Two years in, ELDs are eliciting mixed feelings

by Hal Mattern

NASHVILLE—Nearly two years after electronic logging devices (ELDs) became required equipment on motorcoaches, many operators have mixed feelings about the devices. While they praise the ease of gathering and disseminating data and tracking vehicles and drivers with ELDs, certain issues still frustrate them.

During an education session at 2020 Motorcoach EXPO on the impact of ELDs on motorcoach companies, operators shared problems with connectivity, drivers tampering with ELDs, tracking personal conveyance of vehicles and having to adhere strictly to hours-of-service rules.

Several members of the audience also said they have had to change ELD providers at least once, with some changing two or three times.

“If you have 200 vehicles and 300 drivers to train, it would be a nightmare to change providers,” said Tom Skinner of Cline Tours in Mississippi, a panelist for the session.

Panelist Mike McDonal, director of regulatory compliance at ELD manufacturer Saucon Technologies, said that although there are still more than 300 ELD providers listed on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s website, some have gone out of business.

“Some were in it for the cash grab,” McDonal said. “Choosing an ELD because of the low upfront cost might not be the best for your company.”

Some operators said they have problems with ELD connectivity, especially when buses are traveling through mountainous areas or inclement weather. Panelists said that can be more of a problem with portable ELDs that use cell phones.

Others said their drivers often unplug the devices.

“You have to hardwire them so they can’t mess with them,” said panelist Scott Greteman of Windstar Lines in Iowa. “Otherwise drivers will pull them out.”

Some operators said their drivers sometimes fail to sign onto the ELDs before leaving on a trip. Greteman said he found a solution to that problem: tying payroll to the ELD.

“If you do your payroll off the ELD they will sign in right away so they will get paid,” he said.

Audience members also asked about tracking the use of motorcoaches by drivers for personal conveyance when they are off duty, which is sometimes misused.

“Can drivers still falsify logs on ELDs? Yes they can,” McDonal said. “Personal conveyance cannot further commerce. You need a policy on personal conveyance.”

Greteman said his company does have a strict policy on personal conveyance. For example, he said, drivers are required to go to the closest restaurant for meals.

“If you want McDonald’s but Burger King is closer, you are not going to McDonald’s,” he said.

Some drivers also have been known to claim they ran into adverse weather conditions or blocked roadways when they are running over their hours of service. But adverse weather and road conditions are fairly easy to track these days with apps.

“Trust, but verify,” McDonal said.

Operators said potential hours-of-service violations are more common because ELDs track vehicle movement in real time. Skinner said he had a driver who was 22 seconds late, resulting in her having to attend an education session.

“Let us know on the front end if you are going to run out of time,” he said. “Even if it’s not your fault, you need to call.”

Panelist Scott Riccio of NorthEast Charter & Tour Co. in Maine said there was more leeway for running overtime when drivers used paper logs. “If they were running late but were 14 minutes out, we’d tell them to come on in,” Riccio said. “Now we tell them to pull over and we go get them. It’s a whole new world.”

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said it considers violations of 15 minutes or less to be nominal violations, but inspectors still look at them for patterns that could result in more serious violations.

Potential hours-of-service violations also result in more drivers having to stop for the night.

“We’ve spent a lot more money on hotels in the last two years,” Greteman said, adding that operators have to build that expense into their customer rates.

Matt Daecher of Daecher Consulting Group, who moderated the ELD session, said that despite such glitches and issues, ELDs are much more efficient than paper logs and make it easier for operators to send data to regulators and inspectors.

“You have to understand your system and make sure you know all of its capabilities so you can manage data so it is helping you instead of just throwing data at you,” Daecher said.


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