Truck fleets trade paper, hardware for phone app
Joe Stenger runs a small fleet of trucks that transports goods for the oil and gas industry in Pennsylvania and beyond.
Because of federal limits on driving hours, he has tried several means of tracking his drivers at work, including $900-hardware attached to the truck’s engine.
He wasn’t pleased.
“It was too expensive and the drivers didn’t like them,” said Stenger, whose company is in Barnesville, Ohio, about 90 miles from Pittsburgh. “It was a huge investment, and I’m trying to sell them right now.”
He has another option. He recently began testing a free smartphone app, CDL Warrior, that lets drivers track and report federal requirements. The app is made by Next Gauge in the Riverside Center for Innovation on the North Shore.
The app requires no hardware, he said, and capitalizes on something all his drivers have — a smartphone. Electronic signatures replace pens. Drivers can send mileage and work logs to a printer if a police officer asks. They can comply with laws on the same device they use to call home.
“I’m excited about it. I think it’s the future, and I think once other people see the benefits of it, more and more people will begin to use it,” Stenger said, explaining the app’s major selling points, such as sending an assignment to a driver or accepting a photo of the final bill of lading that shows a completed shipment.
Jim Ruiz developed CDL Warrior after 10 years in supply-side logistics. He talked to truck drivers, most of whom are owner-operators or small-fleet owners. He found that drivers spent up to two hours a day filling out paperwork, finding a place to scan it and sending it to dispatchers.
In 2011, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration accepted electronic signatures for log books, Ruiz said. Even though smartphone adoption wasn’t as high as it is now in the trucking industry, Ruiz said it sparked an idea.
“We saw that regulation and thought, ‘Hey, this could apply to a smartphone,’ ” he said.
Development of CDL Warrior started in 2013. The app is GPS-driven and runs continuously when a driver needs to log miles or time behind the wheel. About 600 drivers are testing it, including Stenger and a few of his drivers.
The log book is free, but the part of the app that allows Stenger to manage assignments and bills of lading is how Ruiz plans to make money on the system. The cost could be about $1 a day, Ruiz said.
Industry groups are intrigued by the app but hesitant to endorse it.
Ted Scott, director of engineering for the American Trucking Association in Washington, said there are other mobile apps, but they require hardware that CDL Warrior doesn’t.
Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association in Missouri, said he is concerned that law enforcement, which varies state-to-state, won’t accept the app as legally binding because they don’t know about clarifications to rules allowing smartphones.
Stenger said that if he’s pulled over, the log has a link to the rule that shows the smartphone is acceptable. If needed, he could send the log to an in-dash printer or another device. But he hasn’t had to test those features.
“One of the things that a cellphone could do is significantly lower cost,” said Spencer, but, “the reality for the driver on the road is that they do what the cops want.”
Scott and Spencer warn that a proposed rule by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, as is, may not allow for the app in the long run.
The rule would require drivers to use electronic logging devices over paper. As the final rule is debated, it’s unclear whether the agency would require hardware attached to truck engines.
Agency spokesman Duane Debrunye said the rule would be finalized in 2015 and it’s not decided whether an app such as CDL Warrior would be allowed. A few statements submitted during the public comment period support the use of smartphone apps in logging.
Ruiz said the dance between industry groups, regulators and drivers is a difficult one, and CDL Warrior’s main intention is to ease and better manage a regulation that many drivers dislike.
So, he’s working to make sure regulations adapt to changing technology. His developers are improving the app’s battery usage. He received $400,000 in angel investments to grow his team.
“It’s a fleet growth solution,” Ruiz said. “What we’re doing is much more driver-friendly.”
Megha Satyanarayana is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7991 or [email protected]