Throughout 2020-21, as the COVID-19 pandemic ensured disrupted supply chains and congested ports, vehicles had to spend more hours at various facilities to transport goods. Now in 2022, as warehouses overflow and companies struggle to get rid of excess inventory, the possibility of vehicles in your fleet being detained at specific centers and outposts increases. There is a very real chance that fleet owners may experience a difficult holiday season this year. While post-congestion has eased, many vehicles still spend significant time waiting to be loaded or unloaded at ports and depots, leading to increased dwell time.
Despite smoother roads and less congestion, truck drivers are facing delays largely because of volatile demand for food, packaged goods, and other items. Meanwhile, inflation and rising costs have ensured that the end consumer spends less on various goods compared to 2020-21 this year. In the last lap of 2022, consumer confidence fell for the fifth consecutive quarter to its lowest level on record, pushing the Deloitte Consumer Confidence Index to a new low at -20%, twice as low as it was a year ago.
As demand drops, retailers and companies are looking to sell excess inventory this holiday season. Stores are sitting on a record $732 billion of merchandise — including computers, clothing, and coffee tables — and finding that consumers aren’t interested due to inflationary pressure. As a result, fleet owners and operators face uncertainty when it comes to the typical flow of goods during the holidays, increasing the chances of fleet dwell time as well.
While some detain or dwell time is inevitable for any fleet operation to function smoothly, it also means lost revenue and opportunities. In this article, We will discuss fleet dwell time and its repercussions on fleet owner-operators.
What is Fleet Dwell Time?
Dwell or detention time is commonly referred to as the time truck drivers spend at facilities waiting to drop off or pick up loads, and it is one of the more difficult challenges for supply chain stakeholders. Dwell time is basically the total amount of time a vehicle spends at any facility, whether for loading, compliance, or any other reason.
Dwell time impacts stakeholders at all levels of the supply chain, resulting in imbalanced load volumes, carrier arrival delays, inefficient on-site operations, and other issues. It’s also an essential consideration in differentiating yourself as a preferred shipper.
In a study by The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), drivers reported a 27% increase in delays of six or more hours when waiting to load or unload the freight. The study was first conducted in 2014 and updated in 2019, showing detention problems only worsen. In fact, 60% of drivers reportedly spend more than three hours each time they load and unload at the shipper’s dock. Detention or dwell times exceeded two hours in 49.5% of deliveries and pickups, with 9.3% exceeding six hours, according to a separate survey. Clearly, dwell time can be detrimental to business productivity for fleets.
Is There A Difference Between Dwell, Detention, And Slack Time?
The terms ‘dwell time’ and ‘detention’ are frequently used interchangeably in the transportation industry. Nonetheless, they define various activities while at the shipper/receiver facility. The total amount of time spent at the facility is referred to as dwell time. Conversely, detention is any time spent waiting to be loaded or unloaded (as opposed to the loading or unloading activities themselves).
According to DAT Solutions research from 2016, nearly 63% of drivers spend more than three hours at the shipper’s dock each time they load and unload. This plays a significant role in the movement of freight into and out of facilities and can pose a slew of problems for an industry that operates on tight deadlines.
Furthermore, the industry recognizes another factor in specific events at a shipper/receiver facility, the slack time, which refers to the difference between scheduled and actual arrival times, giving the driver unplanned “free” time while waiting at the facility.
Why are dwell times increasing in trucking?
Dwell times can be lowered once fleet owners know the main cause of delays and have identified the problem. Some causes of increasing dwell time in trucking include:
1. Complex Loads:
More complex orders, such as mixed-pallet loads, can lead to longer wait times at pickup and delivery facilities. Fleet owners and operators have successfully reduced detention time throughout their supply chains by grouping purchase orders so that similar goods are delivered at the same time or by scheduling higher-complexity loads to arrive during off-hours when delays are less likely to occur. But usually, with complex loads requiring sorting or special treatments, vehicles may need to wait longer to load or unload goods.
2. Overlapping Arrival Times:
There is a direct relationship between high load volume and high dwell times. So when the arrival schedules of various vehicles overlap at a facility, it’s possible that dwell times also increase. Load-balancing initiatives across prioritizing both the time of the day and the day of the week can be critical to reducing dwell in such scenarios.
3. Complex Check-In Systems:
Complex check-in procedures at facilities can quickly result in a long line of trucks and a bottleneck for pickups and deliveries, increasing dwell time for your fleet. Fleet operators can simplify and consolidate check-in procedures by implementing paperless check-in technologies, for instance, to reduce detention costs across the organization. The potential value is high once you have identified the root causes of high dwell times in your supply chain.
The 3 Effects of Increasing Fleet Dwell Time
As per the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, extended detention or dwell time can cost trucking companies $3 billion per year. While some amount of dwell is inevitable, it is possible that drivers slack off, facilities don’t process papers fast enough, or loading and unloading a vehicle takes a long time due to a lack of staffing or equipment. All these factors can increase fleet dwell time, resulting in increased revenue losses and decreasing operational efficiency for fleet owners.
Reducing dwell time is possible when fleet owners and operators pay attention to the causes behind dwell. Reducing dwell time throughout the supply chain clearly provides significant opportunities for streamlining operations, improving sustainability, and strengthening carrier relationships.
More than just benefiting a single organization, effective dwell time reductions send positive effects cascading throughout the industry. Dwell time reductions result in fewer missed appointments, happier drivers, and more available capacity throughout the industry. Fleet owners and operators need to invest in and utilize visibility and fleet maintenance software to deal with increasing dwell time in order to achieve maximum efficiency.