Trucking, and One Way to Immediately Improve the Lives of Millions
By Wade Frazier (this essay was first published in 2002).
A Simple Vision
How It Could Appear in Practice
Costs, Considerations, Obstacles, and Possibilities
In the United States today, there are more than three million tractor-trailer truck drivers (the big 18 wheelers), and more than 2.3 million large trucks on the road. Seventy percent of U.S commodities use trucks as their sole source of transportation. Trucks haul more than five billion tons of freight each year, deliver about 80% of U.S. freight, and the industry generates about $500 billion per year in revenues. More than one million long haul drivers own their own trucks, and about ten percent of truck drivers are women. About $300 billion in industry revenues come from long haul trucking, about twice the amount of “local” trucking. More than one million Americans, mainly men, live in their trucks. They sleep at “home” only a few days per month. Their real homes are their beds in the back of those cabs. They are modern-day nomads, and theirs is a miserable existence. The number of drivers is predicted to grow rapidly, as truck driving is a “growth” profession. Less than a third work for unions. Most of that “intercity” freight moves as “van” freight.
For five years during the 1990s, I was a controller for a flatbed company. After five years, I was struck by a vision to radically redesign how my company operated, and to change how trucking operates in the United States, and nobody has to live in their truck anymore. First, here is what happens today, and how it could work in the near future.
A Simple Vision
A load of freight moves from Seattle to New York. Today, a driver drives it to New York, or a two-person team will take it, to arrive quicker. In New York, a driver or team takes a load to Seattle at the same time. The trucks pass each other someplace on the Great Plains. If the trucks and loads were properly coordinated, twelve trucks could haul those loads from coast to coast, the drivers sleeping in their beds at home each evening. That is the idea in a nutshell, and it could work for the entire U.S. freight system. Below is a diagram to make it clearer.
Here is some elaboration. The Seattle driver gets up each day, goes to his yard, hooks up with his load and drives to Spokane. In Spokane, he drops his load, picks up a load bound for Seattle, and drives back to Seattle. He drops his load in the Seattle yard and goes home. That is his workday. A driver in Spokane does the same thing, except his route goes eastward. A load moving from Seattle to New York would be dropped and picked up by each succeeding truck, perhaps being hauled by twelve trucks by the time it gets to New York. A load from New York moves to Seattle the same way. That is the basic idea.
That concept would initially work best for van freight, which is by far the most common freight in the United States, and this essay will largely deal with van freight. Today, drivers prefer driving the same truck each day, which is understandable. In the system envisioned here, each driver could. Customers are not at the drop yard, but scattered across the Seattle area. Other drivers pick up loads in the drop yard, deliver it to customers, and bring loads from other customers to the yard. They are “local” drivers. As is evident, the difference between a local and long haul driver is minor. Drivers could drive long haul for a few days, then drive local if they became bored. With van freight, that would be an easy system to implement. With flatbed, tanker and refrigerated freight, there would be other complications, but they could be readily overcome with a little creativity. No driver would have to sleep in his/her truck, unless he/she really wanted to. That is the basic idea.
There are no objections to this idea that do not invoke ideology or incompetence as defenses. In the end, the only valid objection to this idea is people’s level of caring. If the lives of those people mattered to society at large, they could have them back, and not only would it cost relatively little to make it happen, the benefits to society could be vast. The basic idea could also be applied globally.
This vision came to me in a flash, at the end of a five-year process. Although it is not imperative to understand the journey I took to provide me to this vision, the footnote at the end of this sentence tells the story.
How It Could Appear in Practice
With technologies involved that are discussed at that above footnote, here is a more complete vision of a driver’s day. The Seattle driver (Driver 1) lives close to the yard and can walk to work, or takes a bus with other drivers, or drives a half hour to the yard. That is up to the driver. Communities might spring up around those yards across America, where those drivers can walk to work. Driver 1’s onboard computer boots up as the truck is started, and the truck’s location from last night is confirmed as his satellite dish verifies his location with the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS). Because the truck is in the yard, its radio has good reception with the national computer network, so the information that morning is transmitted by radio and not satellite. When radio signals are weak in the mountains and windswept plains, the satellite can relay information.
There is a national computer network with several mirror sites that contain the North American freight database. It is a real-time database. Each “node” of the North American system has its local mirror, where freight coming to, from, or through its region has its related information consolidated. As Canada has also joined the system, Driver 1 gets into his truck and might drive to Spokane, Portland or Vancouver, British Columbia that morning. Driver 1’s profile is compared to the loads sitting in the yard (or about to be dropped there; a load that is only minutes away from hitting the yard can be among the loads that Driver 1 may take that morning), and the best load is chosen, taking into consideration the customer’s needs. A load going to Butte, Montana, is sitting in the yard, at trailer space 25Y. Driver 1 drives to space 25Y and positions his truck to hook up with the van trailer.
The van trailer has barcodes on it, in several places, which uniquely identify that trailer. A load record was created when the load was picked up at the factory the afternoon before. The load record contains a complete description of the freight on board, including its weight, number of pieces (each with its own bar code, if it needs it). As the truck gets into position, a laser on the truck scans the trailer to ensure it is the correct trailer, and then the driver is instructed to hook up by the onboard computer. Driver 1 has an earlier model truck, as it is the early days of the North American Freight System (NAFS), and must back the truck up himself to position it. The newer trucks require the driver to sit in the driver’s seat as a failsafe, but the truck backs into position on its own. When the truck backs into proper position, the computer notes the proper alignment (a laser on the coupling confirms proper alignment between tractor and trailer) and the female coupler on the tractor rises to engage the trailer’s “king pin.” The night before, the trailer was “jacked” into position by the same air pressure that also powers its brakes, when another truck dropped it. When the tractor’s coupler engaged the “king pin,” the trailer released the air pressure and the “jack” retracted, as well as the air system automatically connecting and engaging to power the trailer’s brakes. For safety reasons, Driver 1 was still required to dismount from the cab and press a button on the trailer to verify that the hooking operation was properly completed, an operation that took less than one minute. The newer models under development even eliminated the need for the driver to get out of his cab.
Driver 1 is now off to Spokane. As he leaves the yard, the gateway laser scans the barcode on his truck and trailer, confirming that the proper truck and load are on their way, which can be seen as redundant, but that kind of redundancy is cheap in this high tech age, and can catch errors. Since Spokane was a possible destination for Driver 1, it would take about ten hours to make the round-trip to Spokane, and that driver was on the four-ten-hour-day schedule. Not all drivers wanted that schedule (it paid a little better), but those who did drove the Seattle-Spokane route regularly. As Driver 1 drove to Spokane, every five minutes his satellite dish and GPS assessed his earthly position and his radio relayed the information to the NAFS computer system. The information instantly updated the NAFS main mirror sites, as well as the node mirrors in Seattle, Spokane, Butte, Vancouver and Portland. The estimated time of arrival (ETA) of that driver in Spokane was continually updated, and when the truck had not moved for a few minutes, near Snoqualmie Pass, the NAFS computer sent an inquiry to the truck, asking what the delay was. The query was translated to audible words in the truck driver’s headset, asking him what the delay was and how long he thought he might be delayed. The driver told the computer that the delay might be twenty minutes, because a car hit a bear and the road crews were still cleaning it up. The NAFS computer system instantly updated all databases with that information, and all trucks approaching Snoqualmie Pass from the west would receive warning of the accident (that could also be updated by the road crews themselves, as they are patched into the NAFS, as well as police, etc.).
As Driver 1 approached Spokane, Driver 2 from Butte was nearing Spokane. Driver 2 was a woman. The Spokane node’s computer system analyzed the ETAs, delivery needs, drivers’ profiles and directed that Driver 2 drop her load bound for Seattle in the Spokane yard and pick up Driver 2’s load coming from Seattle. The ETAs of Drivers 1 and 2 were only a few minutes apart, and each driver usually ate a box lunch from home at the Spokane facility anyway, so they did not really need to drop and hook their loads in the three minutes that most trucks did. While eating lunch, Driver 2 met Driver 3, a buddy who was also heading back home to Butte. Driver 3’s load could be directly delivered to the receiver on the outskirts of Butte, and Driver 3 got a call from his wife, who wanted him home a little earlier than usual that evening. He decided he wanted a load that dropped right at the Butte node’s yard, and Drivers 2 and 3 submitted their load switch through their trucks’ computers, which the NAFS system analyzed and deemed appropriate for the customer’s needs, and so was allowed. Last month they tried a similar switch, coordinating it as they drove, and the NAFS computer queried the customer on whether it was OK that the load be delivered a little later than planned. The customer stated that delay of that shipment was not acceptable, so the drivers did not make the switch that day in the previous month.
On the current day, with Drivers 2 and 3 switching loads, Driver 2 took the load directly to the customer’s facility instead of dropping it at the Butte node. She did what the “local” drivers usually did, but the distinction between local and long haul driving was quickly disappearing. Before Driver 2 delivered her load to the customer, the Butte node’s system directed her to pick up a load from a nearby customer and haul that load to the Butte node. Driver 3 got home a little early, as his wife requested, and Driver 2 made that delivery and pick-up, dropped it in the Butte node’s yard and walked home to her husband and family. Driver 1 picked up a load bound for Seattle from New York in that Spokane yard. He did not deliver it to the Seattle customer, but dropped it in the Seattle yard and walked home to his wife and family. Below is a diagram to depict that day’s work for those three drivers.
All across North America, the same scenario was happening, with drivers and loads synchronized in a marvelous harmony, a trailer being dropped in a node yard by one tractor, and another one picks it up a minute later. People might be surprised to learn that most of the technology and facilities to make such a scenario happen already exist and are in use today in the trucking industry. What does not yet exist has not been created because there has been no perceived need.
Principles I was bringing to integrating information flows and creating real-time management data in my trucking career were simply applied to create a vision to get all drivers home every night, if they wanted to. As explained in the next section, most of the infrastructure to make the above vision a reality already exists. All cities already have truck stops and other trucking yards on their outskirts. Satellite dishes and onboard personal computers are becoming ubiquitous trucking accessories.
Today, more than one million Americans live in their trucks, and truck driving is projected to grow rapidly as a profession, the number will hit two million before long. It is not only they who will get their lives back. Drivers’ children will get their parents back, and the driver’s spouse will get his/her partner back. The hardships of being a sailor’s wife or trucker’s spouse are well known. For truck drivers at least, those hardships would become a thing of the past. Society also pays for the current situation in ways that may not be obvious. What kinds of pathologies do children carry around because one parent is rarely around, or come from broken families as marriages disintegrate under those hardships? Millions of lives will immensely improve if the above vision became reality. Here are the immediate and easily quantifiable benefits.
Those are the immediate benefits. Some are difficult to put a price tag on, such as the cost of broken families and people killed by fatigued drivers. There are costs and considerations to make such a vision happen, and the next section will deal with most of them. If the lives of those millions mattered to American society, the obstacles are trifling and readily overcome. Virtually everybody could win. The only “losers” are criminals and drivers who should not be behind the wheel, and the upper hierarchy of trucking companies, including the owners, who will have to learn new tricks, and perhaps have to find new careers and investment opportunities. Also, most paper shuffling would disappear.
Costs, Considerations, Obstacles, and Possibilities
On America’s highways today, a sea of trucks can be seen hauling freight to and fro. Most is called van freight, where the cargo is sealed in a van. Larger companies have thousands of trucks. If companies came together to effectively form one trucking company, and the proper information philosophies were adopted, the above scenario would be easy to implement. A "drop and hook" could take less than a minute, and drivers would be able to operate within a few hundred mile radius of their homes, with distribution centers in every city. The coordination of trucks and loads would allow a load going from coast-to-coast to be hauled by one truck, or dropped and picked up by twelve trucks in hardly more time (or could even be less), with the coordination of activities so sophisticated that the fleet and loads work in harmony.
There are costs involved with making that vision a reality, however. Here are the most significant ones.
Not all trucks have satellite dishes and onboard computers. Trucks participating in this program would need them.
The computer system to run the node-based system would need to be purchased and developed. The system envisioned here is only transmitting character-based information, not the multimedia data that is coming into vogue with broadband Internet access and the like. Running a character-based system would be a small job for today’s computing power.
The quick drop-and-hook technology would have to be developed. It would not be much of a technical feat. The current slow, messy, greasy way that tractors and trailers hook up would have to be abandoned for a clean, quick, automated method. Current tractors and trailers could be retrofitted, and new ones would already have the appropriate gear. For new equipment, the elimination of the sleeper part of the cab would probably more than pay for the new drop-and-hook technology.
Putting barcodes onto tractors and trailers is easy. The laser equipment, placed onto the trucks, yards and hand-held scanners, would be more costly, but still cheap, especially when millions are placed.
Today, most of the needed land and facilities are located at existing truck stops. If this vision developed, fueling companies would be bought out, and their land used for node yards, as well as other carrier yards. The cost could be minimal.
Much of today’s trucking management probably does not have, and probably never will have, the ability to develop and manage this envisioned system. They may be the most resistant to change, because they would no longer be calling the shots as they are today. They will have to discard old ways and attitudes in order to participate in the new system. There will be cost there, although its magnitude is partly dependent on their willingness to learn new ways of managing. Most likely, many people from outside the industry will have to be recruited to make it happen.
The same will be true for some drivers. Most drivers will substantially benefit from this system, while the criminals and drivers who play cat-and-mouse with management will probably not fit in. The truck stop and roadside culture will disappear, and those who depend on it will not like it much at first, but most who know that world will be glad when it vanishes. Similarly, today’s union leaders have adopted an “us against them” attitude, while plenty of corruption and “selling out” has pervaded its ranks. Drivers are invited to look beyond a potential driver union as just another self-interest group. There is an opportunity far beyond just drivers getting their lives back, and it can go a long way toward healing humanity and this planet. Union leaders and many truck drivers will have to reorient their thinking, and many will be incapable of doing it, but they can become a vanishing minority when the vision is comprehended and begins coming to pass. If an effort is made to ease the transition for all involved, however, nobody will unduly suffer, which is a major theme of this web site.
Today, long haul drivers work far more than a 40-hour week, for one of the only jobs in America that does. In this system, people will not work their lives away driving a truck. If everybody willingly pitched in, drivers might not get a 40-hour week immediately, but it would begin trending that way. As discussed below, there are some easy ways to pay for it all, and nobody needs to work themselves too hard.
As far as I know, those are the main costs involved with making the transition. Technically, it would not be a big deal. The most dangerous problem would be the wrong people making it happen. For all those drivers who think that trucking managers and executives are not too bright, I cannot deny it too strenuously. I thought I had seen abysmal management when I worked in trucking, but I recently consulted for one of the world’s largest transportation organizations. Considering its scale and the number of professionals devoted to running it, it was run far worse than the trucking company. It can be argued that humanity, in its present state, is not capable of pulling off this vision. However, the ability of people to learn appears to be directly proportional to their desire to learn.
My new president, who ended up delivering the final blow to the $250 million trucking conglomerate I worked for, looked at my driver bonus table one day. The bonus levels were presented graphically. The diagram had two axes, one for increasing MPG and one for increasing dispatched miles, three levels of each, for nine different bonus levels (imagine a tic-tac-toe diagram). My president said that he could not understand that diagram, and if he could not understand the graph, then the drivers could not either. My assistant controller and I talked to many drivers over the years before that new president showed up, and nobody needed to have that diagram explained. They understood perfectly well what it meant, as it represented bonuses they could earn. It was in their interest to understand that diagram, and they all did.
Technically, the most difficult part is developing the software for the national freight system. I have designed software myself, and know it would not be difficult, if people who knew what was happening designed the software. From my experience on the user and designer sides, it is evident that today’s business software companies are plagued with poor design because few know the business, accounting, and data processing principles and see the bigger picture. Few true “architects” exist in the software industry. Most are “carpenters” who know how to pound nails, but have no idea how to build a skyscraper. Today, armies of carpenters design and build software, with few competent and visionary architects to be found. That is not only a problem in developing this envisioned system, but also for software in general. The computer revolution has barely begun.
Today, there is a great deal of wasted technology, in trucking and elsewhere. Trucking companies will get satellite dishes and other high tech equipment, but not really know how to use them, or else they will use them at about 25% of their potential.
Many well-meaning people have advised me to “dumb down” my work into something that a fifth grader can fully comprehend, with two paragraph summaries of the various topics this site deals with. Attempts have been made to accommodate that concern, such as in this site’s introductory essay. A person can get this site's thrust in a few minutes of reading that essay. However, the slogan mentality is primitive, and sloganistic minds are easily swayed when somebody invents a sexier slogan or shouts theirs louder. This site does not seek that audience. Slogans that drivers can put on buttons, such as “No More Nomads,” or “Sleep at Home Every Night,” can help, but to make this vision a reality, people will have their minds and hearts challenged.
There will be ideological objections to this vision, since it can be seen as incongruent with the capitalistic ideal. What ideal is that? The lack of competition between trucking companies? The shareholders taking a bath? No more profit motive? How inefficient government is?
One need not subscribe to Michael’s notion of the “Young Soul” awareness theme, where winning is everything, to understand that competition and winning are major themes in American culture. That has not been a constant of human history. Nature is far more cooperative than competitive (does your liver compete against your spleen?), and Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” notion is a projection of the young soul awareness onto the world that young souls see. The ideal of competition is a primitive notion. In practice, competition is fear-based, especially in economics. Our competitors can take away our jobs, and we can lose the roof over our heads and access to food. In a “winner” society, everybody can quickly become a loser. It has been telling to watch the world’s richest man, Bill Gates, continually look over his shoulder at his competitors, afraid they will ruin his business, as Microsoft has engaged in many underhanded practices to wipe out the competition. If the world’s richest man could not sleep for worrying about his competitors, who can?
This current system threatens the human race with self-extermination. How many winners will there be if that happens?
This trucking vision was not born from thinking of ways to beat the competition. One way to make this vision happen is for drivers to become owners, in much the same way that the employees bought out United Airlines. Companies could also come together in a spirit of cooperation.
The drivers could band together and buy out their carriers (many are on the ropes) and gain enough freight density to make this idea feasible on a national basis. Instead of committing hundreds of billions of dollars per year to making weaponry, the U.S government could help make this happen with a tiny fraction of that sum, and it could become a showcase for what is possible when people come together. Once van freight gets onto this system, with a little creativity all freight can get on it, and no driver needs to sleep in his/her truck, unless they want to. Each node can have a small facility for those sleeping over (a rare occurrence, with cots for the overflow of the rare snowstorm “stranding”), there can be some sleeper trucks for when drivers want to drive across the nation on vacation with their families, and many other cheap ways to accommodate some of the “perks” of traditional trucking life.
Many of the best drivers have carved out their little piece of trucking hell and have made the best of it. They can get home every weekend while running big miles (and driving on stimulants, forging their logs and speeding to do so) and make more than $50,000 per year. They may not initially like this solution, as it may seemingly threaten the life they have carved out for themselves. One of the greatest crimes of our society is wasting genius and talent. In this vision, the best can still ascend, but the floor is much higher for the least able and motivated. When I have mentioned this vision to long haul truck drivers (I first published this idea in 1999, so nobody can try to patent it…this is free to the world), one instant response has been, “If we did that, we would not make as much money.” My response is, “Not if you organize.” When I have mentioned this idea to trucking executives, the response has been, “that extra pay for long haul drivers is combat pay.” My response is, “What if there was no need for a war?”
It is up to drivers more than anybody else whether this vision comes to pass. They are the people doing the work. The means become the ends, and coercive tactics will ultimately fail to make this vision happen.
Of course, such a system will not be a secret one. The information in the national freight system will be as public as possible. Some customers do not want the nature of their freight known (those who still believe in competition), and the system could accommodate it. Drivers, however, will have access to all pay and operational data (perhaps with names kept confidential, at least until the paranoia is past), and they will all realize that it is in everybody’s best interests to cooperate. Those who are recalcitrant and want to play cat-and-mouse with their trucks and “management” should not be a part of this system (they would be the system’s cancer cells). Everybody can be on the same team, and everybody can win.
As Donald Walsch’s god told him, in societies of highly evolved beings, “dirty work” such as truck driving or farming or sanitation work is the most honored work. Only in primitive societies as ours are such jobs denigrated, relegated to the lowest paying and worst working conditions. It speaks volumes about the human race’s history. It is time to change, if for no other reason than that we are ushering in our self-extermination if we do not change.
Many technologies that can make the world a better place have been systematically suppressed in the name of power and profit. I am living evidence of it happening in the energy business, and this site clearly outlines similar dynamics in medicine and other professions and industries. When technology suppression stops being business-as-usual, we will see the end of trucks, roads, pollution, environmental destruction, poverty and disease. What is keeping that world from coming into being is us. The easiest way to corrupt this trucking vision is by turning it into the new dogma. There will come a time, perhaps soon, when burning oil to get power will widely be seen as insanity. Also, paving over the earth to transport goods that people do not really need will be seen as crazy, especially when anti-gravity and free energy technology is available. If there is a lesson that I hope this vision can help us all learn, it is that we can work smart instead of hard, by cooperating we can achieve far more than we can by competing, and everybody deserves to have a fulfilling life, free of drudgery. We have far better things to do with our lives. If we care for each other, we can have it all.
 This footnote is more of a historical document than anything else, for those who want to see the path this trucking vision took to flashing into my head. It is not imperative to read this section to comprehend the vision this essay imparts.
During the summer of 1991, I was recovering from the ordeal in Ventura. I had written a 100-page diary-letter as part of my self-therapy for healing my Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had spent nearly a year in Ohio at that time, and again had to move across the nation during a recession. It was not easy finding a permanent position in Ohio. Even though it was the Rust Belt, more than half of the controller positions in the Dayton area were in manufacturing. I had not worked in a factory environment before, and did not have a prayer, not when a job ad would receive two hundred responses. During that year in Ohio I sent out several dozen résumés, and had the courtesy of receiving rejection letters twice.
Although I was not actively chasing my free energy dreams anymore, I always refused to work in certain industries. Dayton is the home of Wright Patterson Air Force Base, but I never considered working for them or the many defense contractors in the Dayton area. Similarly, in Seattle, during the several times I have looked for work there, I always refused to consider working for the timber, mining or aerospace ("defense") companies. I did not tell recruiters that I did not believe in those industries, but would say I did not see a great future for them. Idealists and corporate America do not mesh well, as I quickly discovered.
After nearly a year of looking for permanent work, I finally landed a job in Columbus, Ohio in the summer of 1991 as a trucking company controller, and worked there for more than five years. During my tenure, we grew from slightly more than $30 million in annual revenues to about $45 million. At a medical lab in Los Angeles that I worked for the previous year, I was the main number cruncher for a $100 million organization, but I did not quite have the opportunity that the trucking company offered. They fired two controllers during the year before I began there. The company never had a competent controller before. As with most of my career, I immediately began working sixty-hour weeks. I worked nearly every weekend of my first year there. From a controller's perspective, the place was in a shambles. My first three years there were my career’s most satisfying. I liked whom I worked for and with, and I was able to help them.
When I moved to Los Angeles after my first Seattle fiasco, I tried getting into the computer consulting division of a "Big Eight" CPA firm. If I had one more programming class, I would have gone that route and not the controller/accountant route. I always had an interest in computer systems, particularly how information systems work, and have always been a "big picture" kind of guy. I immediately dug my hands into every area of the trucking company that I could. There were some areas, however, that were off limits to me, which delayed the insight that I arrived at five years later. Most of the company was oriented around our computer system. We were linked to a main computer at a sister company.
A company with a virtual monopoly vended the software. They vended for hundreds of trucking companies, and even some of the largest (often the biggest companies develop most of their own software). Immediately, I began designing software modifications, working closely with the chief programmer, who also ran the data processing department. During my five-year tenure, I submitted hundreds of programming requests. I designed some systems from scratch, inventing systems where none existed. Understanding the company’s big picture was essential to developing the best systems, because a change could impact several areas. The company had departments such as safety, operations, owner-operator settlements, payroll, billing, receivables, fuel tax, personnel, maintenance and the department that I built from scratch, accounting.
As with Dennis' company, working there was like juggling ten knives at once. From the moment I arrived (usually at about 9:00 AM) until 5:00, was a continual whirlwind of activity. From five until eight or nine, I performed the detailed work that accountants do, in uninterrupted peace. The management at the company was rather weak, and the organization was essentially run by a handful of us, with most employees unable to make any decisions. I worked at upgrading that environment. Because I was getting my hands into numerous areas of the company, I could see things others could not. Each year, during the course of my duties I did something that saved the company more than my annual salary. Also, what I saw was not seen by our sister companies. We were one company of several that totaled about $250 million per year in revenues. Through my CFO I told my sister companies what I discovered and how it could save them money. Sometimes I told my counterparts directly. Sometimes I was heeded, and at other times ignored, because nobody at my sister companies saw the broad picture I did. It could be frustrating.
When I arrived, the company was losing money. A handful of us were instrumental in making the company almost immediately profitable. My impact was felt and appreciated. It was fun. My president was at retirement age. I learned from him and liked the man. He was from the old school, however, and never really appreciated how critical our information systems were. He often boasted that he did not need computers to run the business. Trucking, as with the airline, telephone and electric industry, was known as a "regulated" industry. That meant the government set prices and managed the competition, which meant there was not any. In communications, it was a de facto monopoly, as with Ma Bell. In the electric industry, which is only now being deregulated (with companies like Enron taking advantage and raping the public), it was a local monopoly in every market. In trucking, there were quite a few companies, but no competition. Each company had its own routes, with government-set prices. It was similar to the airline industry, but not as glamorous.
Industry regulation set prices based on cost plus a "reasonable" profit. With no competition, regulated industries were virtually guaranteed a profit, which was based on their costs. The incentive for those regulated industries was having their costs as high as possible, because the greater their costs, the larger the profit the government would build into the pricing structure. In theory, the government regulated those industries by also regulating their practices, such as their cost structures. In regulated industries, a phenomenon happens known as "capturing the regulator.” It extends to pharmaceuticals through the FDA, agribusiness through the USDA, banking through the FDIC and other bodies, insurance through the state regulatory bodies, CPA firms and the SEC, etc. Because money and power corrupts, the regulators end up protecting the interests of those they regulate, not the public's. It is well known in every regulated industry. Government is always fighting capture, but the regulators themselves desire capture, as corruption pays well.
The airline industry is higher profile than trucking. Pilots were the elite of the transportation industry, while truck drivers had gritty jobs. When deregulation happened in the early 1980s, competition became fierce between the airlines, for a while. Numerous small airlines came into existence and began competing with large airlines. Airfares began a steep price decline. Deregulation is what made flying affordable to most Americans. In a regulated industry, everybody does well. Suppliers do not manage their costs, employees make good money for what can be easy work, managers nearly sleep on the job, and it is a gravy train all around. Government work is often similar.
When deregulation happens, however, new competitors get into the business, and companies that formerly had an almost fond regard for each other, as they were forbidden to compete, now found themselves facing each other in a "free market." A new deregulatory environment or new industry, as with microcomputer software, is the closest thing to a free market, from the producer side. It never lasts long, as the case of Microsoft demonstrates. Standard Oil in the 1860s and 1870s is another example. There were initially hundreds of small oil refiners. By 1879, John Rockefeller bought out or wiped out his competitors and controlled 95% of American refining, which was the oil industry’s critical link. By controlling refining, Rockefeller controlled the entire industry, as all oil passed through his hands. Microsoft’s attempt to wipe out Netscape and become the leading Internet portal is similar. Even the breakup of Standard Oil did little to change things, as a few big players colluded with each other, which is standard oligopolistic practice. Recently, two of those Standard Oil companies merged back together, creating the world's largest oil company (Exxon and Mobil). Capitalists hate competition. They always have and always will, because competition makes for an uncertain future and is hell on profit margins. Only in monopoly or oligopoly situations can companies rake in big profits, as Microsoft does today in its monopoly position.
In the wake of deregulating transportation, the airline industry was a free-for-all for a few years. Then the airlines bought out their smaller competitors, wiped others out through predatory pricing strategies, and the industry is consolidating. I recently worked in the travel industry, and old salts told me that the few large airlines often raised and lowered their prices in unison, evidencing collusion. The collusion does not have to be a conspiracy held in smoke-filled rooms, although it can be. The few players can come to a mutual understanding of how the game is played, and each knows their role as they all rake it in. When the owners of professional American baseball teams were convicted of a conspiracy in the early 1990s, when no free agents could seem to get an offer from another team, nobody has since come forward and admitted the conspiracy. Perhaps they did not all meet at a secret meeting to hammer out the conspiracy, but could all smell which way the wind was blowing, and played their part.
The few large airlines, which control nearly the entire American flight market, might wink and nudge each other while raising and lowering their prices in unison, periodically staging a "price war." The airline industry’s suppliers have acted similarly. Through mergers and other aspects of today’s capitalism, there is only one commercial airplane manufacturer in the United States: Boeing. They have only one competitor: Airbus. Suppliers of regulated industries also have little incentive to manage their costs, as they are merely passed along in the retail price of the product or service. Boeing is a tremendous bureaucratic organization, structured much like a government agency. Companies like Boeing are why Dilbert exists. Boeing is also the second largest contractor in the last big regulated industry, the military.
Companies in regulated industries have little incentive to modernize their practices or technology. Hence, regulated industries are rife with ancient management structures and styles, often have old technology, and are highly inefficient. When deregulation happens, the race goes to the quick, for a while. Trucking was a much more fragmented than air travel, with hundreds of large trucking companies, and much lower barriers of entry (the biggest barrier is usually the money it takes to start a company). In the decade after deregulation, the competition in trucking was fierce. There were not only hundreds of new companies, but also the formerly gentlemanly manner in which the big players dealt with each other became a battle to the death. Ten years after trucking was deregulated, one third of the hundred largest trucking companies were out of business, casualties of the fierce competition. Those companies that could not adopt competitive practices, such as modernizing, bit the dust.
The ranks of trucking companies, however, were filled with managers whose careers were built during the regulated days. Consequently, most had no idea how to modernize. My president’s anti-computer sentiment was not unusual. Some business practices I saw were thirty years behind the times. Many executives and managers were formerly truck drivers themselves. They were injured on the job, brought into the office, and worked their way into management. The trucking industry is also one of the last bastions of male bigotry, as trucking is largely a man's job. The macho mentality often dominates the thinking of truck drivers and management, with morning greetings often accompanied by swear words.
Having "home grown" managers in one sense was positive, but in another was not, because they had little or no professional training. Getting a college degree is not all it is cracked up to be. All the same, those who have been through the college experience during the past generation are usually not afraid of computers, and know they cannot run a large company without them. Like a truck, a computer is a tool. Used properly, it is awesomely powerful.
I was amazed at how poorly designed the software that the industry leader vended was. Software bugs or poor design are why computers make “mistakes.” Computer nightmares usually pertain to software design, although poor hardware design can contribute. There can also be compatibility issues.
The bedrock principle of all data processing is “garbage in, garbage out.” If inaccurate or meaningless data is input, so will be the output. If the system is not designed to get the best possible data input, the rest is meaningless, a phenomenon I have seen many times in my career. It is one more instance of forgetting the basics. It is similar to building a huge, ornate house on a foundation of sand.
Trucking needed better information systems than almost any other industry, because it operated in a real-time environment, spread across the nation. Ours was a typical mid-sized trucking company, with hundreds of trucks crisscrossing America, and the goal was getting the best load under the nearest available truck going to the right destination at the right time. Making that system work effectively required an awesome amount of communication between driver, shipper, receiver, and the company that coordinated it all. Not only did we need real-time communication, we needed a sophisticated system to figure out what load should be taken by whom and when to where. Without a sophisticated communication and information system, the trucking company’s effectiveness and efficiency would be abysmal. Most companies were in the same boat however, so they were "competitive." Even when we began getting better information systems in place, we regularly saw a customer's load fail to be hauled for lack of a truck, while a few miles away a truck sat at a truck stop overnight, empty, because we could not find a load. That blundering was costly.
The largest controllable variable cost in a trucking company with employee drivers (not independent contractors; my company had both) is the cost of fuel. The largest factor is not the fuel price. By far, the largest variable is the driver and how economically he/she burns the truck’s fuel. For instance, with our company fleet, a truck's MPG could be as high as seven, or as low as four and a half. That is a tremendous variation. At a fuel cost of $1.20 per gallon and at 120,000 miles driven in a year, the variation between the fuel cost of a driver getting 4.5 and 7.0 miles a gallon is more than $11,000 dollars. For a truck that might contribute $30,000 to cover indirect costs in a year, $11,000 dwarfs all other variables. I never saw a company that had a timely and accurate way to measure its trucks’ MPG, except for the system I designed.
When I began, we only had owner-operators, but during my first year we inherited a company fleet from a sister company that we closed down. I had to develop systems to manage a company fleet, where for the first time we had to worry about the costs of fuel, maintenance, driver wages and a multitude of other factors that go into running a truck profitably. With owner-operators, we merely took a cut of the retail dollar to process the paperwork, while the owner-operator not only managed his truck, but also often secured his load through our agency network. I developed a system whereby the card used to buy fuel was interfaced with our computer system to calculate MPGs. The interface already existed, but none of my sister companies were using it to calculate a timely MPG for their trucks.
Truck stops enticed drivers by giving them free showers, meals and other goodies if they bought a minimum of fifty or a hundred gallons. A truck held between 200 and 300 gallons in its tank, but many drivers would put in that fifty or hundred gallons every day or two, and get the free goodies. That was a normal part of the business, but a truck’s MPG could not be calculated unless one knew how many gallons they consumed in a period, not how much they put in their tank. I devised a method where the driver gave the fuel desk some information. The driver would give the fuel desk his truck mileage, as given by his hubmeter or odometer, his unit number, and a "p" or an "f", meaning if he filled his tanks to the top ("f"), or only partially ("p"). We could perform an MPG calculation between each "f" because when a driver fills his tanks, we could calculate how many gallons went through his engine since the last time he filled them (unless he had a leak, sold his fuel or had it stolen). We required our drivers to fill their tanks to the top once a week.
The fuel desk also transmitted data captured automatically from the fuel pump, such as price per gallon, gallons pumped, the location of the fuel station, etc. With that data coming online, we had timely data to calculate fuel consumption on a nearly real time basis. None of my sister companies, who had much larger company fleets (several hundred trucks), had anything like it. They simply could not tell what a truck's MPG was, accurately or in a timely manner, or see any trends. It was the largest variable cost the company had, and they had no way to even begin managing it. It was common throughout the industry.
I developed a system that took advantage of information flows that already existed, added some other data to it, and had a gold mine of information. That system also created the need for sophisticated analysis. One problem was drivers giving the incorrect unit number, the hubmeter reading being keyed in incorrectly, or the driver giving an "f" when it was really a "p." Those problems necessitated an analyst examining the data and correcting it.
I developed a report by truck that showed a truck's MPG, who the driver was, where they fueled and when, and I could look at it and see the MPG going up when a driver was deadheading (driving with an empty trailer), see it go down when he took a trip over the mountains of the West, or even when he was driving into a headwind. I could also see it go down when a driver used his engine to heat or cool his cab. It was information that no other company I saw had.
The data was valuable, but was only the first step in managing the problem. While I rode herd on the process, working with fleet operations, we would ask a driver what the problem might be for his low MPG, or how he got it so high. We uncovered problems such as a driver not really knowing how to shift his truck properly, or a truck that needed its fuel injectors overhauled. Once I had the system running, it only took about an hour per week of debugging and analysis to know who to ask which questions, and we could begin managing our fuel consumption. For the huge companies, what I developed may not have been news, but for most other companies I was venturing into a world that nobody had seen before. Those above me often could not appreciate what I was doing, and how for an hour a week of an analyst's time they could have timely and accurate information on the fleet's fuel consumption. We made the drivers responsible for their MPG. They drove the trucks and knew best what was happening. I developed a bonus program for rewarding drivers with high MPG and high productivity. The drivers then became very interested in their MPG.
Mine was not the industry’s first MPG bonus, but it was run off the most accurate and timely data. Some of our better drivers, to keep their MPG and bonus high, would hang out inside the truck stop instead of burning up a gallon an hour to keep their engine running to heat or cool the cab. My program was having an impact. We eventually had nearly 200 company trucks on the road. Yet, it was always a battle to keep somebody focused on managing the fleet fuel consumption. We never devoted much effort to it because it never became a management priority. We spent millions of dollars per year on fuel, and all I asked was a couple hours a week by one person, and they could keep an eye on fuel consumption and manage the problem trucks and drivers. The cost/benefit of my program would have easily been ten times the return for the effort put into it. It could have been much higher, but it never became a priority because the idea of managing fuel consumption was alien to the industry. Drivers managed it by default. I proved that it was not difficult to get timely and reliable information to begin a management process, but I was a voice in the wilderness. How much fuel is wasted across America because trucking companies are not actively managing fuel consumption? It is many millions of gallons per year, easily.
There were several areas where I made innovations such as that. In calculating miles driven for fuel and mileage tax purposes, again the software company vended a "system" that my assistant controller called dog excrement. A programmer from India spent an entire hour or two designing the system. The fuel tax area was off limits to me for years, and I eventually inherited it and discovered how bad it was. We were losing more than $30,000 per year in uncollected taxes from owner-operators and state audits. I invented a system that eliminated data entry error, had the computer do sophisticated calculations, again spitting out exceptions that took some analysis. Our annual loss fell to about zero. As in the fuel consumption area, I could have further refined the fuel tax system to eliminate more errors and reduce the time spent debugging the data, but with the other fires I was fighting, I did not have the time. When I inherited the system, our mileage error rate was ten percent, as deduced by the state auditors who took a chunk of our hide each audit. My system had less than a one-percent mileage error, and required only a third as much human effort, to create the data and manage it, as before.
Again, however, there was a problem. The old system used people as drones, having them do rote procedures that the computer could have done faster and more accurately, and I replaced the drudgery with a process that required much less, but I also created an analysis step, and the software was more sophisticated. I created a system that needed intelligent management, but it richly paid off. The driver put forth no more effort than before, and the system was more fair and accurate. Ex-drivers generally could not manage a system such as that. We needed some sophisticated management. That was my trademark in system design. I would replace five drones with drone-like one job, entering data into a sophisticated system that minimized data entry errors, and needed one analyst to manage it.
By itself, it was a great improvement. There was a downside, however. My ideal was eliminating rote jobs and replacing them with fewer jobs, but jobs in which the employees could exercise their brains. It was unusual for the person doing the rote job to be capable of performing the thinking job. My systems needed higher-level skills to manage. A big problem was upper management not understanding that. Yet, while I was there I could keep the systems online, I was training my assistant controller to take my job someday, and he understood what was happening. I was trying to upgrade our management practices, but had to continually deal with managers who could not go there, because they were drivers who hurt their backs and had become managers.
In addition, the great crime of today’s capitalism is that it does not share the wealth. My innovations made jobs that took less effort to perform. By definition, that is an increase in wealth. All too often however, corporate America axes bodies in the wake of such innovations, and makes higher profits, giving out huge perks to the executives. America has by far the greatest disparity between executive compensation and worker wages of any industrialized nation, and it became dramatically worse after Reagan took office. If corporate America invested more of that increase in wealth into its people, or spread it around society, such as eliminating the indefensible scandal of homelessness in America, the richest nation of all time (Cuba has no homeless people), we would have a chance at becoming a truly "great" society. Innovations such as mine too often become a gold mine for the rich, or a way to crack the whip better on the employees.
The software company did not have a data integration concept. They had modules such as operations, settlements, payroll, maintenance, etc. They brought some data into one module from another, but far too often we ended up entering data, such as a hubmeter reading, into several different databases, when there should have been one that all fed and used. The data would churn through a module and be dumped out in a big report that nobody looked at. I often saw that data from one module was not sent to another. The information could not interrelate and produce more comprehensive and meaningful data. By integrating the data that way, it also meant that higher-level thinking was involved in analyzing it. That thought process had not been used at my company, and had not at every trucking company I had seen. That industry-wide software that everybody worked with also evidenced it.
After I had been there nearly four years, we performed a system conversion to the new software version (after preparing for nearly a year), and much to my chagrin, I discovered the modules that the company vended from ten years earlier had not been modified at all, and our software was vastly better than what the industry leader had. We could not avoid the conversion, because the new software was written in a newer language, so we made the plunge. We had to take big steps backwards to convert to their "new" software, and spent frantic months recreating the modifications we had made. I was burned out by nearly five years of sixty-hour weeks, capped off with that nasty conversion. It was then that I had my breakthrough of insight. I eventually became involved with nearly every aspect of the company, but the safety department was still off limits, although we had a parade of ex-drivers and ex-policemen waltz through the position of safety director. They were non-managers. In my final year there, I was finally able to sink my teeth into the safety area. What I saw shocked me, but also led to my breakthrough.
There are inherent conflicts between corporate interest and the public interest. Corporate America constantly sacrifices people, resources and the environment in pursuing the holy profit. There was a major conflict of interest in trucking. When trucking was deregulated, the same thing happened as with the airlines, except it was not as high profile. Rates declined in the fierce competition. In trucking as in air travel, the consumer was the big winner. "Cost control" does not have to be a dirty business. The regulated industries were extremely wasteful. As with the other rackets, the most powerful pigs get access to the trough. The people who paid the most for the cost control were the people doing the work: the drivers and clerks. As rates declined about thirty percent in the decade after deregulation, so did drivers' wages. It went from a good-paying industry to a low paying one.
Truck drivers today are in a bad situation. Virtually every driver would prefer having a job where he/she sleeps at home every night. Consequently, "local driving" jobs are coveted, and if a driver gets one that pays well, he/she will hang onto it forever. Most local driving jobs pay poorly when compared to "over-the-road" trucking. Five years ago, a local driving job paid $10 per hour at most. Long-haul jobs paid slightly more than $30,000 a year. Those are the averages, and today are somewhat higher. Unionized truck drivers make much more, but again, people usually have to "know somebody" to get them. I have seen non-union over-the-road drivers make more than $50,000 per year, but they are unusual. The average driver is in a bind. They can get a local job and fail to support their family, or go over-the-road and make $10,000 more per year. They give up their lives, however, and road expenses eat up a large portion of that pay increase, similar to what daycare does to a mother who works outside the home.
Many drivers go back and forth, driving long haul, but their marriages and private lives begin falling apart. They are home only a few days a month, and they then take a local job. They cannot make ends meet on local job pay, so they go back to long haul. They are stuck in a no-win situation, one I have seen many times. Over-the-road drivers are paid by the mile. The more miles they run, the more money they make. That encourages two dynamics: drivers driving fast and recklessly, and driving more hours than they should. Both endanger the driver and public. Trucking companies have introduced controls such as programming trucks so they cannot drive more than 65 MPH or so. Truck drivers constantly play a cat-and-mouse game with law enforcement, with anti-radar technology, citizens band (CB) radio to warn each other of "smokies," etc.
Also, companies are often paid by the weight of freight hauled, so there is an incentive to overload the trucks, both from the customer's and trucking company's perspective. Trucks are often overloaded, which makes them more difficult to maneuver, making them dangerous. Highway scales try to enforce the weight limits, but avoiding scales is an art form, and drivers have told me funny stories about how they avoided scales, even wiring their trucks so they could turn out the running lights as they snuck past scales by taking side roads at night.
There are laws regarding the hours a driver can work, and they are designed to limit driver fatigue, which is a big cause of truck-caused accidents (although officially it is small). When I was in the business, and it has changed little since then, most drivers drove more than the legal limit in hours. A driver must complete logs that show what hours he/she works, sleeps, drives, and where they were and when. A fueling stop is supposed to be logged, as are pick-ups, deliveries and other events. Most drivers forged their logs. They would fake log entries to appear as if they kept within the legal parameters, although they might really work many more hours in a week than they were legally allowed. They often kept two or three sets of logs, one for each situation (one to record “reality,” one to hand to police and other officials, and one to submit to the company). Those drivers take caffeine and illegal drugs to stay awake, and are often the drivers who kill people. The system encourages it in many ways.
Companies are supposed to audit drivers’ logs to ensure proper completion and check for falsification. Falsification is detected by comparing the logs to available information. When a driver stops for fuel, the receipt states the time of day, as do toll bridge receipts. Employee drivers would turn toll receipts in for reimbursement. The company was supposed to compare the document to the log, to see if the driver was properly recording the event. Drivers would invent ways of beating the system. Some of our best drivers (at least from a productivity standpoint) would whiteout the time/date stamp on a receipt. When I discovered that, we stopped accepting such receipts for reimbursement, which halted that practice.
There were numerous pieces of data available to audit the logs. One was the bill of lading, which documented the changes in load custody from pick-up to delivery. In our office, mountains of paperwork floated from the settlement and payroll departments to billing, fuel tax and safety. What happened in safety was a mystery to me for years, because I was not allowed to go snooping there. When I finally did, I was shocked. For starters, I found that the piles of paper that went into the safety department were gleaned for certain information, and every day's log for every driver was entered into our system, with error codes if an error was found. It was easy to develop a program that reported how many logs a clerk entered into the system, and what errors they found. In my five years there, no safety supervisor ever asked for that. I immediately had our programmers develop a report that the safety supervisors could run, and it was illuminating. Some employees were quite productive, while others were not. It validated some suspicions, while also providing surprises.
The real shocker, however, was what I discovered about log auditing and falsifications. Except for falsification, looking at the log alone could discover every potential log error. The pile of paper that accompanied the logs was for one reason only: detecting falsifications. When I ran the program I looked at error types, and falsification was absent. For the three months that I reviewed the data, not once was a log falsified. There was something wrong. Either the drivers never falsified their logs, which I knew was not true (our fuel tax department caught them), or our process was ineffective. A driver who regularly falsified his logs figured out the system, and never submitted his logs with documents that could falsify them, and our process rarely and poorly attempted overcoming that. If a log clerk received logs without the other documents, he/she audited the log without them.
Once I realized what was happening, one day the lightning bolt hit me. All those areas where I had revised and refined our systems, all those principles that I had used before in designing information systems that not only made life easier for those used as drones, but gave us more accurate and timely data than before, all came together in a flash.
At our company, a delivery receipt (similar to a bill of lading, but just for the delivery) would first go to settlements, where it acted as proof of delivery, so we could pay the driver (drivers were paid upon delivering the load). It would then travel to billing, where the date of delivery was entered, where we also logged in the proof of delivery, which some customers required. Then the proof of delivery would travel to the safety department with the logs when they came in, for falsification purposes. Then it would go to the receivables department where it would be filed. That was partly because trucking companies were often organized departmentally that way, and reinforced by the trucking company software. A driver's log would go to settlements and payroll first, then to safety, then to fuel tax where the log points (fuel stop, delivery point, etc.) would be entered. I devised a system that had a mileage program calculate the miles between the log points, which compared them to the driver's trip records. Mountains of documents made that circuitous route through the company.
In that flash, I had an insight that stunned me. The ideal is that a document should be handled only once, and the pertinent information entered from it. Then it goes directly to file. That was not a unique realization in itself, and was not really mine, but is a corporate ideal these days. The vision incorporated that idea into something far grander. In what I saw, the computer system then took the pertinent data and sent it to where it was needed. The various departments did not handle any paper, but instead dealt with the data coming from those documents and other data sources, such as the truck stop fuel desk. The data was integrated and manipulated to give us what we needed. We needed a new department known as Central Paperwork, where the data came in, was entered, and the documents filed. The raw data needed for settlements, payroll, billing, receivables, fuel tax and safety would all be entered in the same place. If done properly, the other departments never needed to see the documents. Also, there were numerous front-end edits that would have ensured the integrity of what we entered, where various algorithms and pieces of related data would be used to validate the data entry, making it virtually impossible to make a data entry error.
In log audits, for instance, the last place I looked into, I envisioned a system much like the one I designed for fuel taxes. Disparate information came from several sources, and the sophisticated programs performed the comparing and validating, spitting out possible errors or falsifications, which were resolved by an analyst. It would take a human decision to call something falsified. We finally would have a system that caught log falsifications. My vision went far, far beyond a major reorganization and streamlining of the document and information flow. Again, the structure of the information systems was linear, with various processes taking place, seemingly unrelated, but in reality all part of a big picture that nobody was seeing because the data was not properly integrated. I designed other systems, such as one in our maintenance department that would give us levels of information we had never seen before, and few companies had ever had before (if any, although I imagine some big ones did). I designed a system that would give us maintenance-per-mile cost by driver, by truck, by component (even by brand of component), where we could begin seeing trends that were previously invisible.
The grand vision was how we could finally begin managing our trucks on a nearly real-time basis. The system I envisioned would bring data such as out-of-route miles and rates, MPG, maintenance costs, delivery experience, claims (damaged cargo) data, deadhead miles and rates, driver needs (such as when he was last home), etc., into one screen, where the big picture could be seen, with nearly real-time, reliable data. Then we could begin really managing our trucks. About the only time we could really manage the truck was when we had the driver on the phone (satellite dishes make that contact much better). If that data was in front of us when talking to the driver, the management possibilities were immense. I saw a way to create more meaningful data, more quickly, using far fewer resources than we had ever devoted to running the company’s administration. It was a radical vision, and we were already most of the way toward producing such a system. The raw data was largely there already. It just needed reorganization, and needed the chief programmer and myself to spend a couple months doing design and programming of critical parts. In the end, we would have had timely and reliable information at our fingertips, and I would have eliminated numerous drudgery jobs and replaced them with a few analyst jobs.
There were downsides and challenges. None of my earlier innovations led to any layoffs, but that one might (it could have chopped our administrative staff in half), which was not my goal. My earlier innovations meant that we could do more work without adding more people, and I created jobs that needed problem-solving ability. The other was the double-edged sword that happens in capitalism. We would have had much more knowledge and control over what our trucks were doing. On one hand, it could have been wonderful, not only for us, but for the drivers, as we could have seen problems developing, such as declining MPG, and could have resolved them early. Such remedies included injector overhauls, and it also would catch drivers who sold their fuel.
Unfortunately, somewhat less than one percent of the driver population is criminal, and they would sell fuel, sell the tires off a trailer, sell off the load, etc., but they would do it for a week before anybody caught on. Yet, it also could have been abused to turn the drivers into virtual slaves, us watching their every move, turning down the screws. In unscrupulous hands, it could have turned out that way.
The only valid concern I ever heard about that vision for streamlining my company was from my assistant controller, who astutely observed that if we got a handle on hours of service and could find forged logs, the cheating drivers would all quit and work for somebody who let them drive eighty hours per week. It was a valid concern, and one I had already accounted for. We had to know what was happening. .
Not only was there a duty to the public, I was a corporate officer and I could go to jail for letting a driver kill somebody, when I had information that could tell me he was driving eighty hours per week. The duty to public safety and my own hide were more important than some drivers leaving. Our drivers had accidents that killed people several times while I worked there, and as I looked at photographs of people who our trucks had killed, I felt that whatever our company could do to make sure that never happened again was worth it. The safety measures we enacted not only saved lives, but also were far cheaper for the company. The cost of killing somebody might be borne by our insurance company in the short term, but in the long term we paid for it in rising premiums and other costs, such as perhaps going to jail, which some unscrupulous trucking executives are doing today, as they conspired to circumvent the hours-of-service laws.
Probably the biggest obstacle of all was the people I worked for. I presented my ideas to my new president, a salesman who repeated his predecessor’s mantra: he did not need computers to run the company. I presented the ideas to those above me, even to the parent company’s CEO, and all I received were blank stares. They had little idea of what I was talking about. They did not really understand the business. I soon stepped down as controller, my protégé took my place as planned, but he quit soon after, in the horrid environment that existed. The new president chased away most of the company’s talent within a year. All the systems I put in place were taken over by people who had no idea about how they worked, or what the goal was. I heard that they all ended up in shambles. That was depressing.
That new president hired a compliant controller and they let the accounting systems disintegrate. Consequently, and probably not entirely accidentally, they hid more than a million dollars of losses (from their incredibly poor management practices) in the accounting system’s wreckage, and in late 2000 there was a public scandal over what they had done, and a few months later the entire $250 million organization closed its doors, that scandal being the final blow. All the sister companies also ran inefficiently, for the reasons I have highlighted, and a spike in oil prices killed off that dinosaur that tried surviving in the last warm valleys. It was preventable. Thousands of people lost their jobs in that meltdown, largely due to the incompetence of upper management. It was awful to watch it happen from a distance, and see careers capsize of those I once worked with.
There were many other aspects of my vision that this essay has not covered. The systems could have been continually refined until we were running on all cylinders, and what is presented here was a fragment of the vision that came to me.
 On a national basis, with the United States being a net importer and having regional industrial and agricultural centers, there would be more net freight moving more one way than another at times, but having half-trailers (called “pups” in the industry) would mitigate that kind of deadheading, as in a driver could haul a full pup and an empty one, or taking trailers back by rail to where the greater freight density is, something less feasible with our current system.
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