, to that point, there’s no single trucking operation, it’s not uniform. It’s not a one-size-fits-all when it comes to the industry. How does technology take that into account about so many different trucking applications out there, to make sure all of the parameters are followed? Is that one of the big puzzles going forward in the industry—to make sure that it does fit every single aspect of the industry?

Steve Sashihara: Over time it might, but like a lot of things, the vendors of this technology are going to go where the money is. So, for the 53’ dry, that’s the big part of commercial trucking, they will go after that first. Things like tow and all the good but niche specialties—because there’s much fewer units to sell there—they will probably come last. To answer your caller’s question, I think we have to campaign for smarter regulations, rather than DOT hours-of-service rules that are based on the idea that you can only drive for so many hours before you get fatigued. Why not measure fatigue? Why just count hours? Until we can get that changed, we shouldn’t blame the ELDs—it’s the regulation they’re enforcing, and maybe we can get smarter rules.

Mark Willis: Does this also mean though that with the amount of Big Data being collected right now and the Internet of Things that there's no stopping this? I mean, if we need to reexamine the hours of service, and the impact it’s having on the drivers out there, how do we slow this down with all the data out there that indicates that maybe the ELDs might be needed? What do you think?

Steve Sashihara: Well, you know, Big Data is a fact. We have sensors already in our commercial vehicles. We’re actually not doing enough with that data to sense dangerous driving conditions and possibly failing parts, but, we’re just going to have more and more data. So, the question is, “Who's going to get the data and what are they going to do with it?” Right now, we’re already collecting more data than were using and I think that amount’s increasing.

Mark Willis: All right. Let's go now next to Jeff in California. Jeff, welcome to the program, sir. This technology, can it cause a lot of issues from your vantage point?

Jeff: It already has. It’s created an uncertainty in my little decisions to go buy a truck, to become an owner‑operator again because the company I want to go to, I’ve met with them before, they have no age limit on trucks, but you’ve got to be ELD compliant. All right, so go figure that one out. They say their ELD works on older trucks, some say it does, some say it doesn’t--see the uncertainty? And what about the tow truck drivers? How am I supposed to do this? How am I supposed to do that? There's so much uncertainty in the marketplace that we don’t know if we should turn around or go straight. And that’s not good for small business.

Mark Willis: All right Jeff, I appreciate the uncertainty. Steve, with all the things that are coming up like the disruptors we're mentioning, could that really have a negative effect on many aspects of the trucking industry, most of which are small business owners?

Steve Sashihara: Yes, it could, and, and I don’t want to sugarcoat anything, particularly for people that are owner-ops. Some of these new technologies might require bigger checks. But there are positives to it that I’m trying to emphasize—safer roads, possibly more money in paychecks because the fleet’s already more efficient, less unload-load time, less bobtailing, less dead-heading. So, hopefully, on aggregate, your listenership will be making more money.

Mark Willis: All right, let’s go to Ronnie in Illinois. What do you think about all this investment in technology? Hundreds and hundreds of millions of bucks being spent?

Ronnie: Mark and Steve, I say, “Bring it on. Let’s get it on, let’s see what we can do, see what happens, because we know it’s coming, let’s not hold back. Bring it on right now.” The other question I have is, who do we have to invest in this Princeton thing? Is that a public company? Is that private? Steve, who do we invest in to get in on the ground floor of this?

Steve Sashihara: It’s a private company and we’re not [laughs] an Uber, which, you know, just put their toe into our industry and has a higher valuation than Ford. There’s a lot of money at stake and I appreciate your sentiment, because that's what I'm telling my kids. I don't know the future. I’m trying to figure it out but, to my kids—"get in the game.”

Mark Willis: And with Uber, let me ask you this, as we get ready to wrap up. What is that going to do to the industry, overall? We've heard of the Uberization of freight and how it’s going to revolutionize things. There’s a number of different players out there that do the same thing. Is Uber really going to make a big dent, in your estimation?

Steve Sashihara: You know, just very quickly—a customer wants to pay $1,000-$1,500 to move freight from point A to point B. He needs a truck. Everything else he doesn’t need. He doesn't need the buildings, the back-office people, the IT department. So, anything that takes out all those unnecessary parts means either a cheaper freight move for the customer, and/or more money for the driver who, with the truck, has got to be there. So, a lot of Uberization is getting rid of the taxi cab company, or making it invisible, or automating it. I think it’s less the people maybe that are drivers calling in [on this program], but more the people working for the 3PLs, the brokers, the trucking companies, which I know also are listeners, that have got to look inward and say, “What are we doing that we can automate and get more money to the drivers and make the whole experience better, just like Uber, which is a good ride.”

Mark Willis: Real quickly, what do you think this is going to do for the rates overall for shipping? You mentioned some of that might trickle down to some of the drivers, so they could make some extra money, but will that have an effect across the entire industry, as far as rates are concerned?

Steve Sashihara: I think so. I think the overall trend is going to be shipping is going to get more efficient. We're going to soak up some of the empty miles, and there will be cost savings.

Mark Willis: All right, very good. I want to talk about the five disruptors that are out there today, ladies and gentlemen. These are going to be some of the things that will really move the needle when it comes to trucking. Big changes are coming. We talked about the self‑driving autonomous vehicles, drones, freight Uberization, the Internet of big Things, and Big Data really coming to the forefront, and the trucking industry is really anxious to learn about all of these things going forward, because the business model, the traditional business trucking model, is changing. Steve, I appreciate you joining me on the program.