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Detention Time Is ‘Too Important to Ignore’

The following is an opinion piece published in Transport Topics by Greg Fulton of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association:

While debate continues on hours of service, truck size and weight, and their effect on truck productivity, we should not lose sight of an issue that has been consistently raised by major trucking groups and relates to time lost at the loading docks of shippers and receivers. While I do not argue that shippers should be mandated to pay for detention time for the hours spent waiting to load or unload, we do need to recognize that this is a valid argument that offers much opportunity yet receives limited attention and resources.

From trucking’s perspective, the detention issue is a thorny one because it is something that is beyond the carrier’s immediate control. While many trucking companies complain about delays at shippers’ facilities, relatively few actually seek or receive detention pay and, in fact, many do not even raise the issue for fear of losing business.

Unlike truck size and weight or hours of service, detention does not lend itself well to a regulatory or legislative solution because of its complex nature and the wide range of situations and parties that are involved. In many cases, the improvements needed would involve changes by the shipper, such as greater attention to scheduling, more resources for the efficient loading and unloading of trucks and modifications of dock facilities to expedite delivery. In addition, there is a role for state and local governments in assisting shippers and carriers through providing better and safer roadway access to major shipper facilities.

While a number of shippers and receivers have begun to recognize the importance of this issue and have worked closely with carriers to reduce wait times, the vast majority still view this as not being their problem. Unfortunately, many shippers view trucking companies and their drivers as a commodity rather than a valued partner. They see themselves as customers and the trucking company and its drivers as responsible for making whatever changes are needed to accommodate their needs. If that trucking company complains about delays, they merely seek another carrier.

There is, though, even within trucking itself, a disconnect on this matter. In recent surveys of trucking companies’ top concerns, detention was not even ranked in the top 10. However, if someone were to conduct a similar survey of truckload truck drivers, this issue would probably be ranked in the top five, if not No. 1.

Realizing that delays at shipper facilities affect many areas, including driver retention, the number of additional drivers and equipment needed by trucking, operational costs, hours of service, truck parking, traffic congestion (in some areas trucks are in long queues awaiting loading) and others, it is far too important to ignore.

Shippers and trucking companies also should recognize that the detention issue has not gone unnoticed by others. In the Obama administration’s proposed transportation reauthorization bill, there is language that would require trucking companies “to compensate drivers for on-duty/not-driving periods.” While the political likelihood of the inclusion of this provision in the final bill is unlikely, this issue will not go away. Instead, we can anticipate that the problem will garner even greater attention as the driver shortage, traffic delays, hours of service and other issues tied to this problem continue to grow.

Continue reading the full editorial here.

Check out this short video on mitigation strategies for improving the driver shortage, including focusing on detention time:

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