Warning: choosing an ELD takes longer than expected

WASHINGTON — Larry Williams has some simple advice for any motorcoach operator that has yet to choose an electronic logging device vendor.

“Get to work!”

Williams, president of L.W. Transportation in Fredericksburg, Va., and a member of the United Motorcoach Association’s technology committee, said choosing the right ELDs and training drivers to use them takes time.

And, with the federal mandate that commercial vehicles convert to ELDs taking effect in less than three months, on December 18, time isn’t on the side of procrastinators.

“It is really hard to choose,” Williams said. “Then I am looking at a month to a month and a half for training — it depends on how savvy your people are on operating a computer. There is time for you to pick somebody, but you have to go with it before the crunch gets to you.”

Dennis Streif, vice president of Vandalia Bus Lines in Caseyville, Ill., and also a UMA technology committee member, suggested that operators give themselves at least 60 days before the deadline to make a selection.

“Most reputable companies are going to do the installs for you within a 30-day period, but that is getting pretty close to the end,” Streif said.

David Moody, general manager of Holiday Companies in Randleman, N.C., said many operators underestimate how much time the process will take.

“We started at the beginning of March and didn’t choose the winner until the end of July because we kept learning new things and asking new questions,” said Moody, chairman of the UMA technology committee.

“There is a big fear factor everybody has to go through. There is a lot of buzz about getting the mandate extended, but I don’t believe the rule is going to get pushed back. They may delay enforcement for six months, but I think the rule is here to stay.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear a lawsuit challenging the ELD mandate and Congress recently rejected an effort to delay it for two years.

Citations for noncompliance will begin in December but enforcement officials said they will hold off on issuing out-of-service orders until April 2018 to give the commercial motor vehicle industry time to transition to ELD usage.

“We were hoping there would be an extension but we had to make a decision,” said Ray Sargoni, president of Gray Line of San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Monterey.

Sargoni said his staff needed two to three months to study vendor candidates for his 40-vehicle fleet.

“They also were trying to run the company,” he said. “You have to make a choice and go for the best plan possible.”

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued its final ELD rule on Dec. 16, 2015, with a compliance date of Dec. 18, 2017. The mandate requires automatic electronic monitoring of driver activities with the stated goal of reducing accidents caused by fatigue and hours-of-service violations.

FMCSA estimated the rule would avoid 1,844 crashes and save 26 lives annually. It placed the rule’s cost to the commercial motor vehicle industry at around $2.2 billion.          Due to $3.1 billion in savings from reduced crashes and paperwork, total benefits were estimated at $850 million.

Dozens of vendors have registered electronic logging devices on FMCSA’s website “as self-certified by the manufacturer.”

How does an operator even begin to wade into what can be a complex and time-consuming endeavor?

“We assembled a team of all the people who will be directly involved with the installation and implementation to come up with a list of company names,” said Moody, who was selecting devices for 71 motorcoaches in his Holiday Tours operation.

“We came up with a list of 15 companies, then we discussed our needs and wishes and built an RFP (request for proposal) and sent it to those companies. Only eight responded, which is crazy.”

The Holiday staff spent 45 minutes in a webinar with each company before identifying four finalists.

“We asked those four for physical demo units that we ran in our vehicles for two to three weeks,” Moody said.

Identifying company-specific requirements was a critical part of the process, he said. “The main thing was having that list of what we absolutely need to have to meet the ELD mandate and integrate with our own operating system.”

San Francisco Gray Line also narrowed its choices by identifying compatibilities. “We already had GPS tracking and Wi-Fi,” Sargoni said. “We picked a company that could add ELD to those services. You should go with somebody who is simple and can give you one-stop shopping.”

As many or most carriers are choosing their first ELD providers, Vandalia Bus Lines is going to work with its second provider for its 70-motorcoach fleet.

“We have had ELDs for three years,” Streif said. “We just ended a contract with a provider that we had some challenges with. There are some things to be cautious about. We went with a fairly large carrier and did some reference checks.

“Because we had some experience, we knew what questions to ask and what pitfalls to look for,” Streif said. “Primarily, how long they have been in business was one of our criteria. Also, not every provider can give us engine diagnostics and an electronic DVIR (driver vehicle inspection report). We found that other features did not cost that much to add but give us a lot of benefits.”

Moody also considered the potential longevity of vendors.

“We think within three years the marketplace is going to consolidate into a few major vendors, so we thought about finding someone we think will be around in those three years,” he said.

Williams said the training portion is important and can take at least 30 days after an ELD is selected.

“If you have more than 20 drivers you might need more time,” he said. “Some of your people might have it in their minds that they can’t do this because they have never sat down with a computer. Those who have done it think it is the best thing since sliced bread.”

Moody agreed, saying the main thing his company learned is that you cannot do just one training class.

“It will take multiple classes and then one-on-ones with some guys who still aren’t getting it,” he said. “This industry is heavily in the retirement space and some drivers are reluctant to change.

“Among our drivers there is some hesitation and then some guys who are ready to be done with paper. Some have seen the advantages of letting the computer handle the work.”

Williams installed his first ELD into a coach handled by a driver “who is older and could be slower to adopt it. He didn’t like it at first. He said, ‘If you put that thing in my bus I think I’m going to quit.’

“After two weeks he said, ‘That ain’t bad. All I’ve got to do is remember to log out.’ Things he used to do in 15 minutes can be done in 15 seconds.”

The data derived from ELDs also will provide better management and maintenance tools, Williams said.

“The people in the shop can be alerted about a problem ahead of time while the motorcoach is still on the road. They can be proactive and ready to get that bus back on the road the next day.”

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