NEWMARKET, Ont. – It’s a chilly January morning, but things are heating up around the kitchen table at Mark Murrell and Jane Jazrawy’s Newmarket home, where scoring is underway for the Best Fleets to Drive For program.
Out of 115 nominees, 62 finalists have made it through the rigorous judging process. They were first nominated by a driver, then responsible for completing an in-depth questionnaire to reveal insights into their workplace and employee programs. That was followed by a phone interview with a Best Fleets judge and then, depending on the fleet size, a number of driver surveys had to be completed.
On Jan. 7, Best Fleets judges gathered in person to score fleets based on their questionnaire and interview responses. The goal was to come up with a list of 20 Best Fleets, from which two grand champions would be selected and celebrated at the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) annual convention in early March.
There were four scorers: Murrell and Jazrawy, founders of CarriersEdge and the Best Fleets to Drive For program, and CarriersEdge employees Courtney Muir and Christine Brooks-Wilson. As a journalist embedded into the judging process, I was given one question to score, which was overseen for consistency by Murrell and Jazrawy.
Not all questions in the questionnaire are scored, and the scoring process evolves each year. This year, questions scored for the first time involve: pet policies; natural disaster readiness; home time; dispatcher-to-drive ratio; harassment policies; and personal safety, among others. Organizers update the scoring procedure each year based on emerging trucking and societal trends.
I was asked to score the question: How do you minimize equipment-related downtime? Responses ran the gamut and exposed a wide array of strategies. Fleets were scored on a scale of 1-3, based on clearly worded scoring criteria.
Boyle Transportation laid out a detailed response to its approach. It included initiatives including: spec’ing equipment to reduce downtime, including Teflon-coated fifth wheels and auto-lube devices; a driver app through which drivers can report and photograph equipment-related issues; and preventive maintenance schedules that exceed OEM recommendations. Drivers receive guaranteed wages so they’re not financially affected by equipment downtime.
This year, judges are awarding fleets that encourage driver involvement in activities such as driving championships, those that allow pets, those that have plans in place to prevent harassment and those that are ready for natural disasters. They’re also, for the first time, asking questions about how many drivers return to the company after leaving for another carrier.
The scores are added up by computer, but there remains a human element to the final selection process. Judges look for any anomalies that may have occurred, but generally, the Top 20 aren’t affected by any such late changes to the scoring mechanism. “That bottom five (of the Top 30) are where the changes happen,” Jazrawy explained.
The scoring system is set up to reward: driver programs; driver satisfaction; safety; and driver turnover.
“The question is, how do we weight those different things?” said Murrell. “The challenge is, the formula is different every year and it has to be different ever year. You can’t have companies with amazing programs where drivers aren’t happy, or companies who don’t do much but manage to find a group of drivers that are happy with that, stick around, are running safely and aren’t quitting. We have to factor that in.”
The algorithm is always being updated from year to year, and even sometimes on the fly. “It has to be defendable every time,” Murrell said.
The scoring process was expected to take several days. By Jan. 14, results had to be submitted to the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA), which will announce the Top 20 by the end of January. The main winners are to be announced at the TCA annual convention on March 3 in Florida.
Teasers will be pushed out via Twitter (@BF2DF) and on Facebook, but don’t expect them to be easy to solve. Several years ago, organizers revealed the distance in miles between the two grand champions’ home office. Naturally, a logistics-savvy audience quickly figured out the winners.
“We have to be almost annoyingly vague,” Jazrawy said. “The companies involved and their drivers are always looking at those hints, trying to figure it out.”