Do We Really Want Better Productivity?

Remain Vigilant

Every week, or more often, we hear someone else telling us about a drive for better productivity. Needless to say, quite often the person talking it up has something to sell. A new technology, a new leaner meaner truck, a training package on offer.


There are also some evangelical souls in trucking who espouse fuel economy and put their money where their mouth is, the obvious example being winding the speed limiter back to 90 km/h. Some even pay a bonus to fuel efficient drivers.


Of course, there are many ways of cutting down costs and improving productivity. Put in the hard work to get PBS approval for a new vehicle, an A-double perhaps, and the gains in productivity are shown to outweigh the cost easily. Getting there has been a long and arduous journey for many operators, but has proven to be worth it.


Yes we are also told the PBS process is getting quicker and cheaper, so the gains are available at a lower costs. However, this also lowers the barrier to entry and all of a sudden the job is flooded with many more higher productivity vehicles, with the inevitable downward pressure on rates rearing its ugly head.


The two biggest components in the cost of running a truck are the driver and the fuel. The operator has no control over the price of diesel and has to live with its ups and downs, but so does everyone else.


The driver is another matter. Yes, there is a minimum wage and there are different ways to pay the driver, but it often comes down to the ‘paying peanuts getting monkeys’ scenario. Better paid drivers tend to look after the truck a little better, but that’s about it.


In fact, in the hands, and feet, of the driver is one of the best tools for improving productivity, but so many trucking businesses don’t use it. Driving style can save the operator of a truck around 20 per cent of fuel costs, if, and it’s a big if, they are willing to buy into a change in culture and driving style.


I started driving trucks nearly forty years ago and throughout most of my driving career didn’t give a monkey’s about how much fuel I was using. Apart from two stints owning my own truck, I was never incentivised enough by my employer to save fuel.


Of course, they would complain about it sometimes, but I wasn’t fussed about changing old habits and they sure as hell weren’t going to give me the tools to improve my fuel use.


So why do we put training and supporting drivers to reduce fuel consumption in the ‘too hard’ basket? Is it because truck drivers are unteachable? Is it because they don’t want to be paid more if they use less fuel? I think the answer to both these questions is no.


A driver who is gentler on the gear will not only save you money in fuel costs, they will also reduce the maintenance bill. If a driver is properly compensated for driving fuel efficiently, they will report a fault ASAP, in order for it not to effect their fuel saving compensation.


Surely offering training now and ongoing training in the future, alongside a scheme to share fuel cost savings with the driver is going to be worth it? We now have the technology in trucks to trace who is driving it when and with a bit of IT wizardry, payments could be calculated.