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When Life Is A Highway

What drivers want and how companies are complying
Driver Hwy_MS

Cool Runnings’ owner, Fred Plotsky, explains that as an owner-operator fleet, his company knows good business sense is important to drivers as well as shippers. “Most importantly, we value their solvency—are drivers good businesspeople who understand the produce industry?

“If owner-operators are constantly out of money and overburdened with high costs,” Plotsky posits, “they might not have a good understanding of what it takes to be an owner.” On the other hand, if prospective owner-operators appear to be “well put together, their equipment is in good condition, and their expenses are managed properly, we’ll target them.”

Know your load
Plotsky also emphasizes the importance of knowing the industry. Produce haulers are different from most other truckers, as their cargo is subject to safety conditions and time restraints those who haul steel or electronics never face.

Jacqueline McKenzie, vice president of corporate communications for Triple Star Logistics, Inc. in Toronto, agrees that produce truckers are a different and special breed, and it’s important they know not just the rules of the road, but the intricacies of the commodities loaded into their trucks.

“They’re expected to know correct pulp temperatures, what quality produce should look and feel like, and how it should be loaded,” McKenzie stresses. “It’s our job to manage their appointments and speak with the shippers to ensure they’re getting their trucks loaded correctly, with the right product, in the best condition possible, and with reefers set to the right temperature, so they can do what they do best.”

Terry L. Button, an owner-operator, emphasizes that produce haulers are more valuable when they display knowledge of the unique qualities of their cargo. “If you want the product to arrive in a condition you can accept, you have to pulp it, look it over, and have a working knowledge of what the produce is and what condition it should be in. Why haul garbage for thousands of miles?”

Perks and Pitfalls
Many drivers are pleased with the development of new technologies, especially as they increase the comfort and amenities of doing their jobs. New trucks are larger and more spacious, allowing for driver teams, in-cab amenities, and the use of internet-enabled communications and tracking, while many truck stops offer better food, exercise options, and web access.

In urban areas, though, a lack of hand-off options can still be a frustration. Curl explains that city parking is still one of the biggest problems for most operators. “You try to drive as far as you can every day, because that’s usually what determines your pay,” he says. “If you can’t find parking, you’re either in violation of hours of service or are parked somewhere that could be illegal or dangerous.”

One of the issues looming over the trucking industry today is the possibility of automated trucks, with Google, Uber, Tesla, and other major tech-industry players scrambling to perfect autonomous cars, with trucks not far behind. Inside the industry, however, there is a healthy skepticism this will happen anytime soon—if it happens at all.