A one-time school project gone terribly, terribly wrong.

08 July 2004

The other night, upon the stair

I met a man who wasn't there
He wasn't there again today
I wish to hell he'd go away

~Anon, probably.

It occurred to me that I live my life, since my recent cohabitational manoeuvre (intended to reduce my rent but which has in fact increased my cost of living some 1.5-fold), in a building full of invisible men and women. I have met a few of them:

Greasyfeet: Leaves collossal and deliberate stains all on the lift floor.

The Mayor of Smear: Seems incapable of getting into a small box intended to transport him between floors without he should create swoosching artwork on the walls.

And the person (whom I assume is a woman) I met today:

Oceans of Lotions: Whose pungent aroma graces the elevator shaft in wisps one can almost see long after she herself, or indeed the taste of burnt fish & chips, has faded.

Now Where Were We?

O yeah! Checkitout, all you cats! My buddy Chris, the man who always has a rip in his clothing, has scored big time. He is truly front page news.

Actually, I notice from last post I was going to blog about:
kids, death, trucking, etc.

I don't wanna blog about kids. Friends of the SO provided the world with a baby born under 5 lbs the other day. She's a gynaecologist--how did that baby come to be a mere 5 pounds? Obviously the experts know as much as the rest of us (bupkis).

Apart from its size, it's a cute critter. They keep it at the neonatal unit in one of those little baby aquariums.

On top of that, both my sister and cousin have delivered themselves of offspring, and while I'm sure they're cute and interesting etc etc to their parents, the truth is I have little interest, really. Other people's kids are fascinating only for a short period of time.

Now MINE, on the other hand--can I show you this picture of the first time he spit up on me? . . .

I'm also too up for death at the moment, so:

Back to Trucking

It's not as though I don't enjoy the trade, really. But unfortunately due to the way the regulation is structured, the onus to do your job withint the law is entirely on the driver.

Let's start with the industry-level picture:
Trucking as an industry grew with the major metropolitan centres, and has continued to grow. The biggest fleets nowadays number their "power units" (a fancy way of describing the truck--no trailer) in the tens of thousands.

But North American society in general is very hostile to trucking. Every time a new suburbia erupts from the ground, the second order of business seems to be a shrill assemblage of fishwives clamouring for a ban on noisy, fume-belching, ground-shaking commercial transports rolling down the major highway that they built a house on (because it was "convenient to transportation"). Never mind that the road is the sole feeder for a major manufacturing plant.

The usual excuse is "safety" followed closely by something along the lines of "for the protection of the . . " ("environment" and "children" are popular at the moment).

But all CRASH and its sisters really want to do is duck responsibility. It's very simple--well not really, but I'll try to make it seem so.

By the way--if you want to understand the real motivation behind CRASH, look at their Sponsor page.

Truckers routinely violate the hours of service. This is because they want to earn money. There are very strict rules (in profusion!) about this. But all truckers dodge.



From this you may draw three possible conclusions:

1) Truckers are naturally dishonest in a far higher proportion than any other sort of workers.
2) The rules are poorly enforced.
3) There's something drastically wrong with the industry.

Let's look, first, at how trucking happens:
A person with goods (shipper) at, say, Montreal, wants them in Los Angeles. Due to the cost of doing business, the sooner is definitely the better.

The receiver is paying for the transport, and again, TSTB. So he wants to keep both the time lag and the monetary costs as low as possible.

The dispatcher is the person who co-ordinates the desires of the above two persons, and he does this by essentially harrassing the driver.

The rules (using the old standard) are pretty clear. You have a work day of 24 hours, in which you may drive hours (which vary; in Canada it used to be 13 hours, in the US 10). You have to keep a log book which shows whether at any given time you were in the sleeper berth (not sleeping, necessarily--no-one can force a person to sleep), working-but-not-driving (including time spent waiting for anything), and time off duty or not working but not in the sleeper.

By the way--most sleepers are a piss-poor compromise. Not quite as cramped as a coffin, but not much roomier than a phone booth. The pictures at the site above are of the custom-built sort designed for moving truckers, who may sit a month between loads.

All clear so far?

The essential trouble is that the infernal triangle of shipper-receiver-dispatcher are responsible, in essence, only to one another. So they get on best by telling one another pleasing lies such as :"Definitely by Wednesday" or "The cheque's on its way."

The driver is responsible not only for pleasing all these clowns, but for keeping the Kops happy too. The difference is that he can avoid the cops by a combination of judicious mendacity, throwaway log books, and guile (truckers often make great event planners in later life). The driver can rarely avoid a shipper or receiver, and depends on a dispatcher for his daily bread (and we should be so lucky as to have bread daily!).

So the pressure's on. I gotta pick this stuff up, run it into City X by Wednesday ('cause freight becomes less available during the later part of the week), and pick up whatever's on its way elsewhere in order to have it in City Y by Monday morning.

"So why violate?" you ask "Why not just take a position and refuse to operate outside the legal limits."


#1 the dispatcher is god. If you piss him off, you may find there's no freight in your area, and wind up sitting a long and expensive weekend in Aliquippa PA with nothing to do but stare at your sleeper roof and spend money you just broke seventeen statutes to earn. And it's a lot easier to spend than it is to earn.

#2 If you won't move it, there's always someone who will. Someone is desperate to keep his rig out of hock, desperate to buy one more tank of fuel--they'll take it.

#3 You don't want us to. No, you don't. Freight tariffs are artificially low, and have been preserved that way in order to keep goods cheap.

There's an easy way to ensure drivers live by the law: Give each driver numbered log books with serialized pages, make it mandatory. Add tachygraphs to all road trucks (already law in much of Australia and in Europe).

But when you go to Wal-Mart and find that a cast-iron frying pan now costs $8.99 instead of $7.50--just remember that this is the choice you made. Trucking is also artificially underpaid because truckers are making six-and-seven day journeys in five days.

As a Canuckian, I expect to be making around 34¢ per mile. In the US I'd start at that much in US dollars. Nonetheless, it's still vastly underpaid.

I'd LOVE to work an eight-hour day, take it easy, and not have to run like the devil himself was behind me. Let's see:

Mileage is calculated between cities, usually, at a fixed rate that takes no account of how long you spend getting there. I can get to L.A. from my city in about 23 hours. So assuming that I work 8 hours and get off the rest of the day, it's three days down. Then I have to load, and it takes roughly four days back, all in. Average earnings for such a return trip for me are $750 or so, although it could theoretically go as high as $1000 (and that happens as often as I get laid by a supermodel).

So for seven days' work I get roughly $110 to $140 per day IN THEORY.

In fact, since I was a day late getting there, a day late loading, and two days late getting home, my company forfeited their performance bonus and wound up losing money on the deal. Because the dispatcher is now pissed at me, I can expect my next trip in three days or so, losing that $100-plus each day.

The only way to keep freight coming is to get it there fast.

The optimum way for this to happen would be for me to alternate working and sleeping in ten-hour periods or so until some legal maximum number of hours worked caught up with me. Eight-hour alternating shifts would get me to LA in four shifts of so--forty hours total, roughly. But that's not just illegal, it's exhausting.

So under the current sytem I drive ten hours south, stretching that to twelve by using small blocks of "hidden time" in my log book. I stop after twelve hours, and either sleep or tear out my log page and write a new one (thank god for loose-leaf log books). I drive around sixteen hours, sleep for six (that being as much as I can get in a stretch in a sleeper), and reach LA late on day two.

Suddenly I'm making $200 per day.

For as long as I can keep that up.

But the real killer is waiting times: If you aren't loaded and rolling, you don't make money. So when I have to spend three hours of my precious driving time cooling my heels while some clown in a warehouse tells me "About a half-hour till the load's ready", then that's costing me (at 45 miles per hour average) around $46!

I've had loads requiring me to pick up at 14 different farms. Pickups are at least an hour each, usually. A half-hour delay at each place adds TWO DAYS to your trip if you're booking it legal.

The ONLY people who want drivers to keep legal hours are the cops. The rest of the folks who aren't actually involved in the transport industry just want us to go away. Guess they can live without such luxuries as toilet paper.

So what's the solution?

Recent laws have theoretically expanded responsibility for hours-of-service (HOS) violations to despatchers as well as drivers--but you'd better have a tape of your despatcher asking you to break your hours (it won't be admissible in court). Then you have to prove that he or she knew you were out of hours etc. etc. etc.

It's not enough. The simplest gift that the business community could offer truckers is make shippers and receivers liable for time spent waiting on the dock. Establish a waiting minimum calculated by 50 miles per hour at the driver's rate after the first hour, payable by the shipper or receiver whose dock it's on.

The rest of the citizens need to realize that trucks aren't going away, and that there are ways to help "keep our children safe" and "protect the suburbia--I mean environment" without trying to limit the streets to Segways.

By the way--if the streets and highways are really, really crowded where you live, try this little experiment to see who's responsible.

1) Count the number of trucks on the road over a whole day.
2) Count the cars carrying only one person.

If you want to create road space, imagine that half of those car drivers were carrying the other half in their cars. Wow! Suddenly a lot of space out here, eh?

But no-one listens to truckers. We don't live where you do. Right? Nor pay taxes there. So politically it is inexpedient to support robust industry and reasonable truck rules. Getting trucks off roads solves one thing: What to have for dinner.

What do people grow where you live?

Next time, perhaps I'll talk about truck parking and the usual condition of most roads. Or maybe something completely different.

By the way, if you think truckers are too dumb to count sheep, try making heads or tales of this, then check the official version. Consider also that the rules differ across national, and frequently state, borders.

  • Whoa--very comprehensive, for us language junkies

  • Not so comprehensive, but Oy Vey!

  • inally! Left-wing talk radio! Oh thank God!

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