Private matters

The wave of challenges facing carriers washes over all, whether commercial or private. Ways that trucking management deals with these problems can spell the difference between remaining independent, needing to merge or be acquired, or going out of business. Where conditions warrant — such as higher fuel costs — shippers share the financial burden.

A question confronting many companies is whether it's smarter to use commercial carriers, maintain a fleet of its own or handle transportation through a combination of the two. For instance, one of the largest package carriers in Canada, Purolator Courier, has an extensive private fleet of 5,000 vehicles, from a corporate car to tractor trailers and even airport ground support equipment — tugs, pushbacks and the like. It does have a number of small contractors in the West, and will subcontract any line hauls longer than eight or nine hours. Though there are regional centers, Serge Viola, the company's national fleet director, is responsible for the entire system from headquarters in Toronto.

While Canada mirrors the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's January 1, 2007, emissions regulations for diesel engines, the effects on Purolator will be minimal. "We've been talking with our suppliers, Navistar and Cummins Inc.," says Viola. "Neither one has yet given us pricing on the 2007, but both say they have fixes in place for the engines. The only things we run affected by the new rules are the tractors and straight trucks. All of our curb sides today are gas powered, so the new rules don't affect those vehicles."

Viola puts a lot of emphasis on maintenance. "These vehicles have to be 100% reliable every day," he explains, "otherwise it turns into a service failure that upsets the customer, which turns into a credit, or even a lost customer."

Purolator has approximately 169 mechanics and not a lot of turnover. But, as in the U.S., when a mechanic retires or leaves, Viola has had a hard time replacing them. One solution the company uses has been to create an in-house apprenticeship program.

"What we found is there are an awful lot of employees within the system either coming off the dock or working as couriers who would love to be mechanics," says Viola. "We've had some success in hiring these people within the system, and training them and helping them get their licenses."

Purolator also uses Fleet Assistant, a maintenance solution from Cetaris, for storage of work orders and vehicle information. Viola uses it as a guide for when to retire vehicles, running preventive maintenance schedules and life cycle costing, among other tasks.

Purolator has taken several steps to combat rising fuel costs. The company has installed optimization software that defines daily routes, reducing the amount of time spent on deliveries. Too, its security policy dictates that when drivers are making deliveries, keys cannot be left in the truck. Since motors are shut off, idling is eliminated. Policy is that when a vehicle pulls up to a loading dock, the driver shuts it off. When returning to the depot waiting to get in, the vehicle is shut off. Tackling fuel consumption head on, earlier this year Purolator began testing 10 hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) from Azure Dynamics Corp. for its curbside deliveries. "They are working very well," says Viola, "and are producing as was hoped, with close to a 50% fuel savings, which is amazing." Results for the company have been so positive it has ordered 115 more HEVs to be put into service.

Additionally, Purolator has begun testing a hydrogen fuel-cell hybrid electric vehicle. "We have an on-site electrolizer," Viola explains, "where we make our own hydrogen, store it and deliver it into the vehicle for use on the road."

Viola feels the company is able to stay ahead of the curve because it is private. "As a private fleet we've had a lot more opportunity to be innovative, looking at different ideas," he claims. "As with the hybrid vehicle, we are a bit quicker to act on them because being a private fleet we are a bit more flexible and less bureaucratic. It's a good way to be."

Resources
Azure Dynamics Corp. www.azuredynamics.com
Cetaris www.actcoss.com
Cummins Inc. www.cummins.com
Navistar www.navistar.com
Purolator Courier www.purolator.com
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency www.epa.gov

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