It’s About Time

Mar 13, 2012 | Articles, Reports

An interview with Gene Corcoran

By Joel Beal

Gene Corcoran is my client with the longest tenure. Gene started using fleet technology within his private fleet in 1986. He is the most competent person I know at driving fleet efficiency, and a leading expert in tank truck operations. We sat down for an interview in January 2012.

JB: Gene, we first met at your Irving, TX terminal in 1994 – and by that time you already had 8 years’ experience using fleet technology. Tell us about it.

GC: I started my trucking career in 1978. In 1986 we tested the first real, working onboard computer technology – and we rolled out the US fleet in 1987 and 1988.  I met my wife during this time; she was the corporate onboard computer project manager, and I was the garage supervisor in Brooklyn, NY.

I’ve been working with trucking technology most of my professional life.  We have a long history using fleet technology, and we use fleet technology very differently than our competitors.

JB: We seem to be in a “smart phone” society, people load up on technology they don’t fully utilize.  Every month I read stories in magazines about fleets trying to make their technology work – there seems to be a lack of focus.  Many fleets don’t seem to have clear goals.  When using fleet technology, how do you avoid making a mistake?  Why do many struggle, yet you make it look very easy?

GC: Most fleets do the exact same thing.  Yet, they all measure efficiency differently. What are you measuring?  Why are you using these measurements?  You have problems – what are they?  Answer these questions, then build your technology plan.  When you write it down, it becomes clearer.

JB: What do you measure?  I imagine it’s a long list of key performance indicators.

GC: No it’s not – we measure time.  That’s it.  Time is the one thing that all fleets have in common.

JB: Do you measure fuel economy, driving habits, CSA scores, anything else?

GC: Yes, we monitor those indicators, but we focus on time to measure our fleet’s efficiency.   When we master that element, everything else falls into place.  Our three-step process is very simple:

1. Set up our trip schedules based on what we think is reasonable.  Trip schedules include loading, unloading, deadhead, and stem time.  You can’t charge for stem time, but you’re paying for it.

2. Measure actual performance against this trip schedules.  Look at each trip, and each trip segment – where can we drive out time?

3. Using actual, recorded information, we periodically move and tighten our trip schedules. Labor groups and drivers agree that these tightened trip schedules are reasonable – they are the ones who created these tighter schedules by their past performance.

JB: What have you seen for financial benefits?

GC: When we save 15 minutes per driver per shift, we save big bucks.  We know exactly what this number is, and we know that we’ll give up those savings when we stop monitoring.  Data is useless unless you monitor and measure.

JB: How has this changed your company?

GC: When you focus on time, you drive all departments to work together.  Sales/marketing, dispatch, maintenance, and drivers must all constantly communicate and cooperate with each other.  If your department does anything to delay a driver – you must explain the situation.

When you measure the entire company on route time, maintenance will do those things that keep the trucks rolling.  It’s how we justify auto tire inflation systems, automated transmissions, anything to keep the equipment rolling, out of the shop, and off the side of the road.

When you measure time, dispatch must do those things to facilitate the driver getting on and off the yard.  Cooperating with the drivers makes them more satisfied.  Trucks and trailers are ready when the driver arrives for work, and dispatch has loads and shifts planned.

Dispatch plans routes and trips to minimize exposure to traffic delays.  This in turn creates less hazardous routes, easing stress on the drivers and reducing exposure to accidents.  Sometimes the routes may be longer – that’s OK if trip times more efficient and the route is less hazardous.

We spec and maintain trucks so that they don’t break down as frequently, and we have a safer and more reliable fleet.  Drivers are happier.  Fewer safety defects improved our CSA scores. Improved CSA scores means we experience fewer Level 3 inspections, which further decreases our delays.

You create this cycle where time management drives improvements in all aspects of our fleet – financial performance, safety, compliance, on-time performance, maintenance costs, and driver satisfaction.

JB: What about safety? Don’t you see more work-related injuries and traffic violations, and decreased fuel efficiency as a result of speed?

GC: We will do nothing that jeopardizes safety.  Safety is of paramount importance.  We strictly monitor speed and hard braking occurrences – the two leading indicators for aggressive and reckless driving.  We tolerate no speeding and only 1 hard brake occurrence every 200 miles.  As for non-driving activities – we allow drivers to move at a normal pace.  We will never tighten non-driving standards to the point that a driver is forced to move faster than normal.  Drivers learn to drive our trucks our way.

JB: Gene, thanks for your time and your valuable advice. 

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