The soon-to-be-released electronic logging mandate is often depicted as a time bomb that will reduce truck capacity, driving smaller carriers and independents off the roads. There will be some reduction in available capacity once the mandate takes effect, sources tell JOC.com. But in the long haul, expanded use of e-logs and onboard computers, combined with other technologies, will help carriers, large and small, and shippers unlock truck capacity.
Trucking is quickly entering a new stage of automation and computerization, marked by the rapid development of everything from lower cost electronic logging devices (we’ve come a long way since the 1980s, when basic onboard computers cost thousands of dollars) and tracking systems, to smartphone apps for drivers and autonomous if not truly driverless trucks.
These developments are important not just for drivers and trucking companies but also for shippers. In the next decade, shippers will find more opportunities to work with truckers to develop interconnected networks and new processes that use available capacity much more completely and much more efficiently. That’s no small matter, considering the difficulty finding drivers, the rising cost of both driver pay and Class 8 tractors, and higher transportation costs.
“We’re inching toward having ubiquitous connectivity,” said Justin D. Harville, vice president of information technology at Dallas-based logistics provider TTS. That connectivity is made ubiquitous by several moving parts, including widespread use of mobile computers, a robust wireless communications infrastructure and the software needed to make sense of large amounts of data being extracted from trucks, trailers and containers in motion. The ability to take dumb data and turn it into business intelligence will be a “game changer,” Harville said.
Harville was one of several sources asked for their view on what trucking might look like in the coming ELD era. The ELD will be connected to the truck’s databus, which receives information from the engine, brakes and other onboard sensors, including potentially sensors installed in trailers. As the use of ELDs or onboard computers spreads to millions of vehicles, more data will be available for use in transportation management systems than ever before.
That will take the guesswork out of matching drivers, hours, destinations and loads and allow for much more detailed management of capacity, lane by lane, first by the carrier, and then, by extension, the shipper. The data highway offering “ubiquitous connectivity” could represent the biggest opportunity and the biggest challenge for trucking since the interstate highway system, which transformed trucking from a regionally based business into a national one.
The so-called Uberization of trucking could be an even bigger challenge to third-party brokers, who could see their traditional business model disrupted by technology that allows shippers to connect directly with smaller carriers and independents without an intermediary. Brokers, like small carriers, are likely to adopt and offer new technology to customers to adapt and survive.
Speculating on things to come is a risky business. In the 1880s, novelist Edward Bellamy thought that by 2000 goods would be delivered from warehouses to stores by pneumatic tubes. A 1960s advertisement from the American Trucking Associations predicted future computers “will be able to keep track of every bit of freight being shipped in the country — when it left, when it will arrive, where it is right now. It will be nearly impossible to lose anything!”
Experience tells us it’s almost always possible to lose something, but for shippers and carriers, both landside and ocean, “ubiquitous connectivity” is still a goal worth pursuing.