How good habits can make up for bad days.
If you’re a company driver for Artur Express, you may have heard the phrase “drive it like you own it” thrown around. Initially, that referred to drivers treating the company equipment like their own and taking care of it. Nowadays, though, that phrase has a second meaning through the Driver Habits program. Meaning, good driving habits can earn one lucky company driver a vehicle of their very own. How is that possible?
Because this year, Artur Express is giving away a $20,000 prize.
The exact prize is completely up to the driver. From boats to vehicles to vacations, the winning driver gets to choose how to “own” their success. Hence, drive it like you own it. This friendly competition could end up saving Artur Express millions of dollars in fuel and equipment. However, there are still incentives for the drivers to improve their personal driving habits.
To increase driver success, CDL certified drivers Rick McDowell and Terry Stevenson are tasked with coaching fellow drivers on how to improve their fuel mileage through the Driver Habits program. When the drivers are contacted, McDowell and Stevenson are not approaching the topic with the intention to discredit the drivers’ experience. Rather, they are updating them with the necessary information on how to successfully operate company equipment. Some of the more experienced drivers find that they have to actually break old habits and form new ones to be profitable and safe.
“This is not your grandpa’s truck,” said McDowell. “We drove trucks differently back then, but when Terry and I started, engines had to be wound out to maximum RPMs to pull. Nowadays, it’s on the other end. They build engines with torque that is in the low RPMs, whereas in the old days, we had to drive like we are mad at them.”
The areas on which the Driver Habits program focuses are smooth throttle, progressive braking, idling, and cruise control. Each of these habits contribute in large part to the fuel economy, safety, and longevity of the equipment. Based on data gathered from these Driver Habits scores, drivers are ranked by performance. The levels start at Bronze, then move up to Silver, Gold, and finally, Platinum. As a fleet, Artur Express aims to have an average MPG of eight miles to the gallon. At this time, the fleet is close to that goal, but has yet to achieve it. If just 80% of the company fleet performs at the Platinum level, the company can save about $4 million per year.
Putting the habits into context
Currently at Artur Express, drivers are offered either Freightliner Cascadia Evolutions or Volvo 760s – most of which are equipped Auxiliary Power Units (APUs). These engines burn about one and one-quarter of a gallon of fuel per hour at idle. If a driver idles eight hours in a day, or 30% on their driver habits score, they are burning about 10 gallons of fuel. Combining that eight hours, usually dedicated for sleeping, plus two hours for typical idle usage, that could burn at least 12 gallons of fuel per day. In contrast, an APU will consume about one-third the amount of fuel when idling as the engine does. That would take that 12 gallons of fuel per day down to about four. Furthermore, idling the truck just one hour per day could result in as much wear to the vehicle as 64,000 miles per year.
One habit that is not explicitly mentioned is speed. This is due in part to a wide range in speed limits across the country, a variety of landscapes or traffic, and the type of freight being hauled, if any. That being said, McDowell and Stevenson conducted an experiment with an active Freightliner unit and was able to calculate how speed factors into the scores. Every four seconds of drive time, RPM data is collected. For the Freightliners, the “sweet spot” is 1,350 RPMs or below, but for the Volvos, it’s 1,250 RPMs or below. For both brands, McDowell and Stevenson found that the optimum average speed while using cruise control is 68 MPH to maintain the desired RPMs. Despite speed not explicitly being measured, it can affect drivers’ cruise control, smooth throttle, and progressive braking scores.
What’s in it for the drivers?
It’s clear that high-performing company drivers will save the company a substantial amount of money, but what benefit is that to the drivers directly? Of course, there’s the obvious: a profitable company stays in business. Be that as it may, there are a plethora of carriers from which drivers could choose if the company folds. What separates Artur Express from the crowd?
Not to be confused with the Driver Habits scores, Artur Express company drivers are payed on a performance-based scale. In addition to their Driver Habits scores, the pay structure considers safety scores, on-time performance, experience, mileage, technology, and longevity with the company. With that data in mind, company drivers are ranked from Basic, to Professional, and finally, Expert levels. Each level provides drivers with a different rate per loaded mile. New drivers start at the professional level, and they can earn an extra five cents per loaded mile with exceptional performance. That can be a raise of about $6,000 per year.
Every month, Artur Express company drivers who are performing well or are showing significant improvement are selected for a small prize like a gift card or useful item.
Sharing the Wealth
With the amount of money that Artur Express could potentially save in fuel costs, that can be redistributed back to the drivers in the form of raises. Additionally, resources at the terminal, equipment, and technology could be purchased to aid all drivers company-wide.
Safety and Pride
According to Stevenson, the drivers performing the best in Driver Habits are also the drivers with the highest safety scores. Not to mention that all of the drivers who have completed the safety training program are Platinum-level drivers. Moreover, their equipment tends to have fewer maintenance issues. Of course, driver safety is always a priority at Artur Express. For the drivers, though, sometimes the sense of pride in their jobs and some friendly competition is enough. By learning these techniques, drivers can be a more valuable asset and an authority within the trucking industry in general – not just at Artur Express. At the terminal, drivers can see a leaderboard that displays the top-performing drivers in each category. Recognizing drivers for their accomplishments and outstanding work within the company provides an extra motivator to the drivers.
A $20,000 Grand Prize
Obviously, offering a prize that you can drive is a significant incentive. Nevertheless, some drivers may feel discouraged if they have not been in the Platinum level all year. On the contrary, drivers may have better odds than they think.
How can drivers increase their chances for the grand prize?
To be eligible for the $20,000 prize, company drivers need to be in either the Gold or Platinum levels for at least two quarters. This doesn’t have to be consecutive, and there is still one more quarter to earn their place in the drawing. Drivers have proven that they can go from the Bronze to Platinum level in about eight weeks with some discipline. In other words, it’s still anyone’s game.
“The pool is not as big as everybody seems to think,” said Stevenson. “[Artur Express is] usually around 300 company trucks. Out of those 300 company trucks, there are only about 150-160 that are actually going to be eligible to win. That’s pretty good odds; better than a lottery ticket.”
For the drivers who are looking to increase their chances for the prize, McDowell and Stevenson suggest giving them a call to discuss their scores. To further illustrate the practices, there are also videos on YouTube featuring McDowell for Idle Time, Progressive Braking, Cruise Control, and Smooth Throttle. Also, those who are having issues with their APUs are strongly encouraged to immediately report them. If an APU issue is reported, the Driver Habits team will be able to credit the driver’s score until the issue is resolved. In addition, the Dispatch Manager will prioritize routing defective units back to the terminal to fix any problems.
Although they are not eligible to win, McDowell and Terry were asked what they would choose as their prize if they were to win. After some laughs, McDowell said he would want a mini race car for a dirt track, and Stevenson waffled between an RV or VIP experience for Speed Weeks in Florida. Ultimately, though, both McDowell and Stevenson hope to see success for the drivers and the overall fleet, regardless of who wins the grand prize.