Behind the Wheel of Uncertainty

If there’s one thing that’s certain right now, it’s that the trucking industry is awash in uncertainty. Unlike other transportation providers, the trucking industry is battling numerous and unpredictable variables ranging from labor to regulations...


Although the national infrastructure for filling stations isn’t fully developed and the equipment itself needs further improvements, the good news is that 87 percent of natural gas used in the U.S. is produced domestically and it offers a much cleaner emission compared to diesel.

According to Thom Pronk, C.R. England’s corporate vice president for recruiting, training, and safety, “LNG is a great initiative for our company and we’re seeing tremendous benefits from it. We’re hoping it becomes more cost effective so that the entire industry jumps into it.”

The carrier has been piloting a program with Coca-Cola that involves the use of LNG-powered trucks based out of Ontario, California.

Mitch England, corporate vice president for the carrier, says a growing number of LNG stations in California make the program possible.

“We would love to use this technology more,” says England, but cost is still a barrier, even with government assistance. However, England remains optimistic that it will become a viable alternative in the future.

According to Andy Douglas, Kenworth Truck Company’s national sales manager for specialty markets and a key player in the company’s green truck initiatives, the future may be right around the corner.

“Currently, many local transit and government agencies use CNG to power trucks and buses, so that fuel source may be easier to find. Meanwhile, the natural gas infrastructure available to the public is expanding at an accelerated rate across the U.S. and Canada along well traveled transportation routes.”

 

Software and technology tools

Despite the myriad challenges in the marketplace, advancements in software and technology are helping both fleet operators and their drivers keep pace with the changes.

Xata Corporation’s Christian Schenk, vice president of product marketing, says saving the customer money is paramount. “We need to help them with their compliance issues and other regulatory pressures,” he says, “and ultimately help them pull cost out of what is typically a very expensive thing to manage.”

And, Xata’s solutions are not only geared towards the fleet operators, but the drivers as well. One product the company is launching soon, Xata Passport, allows drivers to “manage their own safety scores and profitability, and compare themselves to their peers,” explains Schenk.

He compares it to a ‘Car Fax’ report that the driver can take with him, should he change jobs. For example, the driver is able to document his average mpg, his hard brake counts, and so forth.

According to Schenk, “By giving him these tools, the driver becomes a better business person who is also a safer, more valuable employee.”

In the meantime, Scheck says the “mobile revolution” continues to drive changes in the industry and at Xata.

“We are investing more to enable features that were traditionally available only with on-board computers. In other words, we’re building all of our solutions into mobile applications. So the driver will be able to operate in any paradigm he wants—whether that’s a device that’s mounted on the dash, or on a ruggedized hand-held, or on a tablet PC.”

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