Coach operators and drivers mostly adapting to ELDs

The motorcoach industry was largely prepared by the April 1 deadline for enforcement of the federal electronic logging device mandate.

Many users continue to report glitches in software, but the devices generally are working well and even the least technically savvy drivers have accepted them.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration put the ELD mandate, which automates driver hours-of-service monitoring, into effect on December 18 but asked state enforcement agencies to delay enforcement until April 1 to give operators additional time to work on technical difficulties, install equipment and train drivers.

After April 1 a driver found out of ELD compliance can be ordered out of service.

“Most people in the motorcoach industry, from what I have heard, were proactive and got on top of it no later than August and September,” said John Bailey, owner of Bailey Coach Trailways in York, Pa., and chairman of the Pennsylvania Bus Association.

“By December 18 they were in pretty good shape.”

Some motorcoach carriers had not installed the devices when Motorcoach Expo 2018 was held in San Antonio two weeks after the rule took effect.

“Several of the vendors mentioned people that were still holding out,” said David Moody, general manager of Holiday Companies in Randleman, N.C., and chairman of the United Motorcoach Association’s technology committee.

“When we were in San Antonio I talked to a couple of operators who still had not put on ELD systems,” said Henry Palmer, maintenance manager of Quick’s Bus Company in Staunton, Va.

“I don’t know their reasoning or if they hadn’t run any trips at that time of year.,” Palmer said. “If they had been running trips they would not have been legal.”

ELD compliance has reached 96 percent, according to new FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez. Although out-of-service orders were not being issued before April 1, the agency had asked law enforcement officers across the country to report their findings.

The independent segment of the trucking industry continues to fight the ELD regulation with appeals to the U.S. Congress and state legislatures.

“I have talked to some smaller truckers, people who are friends of mine, and they thought the rule would be eliminated,” Bailey said. “Well, it wasn’t overturned. They didn’t realize what was going on. From the Pennsylvania Bus Association perspective, we did a lot of education to make sure people understood. We informed all of our members that this is reality.”

Carriers that have smoothly transitioned from paper logs to ELDs credit early starts on research, installation and training.

“We started piloting five or six of the systems on the market late in 2016,” Palmer said. “We had them all installed by the first of September. The systems seem to be working well. Occasionally, as with anything electronic, there are a few hiccups and glitches, but the supplier has responded well. Generally it just takes updates.”

Buddy Young, owner of Capitol Bus Lines in West Columbia, S.C., said the company installed automatic onboard recording devices (AOBRDs) in 2014 and they have worked well.

“We should convert to ELDs later this year,” Young said. “There appear to still be some issues with the technology, but our vendor has been responsive in addressing each issue.”

When FMCSA approved the ELD mandate, it grandfathered in existing AOBRDs and said they could be transferred to replacement vehicles in a fleet, but still required ELDs to be placed in any new vehicles that expanded the fleet size.

The agency issued new regulatory guidance last month saying operators could continue using AOBRD software on any vehicle in their fleets, including new ones that expand the size of their fleets, through December 16, 2019. However, they must still install ELD-capable devices that run the AOBRD software.

“Our drivers have been paperless for nearly four years,” said Dennis Streif, a UMA technology committee member and vice president of Vandalia Bus Lines in Caseyville, Ill.

He said Vandalia changed its technology vendor last summer.

“Neither one is bullet-proof. I would love to meet one that is,” Streif said. “All systems had and will have some minor issues. Our current provider is fairly responsive to problems.”

Tom Crouch, president of Young Transportation and Tours in Asheville, N.C., said the company switched from paper logs two years ago.

“We want to stay in front of all regulations and always look for more efficient operating tools,” Crouch said. “Anytime you change software or electronics there is a learning curve.”

Dale McMichael, president of Executive Coach in Lancaster, Pa., said the company has used AOBRDs for three years so it was already comfortable with electronic logs when the mandate was implemented.

“We upgraded our hardware this winter and converted to ELDs two weeks ago,” McMichael said. “Everything has gone well for us.”

Technical glitches

That’s not to say everything is problem free for ELD users. Technical glitches do occur.

“When I come in on Monday morning there are always one or two buses written up for ELDs that aren’t working,” said Jim Lienhart, president of Arrow Coach Lines in Little Rock, Ark.

“I have talked to some operators who are on their third vendor because they didn’t like the first two,” Lienhart said.  “This is not as easy as I think the government thought it would be. It didn’t give us any help or tax breaks to help pay for it but told us it would save us money in the future. I haven’t seen any savings yet.”

Chris Sours, safety manager of Richards Bus Lines in Luray, Va., said he has experienced glitches both with the devices and with drivers learning to use them.

“The only major issue we’ve had was with power in some of our Prevost coaches causing the ELD display to cut out.,” Sours said. “Sometimes it would take only a couple of minutes to reload but other times it could take over 30 minutes. I am not sure why. We didn’t have this issue with our MCI coaches.

“Per the advice of our vendor, our mechanic installed a 24-volt relay in place of the 12-volt relay and the issue has been fixed,” he said.

Palmer of Quick’s Bus said he knows one operator that had issues with the ELD in one of its new coaches.

“It caused a ‘check engine’ to come on and the coach to shut down,” he said. “They ended up leaving that (ELD) company.”

Other common issues are drops in service or slow loading times.

“We are still struggling with updates and satellite connections when we get into areas where there are a lot of tall buildings,” Lienhart says.

Brenda Tidwell, director of tours at Leisure Time Charters and Tours in Emerson, Ga., said there is a learning curve, but the biggest problem occurs when the Internet connection doesn’t work.

Delayed downloads

Some drivers have had to wait up to 45 minutes for their ELD to download their hours-of-service history, said Alan Thrasher, president of Thrasher Brothers Trailways in Birmingham, Ala.

“We have had to issue logbooks so the drivers can leave to pick up customers somewhat on time,” Thrasher said. “Customers want to be picked up at the time they contracted for . An ELD problem is not their problem.”

He also has heard of problems with crude installations — sometimes on his motorcoaches.

“Some ELD suppliers are contracting local installers who may or may not be qualified,” Thrasher said. “Many installers never ask nor seem to care what wires they cut into.

“There also has been an amusing variety of ways to cut up dashboards. I had to make the installer pay to have several dashboards repaired from the sloppy work left behind on new, expensive coaches.”

Some motorcoach drivers also have complained about ELD glitches, while the devices have pleasantly surprised others.

“I thought the ELD was going to be a royal pain,” said Tammie Moore, who has spent 19 of her 25 driving years at Bailey Coach. “Now that I am in and out of it, I really like it.”

While most ELD issues at Bailey Coach arise from technical issues, “Some drivers are having problems all the time, I think because they are older and can’t catch on to the technology,” Moore said.

The company’s most experienced driver has been driving a bus for 40 years,” Bailey said. “We got an iPhone and loaded the app for him. He has really been doing well with it.”

Arrow Coach lines started its preparations for ELDs more than a year ago because of the expected learning curve for drivers, Lienhart said.

“We wanted to get ahead of the curve. Like most companies, a good percentage of our drivers are elderly. Some of them struggled with it and some understood the process pretty quickly,” he said.

Initial fears

Ed Richards is a full-time teacher and part-time bus driver for Richards Bus Lines. He said he was afraid about the transition from paper logs but quickly caught on to his ELD.

“In my opinion, the start-up period was too long,” Richards said. “I would like to have dumped my paper logbook long before we went live.”

A common error — for drivers young and old — is forgetting to change duty status when logging off at the end of a day.

“The biggest thing I have seen and heard about in the industry is forgetting to change status to ‘off duty’ when they log off the device,” Palmer said. “They leave themselves on duty, which causes an issue the next morning when they log back on and find they have no hours left.

“Our system has a portal, which is mandated by law, where the driver can go to fix the mistake. I make them fix it themselves because I have a feeling if I fix it for them they are not going to care if they make the mistake or not,” he said.

Good news and bad news are predicted as a result of closer monitoring of driver hours of service.

ELDs “will be good for the entire industry,” Bailey said. “It is going to decrease accidents and fatalities, mainly from the trucking standpoint because they are the largest segment of the transportation industry that probably was not following all the rules.”

Electronic logging also will level the competition between compliant carriers and those that cut corners in order to cut their bids, he said.

“From time to time we would notice other companies that had to be pushing the envelope to do the trip. Now they can’t push the envelope,” Bailey said. “Everybody will have to be more honest and, I think, raise their rates to compensate for that.”

And then there is bad news.

“What poses a large issue for the industry as I see it is problems such as traffic and weather delays that are outside the control of the operator and the company and the log violations that could be involved,” said J.P. Campbell, a driver for Richards Bus Lines in Luray, Va.

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