Ralph Boles and Ross Wishart, two of Bison Transport’s most experienced professionals, provide a unique view of reality from behind the wheel in an exlusive interview.
CT&L: Motor carriers looking to provide consistent and reliable service today must have effective driver retention strategies in place. Both of you have been driving for many years. What are the key issues you face in your jobs, and what is Bison doing to respond to these issues?
Boles: The biggest issues for me are the increase in traffic and congestion on the road and at the border. Sometimes it takes over 2 hours to travel between points in major cities like Toronto, Chicago, and Vancouver. With the current hours of service regulations, I cannot afford to lose time waiting in traffic, or at a shipper’s dock, or the border. Thankfully, Bison is very driver oriented on such issues. They deal with traffic congestion by planning my trips during non-peak traffic hours. They send me my load information complete with addresses and contact info via satellite, and I can even get directions to the destination by simply keying it into the satellite. It saves me hours. On the customs side, Bison has people who take care of the paperwork for us before we leave the terminal, which really helps. I get to the border, show my FAST card and the load in most cases has been pre-cleared.
Wishart: The new hours of service regulations are a challenge. Ninety percent of my hauls are into the US and the timing is critical. At Bison everything is pre-planned so drivers are not sitting and waiting for their next dispatch. The system allows you to better plan your trip so it’s less stressful.
CT&L: Rising fuel costs must be a major concern for owner/operators. In fact, they have been a major reason why so many have left the industry this decade. How is Bison compensating you for the rising cost of fuel?
Wishart: Bison’s fuel subsidy program for owner operators is based on the US Dept of Energy price, and works well to offset the increased cost of fuel. Also, Bison has provided us with valuable tips on fuel conservation and even offers up their Tatonka training facilities to all owner/operators who are looking for ways to improve their fuel economy. On top of that, Bison provides us with very good information on where we should be buying our fuel in order to keep our fuel purchasing costs in line. If you are driving smart and planning your fuel stops, you will be fine. Bison has basically taken away my concern over price volatility.
CT&L: Over the past couple of years we’ve heard lots about Bison’s safety and driver development programs. The company also recently won the National Fleet Safety Award from the Truckload Carriers Association. How is Bison’s approach to these issues making a difference in the way you do your job?
Boles: Bison has quite an extensive safety program with professional development courses we all participate in. I’ve been driving for 33 years and I am still learning and improving my skills as a driver.. We also have a driving simulator that allows us to experience driving situations in a safe environment. It’s quite a learning tool. The company has a lot of paid incentives for road safety, and a recognition program for safety achievements. Bison rewards safe drivers VERY well. Wishart: The Tatonka development courses and the simulators are great for both newer and experienced drivers. For less experienced drivers, it helps them understand situations better, before they get to the loading dock or onto the highway. It also refreshes experienced guys such as myself. It gets me thinking all the time. That’s the key to safety, not getting complacent.
CT&L: The ongoing driver shortage often forces carriers to park a portion of their fleet despite shipper demands for additional capacity. What can carriers and shippers do to attract people to the industry and keep them behind the wheel?
Boles: Carriers should be going to high schools to promote the industry to young people, and to show them that trucking is a great career. Although at times it can be hard on one’s family, I’ve made a good living at it. Here’s where Bison has made great strides in accommodating the varied driver lifestyles to deal with those types of situations. One way that shippers can help to reduce driver frustration is through better planning. When I pull into a shipper’s yard, I need the load to be ready so I don’t have to wait unnecessarily. Bison has increased the number of trailers in the fleet so that customers can pre-load my trailer, or so city drivers can pre-load my load and stage it in one of our terminals. It requires planning by both the shipper and the carrier, but it’s important to make the driving job attractive to new and existing drivers. Another way Bison has increased capacity is through the use of Long Combination Vehicles (turnpikes). We have a growing fleet of drivers who haul turnpikes exclusively in Western Canada.
Wishart: I think we have to do a better job of educating the public about the industry and government has to come to view the driving profession as skilled labor. I think the driver shortage situation will actually get a lot worse as more people retire over the next few years. Carriers will have to pay special attention to their people in order to cope. Bison has invested a lot in training and its pay scales are very close to the top, if not the top. But it’s also the little things, such as their rewards for safety and family get-togethers they organize, that create a family atmosphere and make it worthwhile to stay with the company over the long term.