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Top tags: supply chain disruptions  transportation 

Has the Uber Freight Wave Crested?

Posted By Gail Rutkowski, Wednesday, April 26, 2017

We Americans love our heroes. We love building them up, idolizing them and worshipping them almost to a fault.  But more than that, we love tearing them down. You can go high, but only so high or we’ll pull you back and remind you that you are at our (or social media’s) mercy.


Uber, the darling of taxi riders everywhere, entered the freight world over a year ago launching speculation whether the tech company could replicate their success in the taxi industry.  While Uber has been quiet about their plans, other tech firms have attempted to mimic the idea of uniting purchasers and suppliers through smartphone apps.  Some of these companies have gained traction in the market while others have followed a different path.  But the bottom line is more drivers have more apps on their phones and tablets.


Uber’s success in the taxi industry was the result of superior technology, but they also added unregulated capacity into a heavily regulated market.  Trucking is already unregulated and Uber has no assets.  Now what does this mean to the traditional freight broker?  Is Uber just a broker with better technology?  Many brokers feel they have been offering technology and systems to augment their personal relationships for years.  “The purpose of (a technology) platform is to eliminate waste,” said Andrew “Drew” McElroy, CEO and co-founder of Transfix, which has distributed its app to 25,000 drivers and handled 20,000 truckload shipments last year. “We’re trying to aggregate this capacity and provide them with tools,” especially for reducing deadhead, or empty miles. “When you apply technology to scale, you create a virtuous cycle,” McElroy said.


While everyone has been watching Uber, no one has noticed that another 800 pound gorilla has been getting ready to launch.  Amazon has been in the process of launching initiatives that will disrupt the transportation industry by eliminating the middle man (3PL’s).

Now 3PLs are actually quite cost effective, even non-asset based ones. Aggressive pricing can be locked in based on the amount of volume a 3PL can acquire.  Carriers would much rather be guaranteed a larger number of shipments from a 3PL than one or two shipments thrown to them sporadically.  Having a steady stream of shipments keeps their trucks running so it makes sense for them to negotiate better pricing with a 3PL to ensure those loads are theirs.  If Uber Freight functions anything like their ride-sharing service does, they will likely charge a surge fee at their discretion.  It also seems reasonable to assume that a hands-off approach to pricing via an app in a dynamic marketplace won’t get you the best deals if you have multiple loads to ship.  So long story short, it’s expected that long term and volume freight likely won’t be affected by Amazon and Uber, but they will probably take spot market freight that does not require any type of white glove service away from brokers and 3PLs.

Technology continues to surpass our expectations on a regular basis, but not every element of a complicated supply chain can be accounted for in an app – at least not in the near future.  Getting a person from point A to point B is a much simpler process than moving freight, therefore the things that a human broker handles are vital in smoothing out difficulties that can, and often do, occur along the way.  At this early of a stage in their development, it is hard to imagine how services such as Amazon and Uber, that seek to cut out critical processes, will actually provide value in the end beyond giving you a price and a truck at your door.  So, can Uber be over before it even begins?

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It Only Takes a Moment…

Posted By Gail Rutkowski, Wednesday, March 22, 2017

When I ask NASSTRAC members when they realized the value of NASSTRAC many were able to recall the exact moment.  They quickly recalled the single event when it was clear to them they made the right decision to join us.

For many of our members that exact moment was their first NASSTRAC conference.  It was at that conference where they met people like them struggling with similar challenges.  They solved some of their problems listening to excellent speakers or by connecting with individuals who have been where they are now.  They learned a lot.  They met other like-minded professionals.  They realized they were not alone.  

Often I hear that the annual conference format for any association is outdated.  Folks are too busy, millennials don’t value the face to face interaction, etc.  While I believe there needs to be continual rejuvenation, I firmly believe that nothing beats face to face networking and interaction with colleagues.  And, the best place to do that is at the NASSTRAC annual conference.  

Of course, interaction is a two-way street.  You can’t attend a conference, any conference, and expect to be successful sitting in your room or keeping to yourself and not interacting with any other attendees.  At NASSTRAC we give our attendees a number of ways to connect with colleagues and providers. Here are a few:
The Newcomer Breakfast:  If this is your first time at NASSTRAC make sure you attend the newcomer breakfast on Monday morning.  Meet members of the NASSTRAC board and other first time attendees prior to the start of the conference.  Find a buddy and make a connection.

The Expo Hall:  The Transportation Expo provides attendees with the opportunity to meet with current providers and source new ones.  We have a wide variety of carriers, 3PL’s and technology providers who are there to meet with you and help answer your questions.

Ask the Expert:  New this year, is your opportunity to bring your questions and meet one on one with an industry expert for support and help.  A variety of topics (you can suggest one when you register too!) will be covered during the expo hours.  

Networking Receptions:  After all that education, everyone needs some down time and we provide that too!  At our networking receptions you can relax and mingle with other attendees, make connections, and share experiences.

Now, if all that isn’t enough to convince you, NASSTRAC has some of the best educational sessions at their conference than you will find anywhere in our industry.  Take a look at our conference schedule at  While you’re there, click on the “Register” button and join us!


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What a Difference a Year Makes

Posted By Gail Rutkowski, Thursday, March 9, 2017

Last week I had the opportunity to tour the Port of Long Beach.  The Port of Long Beach is the second busiest container port in the United States and the tenth largest port in the world.  The port has six container terminals and intermodal rail service from BNSF Railway and the Union Pacific Railroad.  The port’s Middle Harbor terminal is highly automated and one of the most technologically advanced port facilities in the US.  It is also considered to be the world’s greenest Port, pioneering many green initiatives throughout the facility.


I have to confess as I sat in the bus on my way to the Port I wondered what we would be seeing.  After the huge mess of delays that many shippers suffered through last year, how has the port recovered?  As we entered the port facility we were escorted to a conference room overlooking the port container loading area as well as the central operations center in their offices. 


Long Beach is engaged in a 10 year, $4 billion capital improvement program with the money being spent on larger, modern terminals, taller cranes to handle super post-Panamax cranes, deeper water at the berths, on-dock rail improvements, improved roadway access, and a new bridge.  Interestingly, the night before our tour there was a construction accident on the new bridge causing a shut-down of the roadway for a few hours, but we saw no evidence of any lingering delays.


Long Beach is also improving its rail program that will allow railroads to build full unit double-stack trains.  The program is current under environmental impact review.  Each double-stack train eliminates about 200 truck trips easing congestions at the terminals gates and on local freeways.


As we drove through the port facility, our tour guide was the person responsible for labor relations at the port.  He shared with us that before they began this most recent improvement project, they sat down with the union and explained what they intended to do and got their buy in from the very start.  In the control center, union and non-union employees sit and work together as a unified team.


Our first stop was the In-gate where we all expected to see long lines of trucks waiting to get in.  We saw two and they were clearing the gate quickly.  By the time we got to the loading bays the drivers were getting ready to off load their containers. We watched the entire process of one container getting off loaded and another container being placed on the chassis. It took less than fifteen minutes!  In another instance, the driver’s container was already hovering over the bay ready to be placed on his chassis before he even backed into the bay.  Once the drivers have completed their container loading/unloading they proceed to the Road-ability station that ensures any container leaving the premises is road worthy. 


We were told that current turn times at the port were running less than 45 minutes…a vast improvement from a year ago.  What a difference a year makes…

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NASSTRAC Carrier of the Year Program

Posted By Gail Rutkowski, Friday, February 24, 2017

As long as I have been a member of NASSTRAC I have voted every year for the Carriers of the Year. I believe it is important to acknowledge and recognize those providers who have taken care of the business and provide excellent service to my customers. Back when I was working in corporate transportation I remember carriers calling on me to ask for my vote. The award meant something to them and I believe it still does to this day.

Sadly, as demands on shippers increase, they have become more and more disconnected from the people who are delivering to their customers, they have lost interest in recognizing the performance of the folks who day in and day out are delivering to our customer’s docks dealing with congestion, both on the highways and at the docks, along with every increasing customer demands and regulations.

It is important that every Regular NASSTRAC member who is a buyer of transportation services cast their vote this year. All carriers who are members of NASSTRAC are on the ballot and are graded on a quantitative scale in five key areas: Customer Service, Operational Excellence, Pricing, Business Relationship, and Leadership/Technology. Last year we expanded the Specialty Carrier category. This category includes a growing list of niche carriers who handle shipments within a defined service area (i.e. AK, HI, Canada and Mexico).

The NASSTRAC Carrier of the Year program is co-sponsored by Logistics Management, a leading trade magazine for buyers of logistics services. The award will be presented at the NASSTRAC 2017 Annual Shippers Conference and Expo in Orlando, FL April 9-12 and will be recognized in Logistics Management magazine.

Please take a few minutes this week to show your carriers some love. Vote for the NASSTRAC Carrier of the Year. If you haven’t received your email link to the ballot please email

What are you waiting for? Go! Go now and vote!

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Voice in the West- Regional Comprehensive Roadway Freight Network

Posted By Doug Kahl, Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) retained WSP|Parsons Brinckerhoff to complete a study to define a comprehensive roadway freight network to serve businesses, consumers, and growth in the metropolitan Phoenix area. I recently attended a presentation given by Joe Bryan of WSP.


Phoenix is one of the top growing markets in our country. Expansion brings pressure on logistics systems, whether we are trying to bring supplies in to our facilities or get deliveries out. Part of Joe’s presentation identified the key roadway infrastructure that supply chains and their freight carriers depend upon to help focus public investment and management resources on those roads. The objective is to keep freight transportation reliable, productive and safe, support the competitiveness of industry, and help attract business to the region. 


This network needs to reach the clusters of industrial and commercial activity where freight is picked up or delivered, and it needs to connect them with cross-town surface routes as well as interstate highways.  The presentation provided information about how the project is accomplishing this, showing:

  • A range of relevant data about business location, freight activity, forecasts and roadway freight performance
  • A draft network for serving the region, based chiefly on existing infrastructure
  • An interactive feature that will let area supply chain professionals look at the network and the data themselves, and provide comments about additions, deletions, and improvements

The depth of research and graphical depictions provided the opportunity for an open discussion about the network, its components, and potential issues that see on first look. The roadway freight network will shape and support supply chain logistics in greater Phoenix for years to come, and will be the focus for infrastructure investment aimed at improving the performance of freight. Area businesses who are managing truck fleets, engage in intermodal transport, or who ship or receive significant volumes of goods regionally, nationally or globally will have their operations affected by this network.


Leaving the presentation I was wondering, how many other major municipalities and regional government authorities are being proactive and encouraging the involvement of area supply chain professionals as MAG has done here to design a transportation network sensitive to the needs of freight transportation.  We would be interested in your thoughts and comments.

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Another Disappointment?

Posted By Gail Rutkowski, Thursday, January 5, 2017

Yet another incoming US President is proposing another infrastructure spending plan before a Congress that simply won’t hear it.  President-elect Trump’s $1 trillion investment plan, relying heavily on public private partnerships, sidesteps the unpopular fuel tax hikes, almost impossible general spending increases and business tax reform that tanked President Obama’s infrastructure agenda.  The Trump team also floated the idea of an infrastructure “task force”.  But neither the plan nor the task force to support it can avoid the opposition of the president-elect’s own party for increased spending.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate balked at Trump’s plan.  Additionally, well ahead of her nomination hearing, Trump’s pick to head the DOT, Elaine Chao, advised a more cautious expectation of the amount of money coming down the pipeline.  Chao, wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is talking about steamlining not spending.

Not surprising, details from the Trump administration are still sketchy.  They discussed subsidizing private development with significant tax credits — equivalent to 82 percent of the equity private financiers spend on infrastructure. Developers would own the infrastructure and benefit directly from the collection of tolls and fees.

Some Democrats have called the deal a “Trojan horse” playing to the emotions of American shippers struggling with crumbling transportation infrastructure while providing tax breaks and giveaways to investors who simply get credits to do projects that are already underway.

The hope is that the incoming administration’s emphasis on infrastructure may present a few rare moments of peace between the Democrats and the new White House administration.  House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA), have apparently welcomed the plan with open arms.  “We have a unique opportunity,” Shuster said in a statement Nov. 10. “One of the few issues that provided common ground was the need for investments in America’s transportation network and infrastructure.”

Democrats like Schumer have, at the very least, given the plan a sense of bipartisan support. But it’s Republicans who control Congress.  Both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have indicated that infrastructure was not a top priority for the new Congress.  It hasn’t been a priority for past Congresses either. 

So it appears that the Trump infrastructure plan, like infrastructure plans before it, may have never really had a chance in the first place.

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A New Effort to Modernize America’s Transportation System

Posted By Gail Rutkowski, Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Over the past two decades, innovation, technology, and societal trends have revolutionized the way Americans live, work, and how they use our transportation system to enhance their lives.  These trends are not only ongoing, they are accelerating. One of the prime drivers of these technology-enabled trends are on-line sales platforms led by eBay, Amazon, Etsy, and traditional retailers selling directly online. Yesterday’s standard 5-7 business day delivery has evolved into today’s same day delivery, providing ease of access to everyday items with the click of a mouse.


Today, e-commerce has become a staple of American life, as more than 69 percent of Americans shop online each month. For households with two working parents, single mothers and fathers, college students working to pay for textbooks, mid-career professionals spending nights studying to advance their career, senior citizens, disabled individuals, or those living in distant rural areas or the inner city, the ease of shopping for clothes, food, home goods, and more from a laptop or mobile phone means access and freedoms that would otherwise be difficult. 


The private sector continues to make investments in new technologies, including upgraded fleets and more, to ensure our transportation system is as efficient, as sustainable, and as safe as possible so all Americans can participate in the new economy. We need the same forward-looking effort from our partners in federal and state governments so all Americans have access to the full promise enabled by a modern transportation system that is environmentally sustainable, technologically advanced, and increasingly safe. 


NASSTRAC, along with Amazon, FedEx, UPS, and YRC, have joined Americans for Modern Transportation (AMT) which supports efforts to reduce emissions and improve fuel efficiency. Reducing oil consumption through more efficient transportation improves environmental quality and strengthens our economic and national security.  The tenets outlined below can make a difference for all Americans.

Commonsense solutions to increase shipping capacity are necessary as more consumers realize the benefits of e-commerce and America’s existing transportation infrastructure struggles to keep up with the growing needs and demands of a changing and growing nation. 

  • Advanced trucking equipment like Twin 33 trailers are low-hanging fruit for rapidly increasing fuel efficiency, cutting emissions, and making our highways safer. Fully utilized on the national highway network, Twin 33s in particular can reduce carbon emissions by 4.4 billion pounds, save 204 million gallons of fuel, and eliminate 912 crashes over the course of a year – all without compromising the condition or safety of our nation’s highways.
  • In fact, Twin 33s perform equal to or better than current trailer combinations in four critical safety measurements: static rollover threshold, rearward amplification, load transfer ratio, and high speed transient off tracking.
  • The adoption of advanced trucking equipment will be a win-win: relieving stress on road infrastructure and reducing congestion while enabling companies to ship more goods per trip.

This is our opportunity to finally work toward achieving some measure of productivity improvement in the transportation sector.  It is important that the Shipper’s Voice is Heard.  Stay tuned for more information on this important topic.

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What’s Next?

Posted By Gail Rutkowski, Monday, November 7, 2016

Like many of you I have worn myself out watching and listening to the various political ads during this long drawn out election cycle.  The attack ads from both parties, PAC’s, and various groups have been filled with vitriol and many unsubstantiated charges.  What’s even more unfortunate is the media has been just as complicit with their reporting.  What happened to unbiased (or at least less biased) media reporting?


The sad thing is our country is more divided than ever.  If you’re like me, I am extremely hesitant to even bring up politics in mixed groups for fear of inciting a riot.  There is no longer any room for lively discourse or open discussion and agreeing to disagree.  You’re either for us or against us.  There is no middle ground.  If you look back to the early days of this country, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson carried on their debate over state’s rights for years while maintaining a respectful and cordial friendship.  Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act when Republican Senator Everett Dirksen crossed the aisle in support.  Doubt we would ever see Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell that genial. 


Another sad example of how far we have strayed is an amendment on the Illinois ballot that will legally bind the Illinois legislature to only spend taxes and fees collected for transportation infrastructure funding to be used for that purpose.  How sad that the only way we can get these legislators to do their job is by passing laws to force them to do the right thing.


So why are we surprised to see this attitude and tone in our Congress?  No one is to blame for the current state of affairs than the American people.  We elected these folks and we continue to put them back into office term after term while decrying the lack of term limits.  We have the power to limit those terms but don’t use it.  Why do we allow Congress to continue to ignore the fact that we elected the President and he (or maybe she) is our choice and they need to respect the office (even when they disagree with the person) and allow the executive branch to do their job as they need to do theirs?  It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you’re on.  This is pervasive on both sides without exception. 


As we head into Tuesday’s election it is more important than ever that voters make their voices heard and their choices accepted by everyone involved in the democratic process.  Until we all accept responsibility for our choices nothing will change.


I realize this missive strays from my usual transportation focused narrative, but the outcome of this election will determine our future as a country.  Issues like highway funding, over-regulation, and gridlock will continue until or unless something changes.

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Are you prepared when the toilets don’t flush?

Posted By Gail Rutkowski, Thursday, October 13, 2016

When I was growing up in the south suburbs of Chicago, my Dad was the mayor of our little town. Being a small town politician, he was involved in all matters involving municipal operations and government, including sanitation. The one phrase I remember my Dad using was “the person who controls the sewers controls the city”. Not cool or sexy to be sure, but it sure rings true, particularly when you compare it to supply chain disruptions.

Not to belabor the “toilet talk” but at the recent CSCMP conference I attended a session entitled: “Supply Chain Disruption: What to do when the Toilet Doesn’t Flush”. Mark Heinrich from Microsoft and Mike Regan from TranzAct shared the speaking duties and both did a great job impressing upon the audience the importance of responding to chaos and how they approached their decisions.

So my question to you today is: Are you prepared for when the sewers clog and the toilets don’t flush? Or to relate it to your supply chain, how did you fare in response to the Hanjin bankruptcy? It seems obvious that the industry lacks the ground rules to deal with the situation and it appears that most of us are making it up as we go along. To minimize the collateral damage, industry wide ground rules among carriers, terminals and other supply chain participants seem to be in order.

What about the weather related mega-storms we have experienced in the past couple of years? I don’t think Supply Chain executives realize the power of they have controlling their “sewer” (read supply chain). The only time they get noticed is when things go awry.

A larger issue for shippers is the increasing fragility of the supply chain and its transportation providers in general. While ocean carriers and ports have been the primary indicators of disruption, shippers also need to keep an eye on their motor carriers, both local and long-haul truckers and railroads. The carriers you use and their financial stability can make a big difference. It will be interesting to see whether financially sound carriers will be able to extract a rate premium for the security they offer to shippers. While current freight demand is soft and there appears to be enough capacity to go around, shippers should enjoy it while it lasts. The time is coming that if a carrier isn’t being compensated for providing surge or insurance capacity, they simply won’t provide it.

What this means for shippers is that their transportation providers are much less resilient than they used to be. Supply chain disruption can take many forms, be it financial distress, operational mistakes, natural disasters (an ever-growing threat thanks to climate change), or an unexpected uptick in demand.

I believe one of the key factors in managing disruption is to plan for it. Now you can’t divine every possible scenario but you can identify the possibility of major disruptions and construct a response. Having a sound Business Continuity Plan helps. Having table top enactments of those disruptions help even more.

Reliability isn’t free and as shippers we need to be prepared to pay the price for quality.

Tags:  supply chain disruptions  transportation 

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When Nothing is Really Something

Posted By Gail Rutkowski, Friday, October 7, 2016

Recently, the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) proposed changes to the bill of lading that governs motor carriers and shippers.  NMFTA proposed the update July 14 with an effective date of August 13.  While the NMFTA says “there was no attempt to burden shippers or diminish their rights and remedies,” I wonder if many shippers are even aware of the changes to their shipping operations.


Both NASSTRAC and TLC (Transportation and Logistics Council) have petitioned the STB to block the implementation.  They are concerned that the language will make it harder for shippers to hold carriers liable for damage during transport.  NMFTA claims that the Uniform Straight Bill of Lading has not kept up with the substantial changes to laws governing motor carrier transportation.


Regardless of where you come down on either side of this issue, I have to ask…how many shippers out there are even aware that this is going on?  Also, have you ever read the terms and conditions of the long form Uniform Bill of Lading?  According to John Cutler, NASSTRAC’s general counsel, “In limiting liability to the carrier on the bill of lading, NMFTA is rewriting decades of precedent supporting shippers’ right to file claims with any participating carrier.”


There are other changes as part of this proposal that alters the window for when a party can begin to file claim moving from the date of delivery to the date on the bill of lading.  There is also a clause on calculating financial caps to recover money for damage or loss, otherwise known as release value.


Now I will leave it to you to research and understand all the details involving this issue (John Cutler’s comments are located on the NASSTRAC website).  My concern is how are shippers supposed to know when what may appear to be nothing but a “small revision” is actually a big deal?  What impact does this have on your shipping operations?  Do you have transportation contracts that could override these bill of lading changes or are you at the mercy of whatever bill of lading is provided you?  What level of protection does you company need to operate in its best interest?


Since 1952, NASSTRAC has been watching out for shippers and working with carriers to ensure fairness on both sides of the shipping transaction.  If you are not a NASSTRAC member you could be opening your company up to much more liability by not knowing and understanding issues like this.  Come and join shippers who are “in the know.” 


Join NASSTRAC now.

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