Goodbye, AOBRD: Get a sneak preview from carriers that have made the transition to ELDs
The day of the electronic logging device mandate’s first enforcement deadline, Dec. 18, 2017, was no different than any other day for carriers using technology qualified as an automatic onboard recording device under the regulations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
The end of the soft enforcement period on April Fools’ Day the following year, too, held no consequence for carriers that had been logging driver hours with AOBRDs in 2017 and before. All along, the most important date for these fleets has been Dec. 17, 2019.
By then, all carriers must use technology that meets the new ELD requirements of Parts 395.20 through 395.38 in FMCSA’s rulebook. That includes detailed specifications that do not exist for AOBRDs.
Many fleets and one-truck owner-operators with authority are delaying the transition. Fewer than half of those using e-log products from Trimble Transportation Mobility, one of the largest telematics and fleet management technology providers, have flipped the switch to update their software, estimates Eric Witty, vice president of product.
That’s roughly the share of survey respondents in the 100-plus truck fleet group that reported they were continuing to use AOBRDs in June. Other fleet sizes show fewer holdouts.
Many fleets have legacy systems that will require a discrete software update or hardware upgrade plan to make the transition with their current technology provider. When CCJ and Overdrive surveyed fleets and independent owner-operators with authority in June, 31% of respondents who continued to use AOBRDs noted definitively that they planned to stick with their provider.
Many of those same fleets and owner-operators (43% cumulatively, according to survey results) are using devices that can operate in AOBRD mode and then switched to ELD mode when the grandfather period ends in December. Providers with such functionality include BigRoad, KeepTruckin and Gorilla Safety.
Only 6% of survey respondents planned to go to a different provider. Nearly one in five AOBRD users remained uncertain of their provider plans.
A spokesman with Zonar, which offers a dedicated tablet-type AOBRD with wider functionality that updates to the ELD specification over the air, is encouraging current customers to migrate from AOBRDs “no later than early fall.” That echoes comments from other providers.
Zonar expects an “uptick in business from fleets that aren’t happy with their existing providers’ ability to ensure ELD compliance,” the spokesman added.
J.J. Keller expects the same, says Keller’s Rebecca Brown. “The reasons for their interest vary — meeting the coming deadline, the end of a contract, curiosity to see what other systems have to offer, and general dissatisfaction with their current provider.”
That last item could pertain to many customers. Nearly a third of fleet and independent owner-operator respondents to an CCJ/Overdrive survey in late 2018 reported being “not satisfied at all” with their current provider.
CHOOSING A PLATFORM
Nussbaum Transportation Truck and Trailer
Nussbaum Transportation (CCJ Top 250, No. 216), having used AOBRDs since 2005, began its ELD transition in May 2018 by forming a steering committee. Management later decided to replace all AOBRD hardware and software in its 430-truck fleet.
The Hudson, Ill.-based truckload carrier switched to Geotab because it offered “a very open interface” that would support its needs in the back office and mobile strategies, says Jeremy Stickling, vice president of safety and human resources. The company chose a platform with a plug-and-play Go device that installs in the vehicle and connects wirelessly to an Android tablet display.
AOBRD to ELD Transition Chart
For most smaller fleets, the AOBRD-to-ELD transition is little more than a date on the calendar. For the largest fleet segment, however, nearly half have work to do before yearend.
In 2018, Schneider (No. 7) executed an earlier decision to not be dependent on a single vendor for electronic logging and telematics technology. The carrier chose a multivendor tablet-based approach.
“We do a lot more than the hours of service on our tablets,” says Mike Degeneffe, Schneider’s vice president of IT solution delivery. “The tablet is an extension of our back office and a connection to our drivers.”
The AOBRD and ELD software that runs on the tablets comes from Platform Science, of which Schneider is an investor. The mobile applications are segmented into a regulatory suite and a productivity suite. Drivers have become familiar with the tools, so as Schneider transitions to ELD software this year, “it’s not a big slap in the face since they are not going to a whole new system,” Degeneffe says.
Safety director Doug Fry, with a Texas- and Georgia-based 200-truck fleet, recently completed a switch to Blue Tree Systems’ telematics platform for logging and more after learning that many of the legacy dedicated AOBRDs his fleet was running would soon need replacement. “Our old provider had discontinued the product and didn’t tell us,” Fry says. He learned this while ordering additional units.
Other ELD customer service issues to consider include the availability and quality of basic technical support. Some providers offer 24/7 service. Customer referrals from any vendor can give you a sense of how that vendor handles support.
Normal downtime frustration is not the only problem with poor customer support. If you are unable to resolve a malfunctioning ELD promptly, as Frerichs emphasizes, you open yourself up to possible violations of the rule. Tell FMCSA on the seventh day of the eight-day grace period that your supplier’s lagging, Frerichs says, and “it’s too late. They’re not going to accept that.” That’s what he was told by his contact in FMCSA’s Illinois division office, he says.
“We went with a company that we think has the right architecture” to build on. It uses what Fry calls a “brain box” buried in the dash that connects wirelessly to the display screen, which can be BYOD (or “bring your own device”) in nature.
McLeod Software’s transportation management software (TMS) integration is also available for the fleet’s management system. Fry’s fleet plans to add forward-facing cameras and more.
Camera systems also can serve to streamline telematics systems. Jason Palmer, chief operating officer for SmartDrive Systems, says the company’s dual-camera video unit can feed data through a single onboard platform that integrates with third-party ELD and telematics systems such as Geotab’s. Fleets “view data as a competitive advantage, both in how they are able to make drivers’ lives easier with access to data and information, and applications to make the job experience better,” Palmer says.
Changes in pricing and functionality as ELD providers get more sophisticated with telematics service offerings have some carriers looking to consolidate as much data as they can through a single system.
“Price pressure is as high as it’s ever been,” Witty says, representing a potential cost savings for carriers looking to switch. “ELD is a commodity now.” At the same time, Witty predicts that technology companies will no longer be able to survive just by providing ELD software.
At the opposite pole of consolidating telematics is the base version of the Continental VDO RoadLog, a popular option among one-truck independents. It requires no subscription fee and is perhaps the only ELD not connected to the Internet. It now goes for around $100 less than it did prior to the mandate. Some other services’ monthly fees also have fallen, in some cases significantly.
Other companies have enhanced functionality options with tiered pricing. The roughly $15 monthly basic version of the DriveELD product adds features such as turn-by-turn CoPilot truck-specific navigation for a slightly higher price. A fleet version adds further functionality.
YARD MOVES AND OTHER CHALLENGES
The most high-profile difference between ELDs and AOBRDs is that the former automatically records nondriving activities above 5 mph, including moves such as docking trailers, on the drive line unless a driver specifies them as otherwise.
“Every time the truck moves, you have got to have a name for that move on the drive line,” Stickling says. Nussbaum’s drivers can name an event as an on-duty “yard move” or an off-duty “personal conveyance,” when appropriate, as the wheels start to turn. But failing that, the time will be recorded on the drive line where it cannot be effectively deleted, only reclassified or reassigned. “You can only annotate it,” he says.
That creates work for both the back office and the operators on the front lines. For the InterChange Express 50-truck fleet, the 5-mph speed threshold for ELDs has been the greatest challenge. Drivers have to be trained to record yard moves properly, says InterChange operations manager David Bosserman. “Drivers hear stories from other drivers that they can drive 30 mph without tripping the on-duty status,” he says, which is no longer the case under the ELD specification.
Stickling generally views ELDs’ greater precision in logging activities at customer locations as “a good thing” because its puts pressure on the shipper to avoid interrupting the driver’s off-duty period. Say a driver arrives at a customer location in the evening, planning a 10-hour break prior to an 8 a.m. delivery appointment. When Nussbaum used AOBRDs, the driver might be asked to dock the trailer well before 8.
But under the ELD specification, “if the truck moves at 6 a.m., there is no hiding it,” Stickling says. Nussbaum has trained drivers to explain their hours situation upon arrival at a customer.
“That has helped the driver-abuse side,” he says. “We are seeing less times where a shipper knocks on a driver’s door at 2 a.m. and says ‘move this trailer for me’ when a driver is only six hours into his break.”
For Bosserman and InterChange Express, another challenge is managing carrier personnel and drivers’ confusion over what they’re hearing from law enforcement officers. “It seems that every state is operating on different systems,” Bosserman says. “Some want drivers to email their logs, others want to get in the cab to look at the screen. Some have a secure code they give drivers.”
InterChange Express has printers in the truck for drivers to print out logs, but one officer in Wyoming told a driver that printed logs did not count.
“I think as more people switch over to ELDs, that process will become easier,” he says, with some degree of roadside standardization that just hasn’t been the case with AOBRDs.
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