Location may be the number one rule in real estate, but it may also be true to trucking, too, as evidenced by a new repair center opened by Transport America off of I-40 on Southland Drive (Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Exit 4) in West Memphis.
The new repair center for Transport America offers a convenient new location for Transport America drivers who need repair and maintenance service while driving through the country’s Mid-South region.
In addition, the repair center also will serve sister company CFI, which has a support center located across the street from the new Transport America repair center.
“We’re really excited about this new center,” says Greg Rowland, general manager of the Transport America West Memphis Repair Center. “We don’t have all of the amenities of the larger support centers, but we have a great team and excellent resources for Transport America and CFI drivers in need of a repair or maintenance on their vehicles.”
The new repair center is in an ideal location, easily accessible for over-the-road Transport America and CFI drivers traveling through the area.
“Memphis is a fantastic central hub,” says Rowland. “We’re centrally located to drivers using the I-40 (East-West) and I-55 (North-South) interstates.”
The center itself is well equipped to offer the best possible service to drivers. It has three repair and maintenance bays and a separate tire bay, with eight mechanics and one lead service technician who can handle an average of 16 vehicles per day.
“We don’t have all of the facilities that a support center would have, such as washers, dryers, and showers,” says Rowland. “However, in the future we’re looking to expand our services to offer even more to Transport America and CFI drivers.”
With more than 27 years experience as a diesel mechanic, Rowland takes great pride in his team at the new Transport America repair center in West Memphis.
After graduating high school, Rowland the U.S. Army where he served for 13 years as a 63S Heavy Wheel Vehicle Mechanic. He served in Korea, Saudi Arabia, and was in infantry for Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. It was in the military where Rowland learned to become a diesel mechanic.
“In many ways, my career now parallels the career I had in the military,” Rowland says. “At Transport America we have a strong commitment to people. Staying safe and getting the job done is our number one priority.”
“I actually have more options now in my leadership as a civilian,” says Rowland. “I’ve been given a lot of free reign in my job, and my leadership supports the success of my team.”
After his service, Rowland put his skills to use at Central Texas College, where he taught truck mechanics. He then worked as a mechanic with Freightliner, Kenworth and International. After that, Rowland moved back to Georgia and was hired at Transport America as a mechanic in the Atlanta Support Center where he rose to become a lead mechanic.
To Rowland, successfully serving the needs of Transport America and CFI drivers boils down to attitude.
“It’s really important to hire people with the right attitude, because they are what determines the success of the team,” says Rowland. “I can teach the skills that come with mechanics, but I can’t teach a positive outlook. It’s the most important attribute that our team members can have, and it’s important in every aspect of the job.”
Rowland notes that a positive attitude is particularly important when it comes to customer service.
“When we give quality customer support to our drivers, they in turn are able to give good support to our company’s customers,” says Rowland. “It’s up to us to help everything run smoothly, and make sure everyone down the line is treated well.”
“Our drivers are our top priority,” Rowland says. “Our mechanics work directly with our drivers so it’s really important that we’re hiring the best people that we can.”
Rowland’s hiring process however, isn’t a typical assessment of skills and experience.
“When I interview candidates for this job, I don’t just ask general questions,” says Rowland. “I treat it as a conversation. The most important thing to me is getting a sense of who our mechanics are as individuals. I can see what their skills are on their resume.”
“Take Cassie for example,” says Rowland, referencing one of the repair center’s mechanics. “Cassie applied to work with us with no prior experience as a truck mechanic, but she had exactly the attitude we were looking for. She’s great with people. She is highly motivated, and most importantly, she’s willing to learn the new skills for this job and adapt to a new career.’
Looking forward, Rowland feels good about the future for the Transport America repair center.
“Lot’s of drivers didn’t know this center was here, but now they’re starting to discover us,” says Rowland. “And, they are coming back. It’s a real testament to the quality of work that we’re doing here.”
Driver Instructor of the Year Mike Rozeski Reflects on What It Takes to be a Professional Truck Driver
More than 22 years of experience.
One-million safely driven miles.
2012 Transport America Driver of the Year.
These are just some of the ways to describe Mike Rozeski, one of Transport America’s long-time drivers and now, one of its best driver instructors.
Recently named Transport America’s 2018 Driver Instructor of the Year, there are few drivers who are as passionate about driver training and driver safety as Rozeski.
Rozeski’s journey into truck driving began back in 1997, when he made the shift from working in a warehouse, loading and unloading truck trailers, to becoming a professional driver. He joined Transport America as an OTR driver in 2002.
“I wanted to better myself and make more money,” says Rozeski. “I would talk with the various drivers who would visit our warehouse and realized that I could do better as a driver.”
A resident of Salem, Ohio, a small town located about 25 miles southwest of Youngstown, Ohio, Rozeski drives out of Transport America’s North Jackson support center.
Rozeski works with drivers who have earned their Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) after recently attending a truck driving program or school and are eager to begin their career in trucking.
After being hired by Transport America, these newly minted drivers must complete a classroom orientation program at the company’s training facility in Indianapolis or Birmingham followed by 21 days of behind-the-wheel training with a Transport America driver instructor such as Rozeski. After passing an internal driving test, these new drivers are then allowed to drive solo.
“I see a wide range of people who join Transport America from right out of trucking school,” says Rozeski, “from young people in their 20’s who are just starting their professional life to people in their 40’s and 50’s who are looking for a career change.”
“I also get the opportunity to work with a lot of veterans who are transitioning to civilian life,” he says.
He adds: “I’m also training Millennials who are well-versed in technology. It’s a great thing because they adapt very quickly to the new technology in today’s trucks.”
Rozeski aims to teach drivers the most crucial techniques required for driving safely and efficiently, and how to adapt to the lifestyle that goes along with their new career. When working with the new drivers, Rozeski focuses first and foremost on safety.
Rozeski makes sure to emphasize that when he’s on the road with a new driver, he is sitting in the seat next to the new driver the entire time to observe their driving skills, and to comment on how to drive more safely.
“At some companies, they use the driver instructor as an opportunity to do team driving,” says Rozeski. “Not us. I never go in the back of the cab to sleep and then take over driving duties later on. I’m 100% focused on the driver.”
A testament to Rozeski’s great teaching is the Driver Instructor of the Year award. One of the factors that goes into an instructor receiving this honor is the driving record of all of the drivers taught by a particular instructor over the past year. Last year, all of Rozeski’s student drivers recorded an accident-free year.
(pictured: Rozeski’s recent student Nurradin)
One of the reasons that Rozeski thinks his driver trainees do so well is the emphasis he puts on driving safely. What goes into his teaching is advice such as being aware of what’s going on around you at all times, having lots of patience, giving yourself time so you’re not rushing, and keeping a safe driving distance.
In addition to safety, Rozeski also helps new drivers ease into the lifestyle of driving by talking through such things as budgeting, staying in touch with home while out on the road, how to eat healthy, safe places to park, and more.
“I talk to drivers about budgeting, saving, and contributing to their 401k,” says Rozeski. “It’s so important for a driver’s future, so I make a point of emphasizing it to all of my student drivers.”
Teaching is where Rozeski has found his purpose, but it’s not without challenges.
“It takes a lot of patience,” says Rozeski.
“I love seeing the drivers I train succeed. It’s the best feeling. The main way I encourage students to do well in the classroom and on-the-road training is by asking questions. There’s never a bad question. Asking questions addresses issues and concerns that we can work through together and ultimately lead them to success in their new career.”
As every driver knows, life on the road away from loved ones can be challenging. On his time off, Rozeski goes to his cabin with his wife in the summertime. They enjoy swimming, and just sitting around and relaxing.
This work-life balance is exactly what Rozeski plans to teach all of his driving trainees.
Transport America has always put a premium on going the extra mile to train its drivers based on the principles and values that the company holds dear, such as safety and empowering drivers to be the captains of their ship.
Now, according to Rich Campbell, the company’s Driver Apprenticeship and Orientation Manager, Transport America is re-engineering its orientation and training program to make it easier for drivers to access information with the latest available mobile and web technology, all with the intent of engaging drivers at a higher level to increase their knowledge and understanding of driving the Transport America way.
“We’re increasing the use of technology to be more efficient and give our drivers more options to work at their own pace, while still boosting their engagement levels,” says Campbell.
Campbell has been at Transport America for six months, but has been in the trucking industry for 13 years. In the 1980s, Campbell entered the trucking industry and drove professionally for five years, then, he went into the Navy where he served for 20 years, primarily in the areas of training and operations.
“My experience in the Navy has helped me in advancing training operations here,” says Campbell.
He went back to driving in 2009, and then became a truck driving school Director for three years. After receiving a bachelor’s degree, Campbell moved to Minnesota, working as a safety manager and then began his career at Transport America while completing his MBA at Excelsior College in New York.
Campbell found the importance in driver training and decided to put his vast knowledge into focusing on increasing efficiency of the training program.
“We’re changing our training programs to embrace both in-person training – within a classroom and behind the wheel instruction – and web-based technology delivered with mobile devices,” says Campbell. “We call it a hybrid model that better meets the needs of our drivers.”
So, for example, when a new driver joins Transport America and goes to one of its two orientation facilities in either Indianapolis or Birmingham, Transport America is taking out all of the big computer screen monitors that were set up in a typical classroom style, and replacing those with tablets.
“With this technology, we can reconfigure the classroom setting. Drivers can sit in a horseshoe style with their mobile tablets. And now, they can have a better interactive discussion with one of our instructors or with others, instead of looking at the back of someone’s head,” says Campbell. “We know that this will be more engaging and it will help our drivers learn better.”
But learning isn’t just limited to classroom time.
Transport America has contracted with Vertical Alliance, a company that provides a web-based truck driving training platform with more than 750 video lessons. In addition, Transport America can load it’s own videos on the video learning platform.
“With this system, our drivers can learn at their own pace,” Campbell says, “and we can see who has logged onto the training system, which allows us to better understand where all of our drivers are at in their orientation process, as well as keeping up with ongoing training throughout their career with Transport America.”
Campbell says this video training platform also can be used as part of the company’s ongoing commitment to share safe driving tips and reminders to its drivers and staff.
“It’s so important to have the web-based training option because people learn at different paces,” Campbell says. “And, in different ways. Some drivers learn better in a classroom where an instructor is lecturing to them. Others, with a driver instructor. And still others, through video and other content delivered through the web.”
“While we certainly want to increase our efficiency so we can get drivers out on the road faster,” Campbell continues, “it’s more important to connect with a driver so what they’re learning becomes more deeply internalized. That’s how we create drivers who drive more safely.”
While state and federal regulations require certain types of training for truck drivers, which all trucking companies must comply with, for Transport America, the goal is to take orientation and training to a higher level.
“We can’t stress enough how important it is for drivers to be continuously learning. Drivers must avoid complacency,” says Campbell. “When it comes to safety and to mastering the art of being a professional truck driver, there is always something new to learn. It’s this mindset that is going to help us changing trucking for the better.”
At Transport America, the choice to listen to and involve its drivers has helped the company drive a significant increase in their fuel purchasing patterns.
Driver input, combined with fuel optimization software, has increased the company’s compliance score from 30% in June 2018, to 74%, where it currently stands.
“Transport America has always felt like a family to me,” says Giangiacomo, “so we did what families do when you need to work something out and make it better for everyone: we listened carefully and figured it out together.”
As part of this discussion, management and drivers realized that if the company can save on fuel costs through better purchases, it can pass those savings on to both its customers, in the form of more competitive hauling fees, and its drivers, through better pay.
For most, if not all, trucking companies, fuel is the second largest expense. Since fuel costs are constantly changing and vary from stop to stop and state to state, it is imperative that trucking companies maintain a watchful eye on the best locations throughout the United States and Canada for drivers to purchase fuel.
Utilizing a fuel optimizer called Fuel&Route®, Transport America sought out the input of their drivers to provide their recommendations for the truck stops that offer the best amenities as well as low fuel prices identified by the software.
“We not only sought out information on the best prices for fuel,” says Giangiacomo, “we asked our drivers about the quality of the truck stops that we use. Are they easy to get in and out of? Do they have plenty of parking, and offer the services that our drivers need to make life on the road comfortable?”
Based on this input, the Fuel&Route software selects the best truck stops for Transport America drivers.
Fuel solutions are automatically sent to drivers when dispatched. The system alerts them where to get their fuel based on best price and best services that are within their fuel level range.
“In addition, Fuel&Route is linked to a truck’s GPS system. Transport America customized the software to allow drivers to get new fuel solutions without having to notify dispatch as conditions and routes change while still keeping them pointed to good truck stops with low cost fuel.
Giangiacomo’s commitment to fuel optimization and improved road life for drivers stems from his long history in truck driving. Giangiacomo has been a part of the industry since 1992, starting as a driver himself.
With an understanding of how drivers think about fuel and fuel stops, Giangiacomo uses his experience and expertise to develop a fueling program that changes trucking.
Using weekly fuel compliance reports, fleet leaders and drivers can track their progress towards hitting their fuel goals. For his part, Giangiacomo emphasizes the importance of listening to the company’s drivers as part of these conversations to increase driver participation.
“While other companies might just track fuel prices,” he says, “we’re taking a slightly different approach to make it right for both us and our drivers.”
In turn, these changes have forced fuel retailers to improve their pricing and make needed changes to their fuel stops due to the decrease in business when companies such as Transport America remove them from its preferred list of fueling stops.
“Transport America’s goal is to change the trucking industry for the better and enhance the experience for our drivers,” Giangiacomo says. “It is a long process with many required changes, but our drivers are up for the challenge and will continue to refine and adjust how we operate to truly change the industry.”
So imagine not only working on your marriage every day, but working with your spouse every day — within the confines of a truck cab.
And even though Transport America’s Kenworth and Freightliner tractor cabs are pretty roomy, spending nearly every minute of every day with your spouse, navigating America’s roads, while maintaining a healthy relationship is not easy.
What it takes, says Tony and Robin Skinner, a Transport America driving team, is respect, patience, and solid communication skills.
And despite all of the ups and downs that go into being a professional truck driver in today’s age, the Skinners couldn’t be happier in their decision to drive for Transport America.
“Transport America has been just great to drive with,” says Robin. “I get to hit the road with my best friend for a living.”
“It’s nice to be with someone I can talk with,” says Tony. “You have to keep it interesting on the road, and you still need to be a couple, but you have to remember that when you’re driving that this is our work time.”
“You can’t think of it as husband and wife,” says Robin. “What people don’t realize is you have to be your partner’s friend. We have a 50-50 deal on everything; we carry each other’s load.”
“I hate it when I see another couple who are team driving and the woman let’s the man back up the trailer,” Robin adds. “It drives me crazy. She should be able to do that herself. She should be his equal, just like I am with Tony, when it comes to captaining our truck.”
The Skinners joined Transport America in May 2018 after driving together for about four years. Both are 52 years old and consider professional truck driving as their second careers. Robin starting driving in 2009 and Tony started driving in 2015. With Transport America’s Atlanta Support Center as its home base, the couple crisscrosses the lower 48 as OTR drivers.
“I was a kindergarten teacher in Charleston for 13 years before I started driving,” says Robin. “Truck driving has always been on my bucket list. I like driving and operating big equipment. Next on my list is to operate one of those giant constructions cranes.”
“It was Robin who talked me into it,” says Tony. “Before driving, I ran my own construction business in Knoxville. I enjoyed the work and at one time I had 25 employees.”
Tony and Robin met in Knoxville in January 2012. Both had been married previously and were looking for something different in a companion. They fell in love, got married, and one day, after Robin had asked Tony many times before, he said “yes” to joining her on the road and becoming a driving team.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” says Robin. “Tony got home from work, sat down at the kitchen table, and just said, ‘Yes, I’m ready.’”
At that point, Robin had been driving solo for several years for another trucking company. While it took time, she earned respect from her male co-workers and eventually was asked to be the company’s first female driver instructor. Later, she worked as a safety manager for the company.
“It was not easy breaking into this profession as a female driver ten years ago,” Robin says. “Every day, I would receive comments from men and women at the company who wondered – out loud – when I would quit, or if I had enough grit to make it as a professional truck driver.”
The couple switched companies a few times, trying to find a trucking organization that would honor its promises and help the couple meet its needs.
“Eventually, every kid has to deal with it,” says Tony. “My parents and Robin’s mom were aging and suffering from health complications. We’re a hard-working couple, but we needed to stop by our parents on a regular basis to check in with them and make sure they were doing okay.”
“And,” adds Robin, “we want a social life outside of trucking. That’s important to us as we continue to grow in our marriage.”
While looking online one day, Tony came across Transport America and decided to give them a call. He spoke with Monica Olson, a Transport America Driver Recruiter,and explained the couple’s needs, in particular, the couple’s request for home time to take care of their parents.
“We haven’t been disappointed yet since we started driving for Transport America,” says Robin. “We have time to take care of our parents, see the kids and grandkids, and the money and benefits have been phenomenal.”
“We have full medical coverage and a 401k retirement account,” Tony chimes in. “It’s just great.”
With a goal of retiring when they turn 65 years old, the couple has made significant lifestyle choices. The couple completely downsized their lives. They sold their home, a car, and sold off or gave away many of their possessions. They purchased a trailer (with wheels) that they keep parked on the five-acre property owned by his parents, who live in Walland, Tennessee, a 10-minute drive to the entrance of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“Without all of those expenses, we’re saving 40% of our paychecks for retirement,” says Tony. “And when we do, we’re going to need to buy Robin a fishing boat, because she loves fishing!”
While the money and benefits are great, Tony and Robin have discovered in the time that they’ve become drivers: they really enjoy driving, and they really enjoy driving with each other.
“What we enjoy the most about truck driving is the freedom,” says Robin. “The freedom of the road. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Robin goes on to explain that Transport America supports this spirit of freedom, in particular, by allowing truck drivers to make their own decisions about road safety. They point to their fleet leader, Kelly Callies, who has been a big part of making that possible for them.
“The company’s commitment to safety says it all,” says Robin. “It’s a complete team effort, too. Kelly has been phenomenal in helping us live our dream on the road and stay safe at the same time. The respect between us is mutual.”
The Skinners are self-proclaimed “sticklers for safety,” which makes them a perfect fit for Transport America, whose cornerstone value is the safety of their drivers and the motoring public. At some point in the future, they would love to become driver instructors for Transport America to pass on their commitment to safety.
“Transport America sends us safety videos every day,” says Tony. “They send us weather alerts, which we really appreciate, and our truck is equipped with some of the most advanced safety equipment.”
“Everything Transport America does helps make us be better and safer drivers,” says Robin. “They give us the freedom to drive on the open road without putting myself or Tony in danger.”
“We’re going to use some of our savings from driving to go on an anniversary cruise from Tampa Bay, Florida, to Cozumel, Mexico, to celebrate,” says Tony.
No one ever said marriage is easy, but Tony and Robin Skinner have found the road to success with Transport America.
Managers play an instrumental role in creating a workplace environment. A bad manager can hurt productivity and foster an environment that is unbearable or even unsafe, while a good manager keeps things running smoothly and fosters an environment that is safe and fulfilling for its employees.
Nowhere may this be more true than at Transport America’s support center in North Jackson, Ohio, where more Transport America tractors and trailers are serviced than at any of the company’s support centers.
Servicing an average of 25 tractors and trailers per day, the North Jackson support center is outfitted with 5 drive-through work bays and is staffed by 17 diesel mechanics.
With that level of volume, it would be understandable that the patience of the center’s mechanics and technicians would be tested daily, as Transport America drivers feel the pull of the road and the need to keep their wheels moving. But to Shenard Gordon, the North Jackson Shop Manager since June, the key is to maintain a positive attitude and a respectful workplace.
“I’m not a sit-down manager,” says Gordon. “I put on the uniform and get my hands dirty side by side with my technicians. We’re all on a first name basis and I keep a positive attitude so we can joke around and have fun while taking our job seriously. I think they respect that.”
As important as the relationship between the shop manager and technicians is, for Gordon the customer always comes first.
“We judge our success by the customer service we provide to our drivers,” says Gordon. “Without them there’s no Transport America. When a driver comes through our doors they probably aren’t in the best mood — something’s wrong with their rig and the last place they want to be is sitting, waiting around for their truck to be repaired or maintained. So we greet drivers with respect, call them by their first name, and try to get them in and out as fast as possible.”
It’s that kind of positive energy that is transforming the relationship between technicians and drivers throughout Transport America, starting in North Jackson.
“We are all on one team. We all sink or swim based on our mutual respect for one another,” Gordon adds.
Gordon’s empathetic management style is inline with Transport America’s commitment to safety, respect, and integrity.
“Transport America feels like my home,” says Gordon. “Everybody seems to care, you’re not just a grease monkey to them. It means a lot when Paul Simmons (Transport America’s President) or Phill Reynolds (Vice President of Maintenance) comes to your shop, shakes everyone’s hand, calls you by your name, and has an actual conversation with you. I’ve been with other companies where that’s not the case.”
Gordon has been with Transport America for 14 years but he’s been a diesel mechanic for more than 20. It was a long road to Transport America and North Jackson, and Gordon had his sights on something completely different when he was a kid.
“You may not believe this but I wanted to be a mortician when I grew up,” says Gordon. “I planned to go into it once I graduated from high school, but my dad encouraged me to think about going to school as a diesel mechanic, instead.”
From a young age Gordon was good with his hands and curious about how stuff works.
“I would take apart things like lawnmowers, watches and clocks and put them back together just to see how they work,” says Gordon. “My dad was a truck driver for 27 years and he recognized that my talent would make me a great diesel mechanic.”
After graduating from high school, Gordon took his dad’s advice and went to technical school. Soon, Gordon was putting his skills to use but he didn’t feel at home.
“When I was working as technician for a different company before coming to Transport America, the CEO would visit the shop, go straight for the manager’s office and leave without speaking a word to any of us,” says Gordon. “To them I was just a number and not a human. It’s completely the opposite at Transport America.”
Now, Gordon does what he can to help other diesel mechanics follow the same path he took.
“I share my knowledge and mentor those technicians who want to excel,” says Gordon. “I go out to restaurants near truck stops looking for mechanics who are seeking a better place to work. I drop by local technical schools, and let them know about opportunities in our field. The point I make to everyone everywhere I go is: every mechanic should be treated the way we are at Transport America.”
Part of that treatment is the emphasis Transport America places on the safety of its workers.
“It all starts with safety. If you care about the safety of your employees, you respect them. That’s why we take safety very seriously,” says Gordon. “We practice safe work methods such as wearing safety goggles and face shields, and once a week we do a safety walk around the shop and make sure things such as cords and fire extinguishers are secure. We also complete OSHA safety training every month.”
An important aspect to maintaining a safe working environment is staying up to date on all the latest technology.
“There’s lots of training to keep up with Transport America’s newest technology,” says Gordon. “We have to stay ahead of the game and know what it is we’re working on. The latest software in our trucks actually gives us step by step troubleshooting instructions, but if we still have to know every component and how each works, otherwise we’d be lost. That would make drivers spend more time in the shop and hurt our goal of driver satisfaction.”
When asked what makes North Jackson such a successful shop, Gordon’s answer is simple.
“The biggest thing is how you treat people. Respect goes a long way and there is a lot of respect at Transport America”
Daniel Bingman may be new to the world of professional truck driving, but he’s not new to the concept of safety. In fact, safety has been a core principle for Bingman for most of his adult life – and it’s core to an even more important principle – family.
As a father of six, Bingman takes safety personally. Every time he gets behind the wheel of his Transport America tractor-trailer, he imagines himself driving next to a mini-van or another vehicle, loaded with a family like his, the parents sitting up front, and their kids, on their way to see family, or to go to a basketball game at their nearby high school.
“I drive the way I do because that family could be my family,” says Bingman, “and I know that they just want to get wherever they’re going safely. That’s why I kiss the photos of my kids every morning before I put my truck into gear.”
Bingman’s road to becoming a professional truck driver began a couple years ago when he and his wife, Valarie, decided it was time for a career change.
For more than 12 years, Bingman worked on the paint line, most recently as supervisor, at a boat and hauling trailer manufacturer located in Fox Lake, Wisconsin.
“It was hard work. It was tough on my body and I wasn’t getting any younger,” says Bingman, who is 36 years old. “And anyone who knows me knows that I put everything I’ve got into a job.”
A couple of years ago, Bingman’s wife suggested that he try trucking.
“As a kid, I always loved truck drivers. I loved how they would honk their horns for kids,” Bingman says. “So, that’s when I decided to enroll at the Diesel Truck Driving School in Sun Prairie.”
After he graduated from school and earned his CDL, Bingman still wasn’t quite sure about making the switch to becoming a full-time professional driver. After all, he had invested a lot of sweat and blood at his current job, plus there was the simple fact that he would be on the road while Valarie was raising their kids.
“I was in the position where I could be picky about who I would drive for,” he says. “So I posted an ad that I was looking for a company to drive for. Transport America and several other companies contacted me almost immediately.”
What led Bingman to Transport America were the many positive reviews about the company online – in particular, the company’s respect for its drivers and its dedication to safety.
“Safety was very important. So, it was one of the first things I noticed about Transport America – that safety is #1,” says Bingman. “To me, you can have best equipment in the world at your disposal, but if you don’t have the mindset where you put safety first, then it doesn’t matter at all.”
After talking with a driver expert from Transport America, Bingman agreed to participate in the company’s orientation program. That’s where he met Mike Rozeski, a Transport America driver instructor who specializes in working with people who are new to professional driving.
“Mike was amazing!” says Bingman. “I can’t say enough good things about him. He really helped me to understand my new career as a truck driver. It’s because of him that I really love what I’m doing. I know that if I have a question about anything, I can turn to Mike.”
Bingman also points to Marc Slettedahl, his fleet leader, as being instrumental to his first year’s success.
“He inspires me,” says Bingman. “In working with Marc, I’ve come to realize that it takes a team to keep Transport America trucks moving. I can count on Marc to keep me rolling, and I know he’s got my back when things are a bit worrisome, such as when my daughter Willow was not feeling well recently.”
To Bingman, Transport America operates like family. And that’s his other core value, right up there with safety.
“Family is #1. I think about my family. I think about my Transport America family. And I think about other families on the road.” Bingman says. “That’s what this is all about. All of us working together to reach our goals in life.”
New Straight Forward Safety Program Takes Safety to a New Level at Transport America
As the professional truck driving industry evolves amid technological advances and shifting industry demands, Transport America remains dedicated to one thing above all else – safety.
Now, it’s taking this core foundational value a step further. On top of hiring a new vice president of safety and security a year ago, Transport America is introducing a new program that makes safety every employee’s business. Not just its drivers.
While Vice President of Safety and Security Lisa Gonnerman has only been with Transport America for one year, her goal is to leverage her 26 years of experience in transportation safety to continue to elevate Transport America’s safety record.
“I want to see Transport America walk the talk,” says Gonnerman. “I want to see us bethegold standard for safety throughout the trucking industry. Because I believe it’s through a total commitment to safety that we’ll see the type of change that many in this industry believe is sorely needed.”
Gonnerman’s interest in trucking goes back to her childhood. She had two uncles who were truck drivers. But it’s what happened to her brother, who was involved in an accident involving a tractor and tank, that set the direction for her passion for safety.
Those two factors led Gonnerman to study transportation logistics at Iowa State University, which launched her into a career in trucking safety at several major trucking firms located in the Upper Midwest.
More than a year ago, she was recruited to join the team at Transport America. One of the first things she noticed that could be improved was the company’s efforts to train drivers on defensive driving techniques. She quickly got to work with her team in developing a solution and that’s how the Straight Forward Safety Program was born.
The program introduces “8 Behaviors of Safe Driving” that create a comprehensive idea of how safety, including safety in and around a truck, as well as safe driving, will be practiced at Transport America. The 8 Behaviors of Safe Driving include:
Be Prepared— Prepare yourself, your equipment, and beginning your day
Look to What’s Ahead— Seeing what is ahead of you so you know how to safely react
Establish and Keep A Safe Following Distance— Following distance creates a safety cushion to the traffic in front of you
Use Your Mirrors— Mirrors allow you to see the space around your truck
Make Necessary Lane Maneuvers Safely— Make only necessary lane changes using proper and safe format
Evaluate The Intersection Is Clear— Understand the traffic situation at the intersection
Ensure Right Speed For Right Conditions— Adjust your speed for the conditions
Avoid Distractions— Eliminate distraction and focus on the task at hand.
These behaviors help a driver understand that safety begins well before entering a vehicle. The first behavior, “Be Prepared”, stresses the importance of a driver’s body and equipment being in top shape for the beginning of a workday. For example, some of the most common injuries experienced by truck drivers occur in getting in and out of a vehicle.
“Safety is always part of the operation at Transport America,” says Gonnerman, “We are always building programs, designing contests, and developing training material that both encourage safety and build relationships.”
At Transport America, decisions are made with the mentality that every decision should be anchored in safety. It is what helps create the culture the company prides itself on.
“Culture is the face of everything,” says Gonnerman. “We want every driver (and every employee) to be intentionally safe – to bring a safety mindset to their work and be proactive in preventing situations that put themselves and others on the road at risk.”
Transport America takes a proactive approach in order to ground their entire process in safety. This helps drivers avoid developing bad habits that need to be corrected and instead, it starts them off with a safe-driving mentality.
In developing the Straight Forward Safety program, the company received substantial input from Transport America’s professional drivers – through one-on-one conversations, input from drivers participating in the company’s Drivers Instructor training, as well as feedback from drivers featured in a series of safety videos.
In addition, the company consulted with a number of its million-mile drivers on how they have driven safely year after year.
“We take great pride in the role that our ‘million milers’ take in safety,” says Gonnerman, referencing the 55 drivers currently with the company who have logged more than one-million miles safely driven on the road, “These drivers have seen both safe driving and risky behavior and know how we can reduce accidents by training new drivers on the front end.”
Everyone in the company, including non-drivers, are now trained with the Straight Forward Safety program. This ensures that no matter what role an employee may have within the company, everyone, at all levels, understands that safety is a core foundational value of the company.
The key is that the Straight Forward Safety program is just the start. While the bar may be raised higher in comparison to previous efforts to emphasize safety, there’s plenty of room to increase safety throughout the company.
“Our goal is to cut the number of accidents experienced by our drivers by at least 10% annually,” says Gonnerman. “I say ‘at least,’ because if it were up to all of us, it would be 100% (in other words, zero accidents, injuries and violations/citations). However, as we all know, it’s difficult to eliminate poor driving behavior by other truck drivers or by four-wheel drivers. We can only control what we can control. But we do know that if we attract talented drivers and that we train everyone in our company to make safety a priority, we can have a substantial and measurable impact.”
That means not just reducing accident rates and violations, but getting more products to their intended destinations more safely and on time.
While new technology being introduced on Transport America tractors and trailers is changing the driving experience, Transport America knows that a safety mindset must always be the #1 priority in the movement of goods. With the Straight Forward Safety program and other influences, including veteran drivers who are interested in becoming safety instructors, Transport America sees safety as both its business, but also, good for business.
“Technology is a tool that can help improve habits but safety will always be in the hands of the driver,” says Gonnerman, “Technology is always changing, but a commitment to safety remains constant.”
While much has been made about futuristic technology coming to the trucking industry over the past several years, the fact is, Transport America is investing heavily in new technology today that will increase the safety and comfort of its drivers.
“To attract and keep the best drivers in the industry, we know that we need to invest in trucking technology that makes our trucks safer, easier to use, and more comfortable,” says Phill Reynolds, Vice President of Maintenance for Transport America. “It’s what today’s top drivers demand, and at Transport America, we’re continuously evaluating our fleet to meet the needs of drivers today and those who will drive with us tomorrow.”
With those values in the mind, the Transport America fleet is being upgraded with 300 new Kenworth and Freightliner tractors over the coming year that will replace older model tractors. In addition, the company has placed an order for a new Tesla tractor to begin the process of learning about electric vehicles.
From the cab to the trailer, inside and out, these new trucks continue to raise the bar in terms of new technology being used day-to-day throughout the company.
“If the technology is there that allows us to keep our drivers – and those who drive around them – more safe,” says Reynolds, “we’re interested in researching and investing in it. We don’t give lip service to safety. We put our money where our mouths are.”
Before Reynolds placed the order for the new Freightliner and Kenworth trucks, he and a number of other business leaders at Transport America carefully listened to Transport America drivers about their needs. In addition, the company poured through maintenance and driver records, too.
“When we invest in new features and technology for our trucks, we want to see what types of impact those improvements will make,” he says. “Of course, we’re interested in lowering our fuel and maintenance costs. But new trucking technology also can have an impact on costs such as insurance and recruitment, too. Insights from our drivers can help us understand better where we can maximize our investments.”
Upgrades to the driving experience include fingertip controls on the steering wheel that allow drivers to adjust cruise control or even pick a radio station.
“It’s about keeping those eyes on the road,” says Reynolds.
In the sleeper area, all of the new Freightliner and Kenworth trucks will include an escape door in the sleeper area that will allow drivers to easily evacuate a vehicle in case of an emergency. In addition, the mattresses in the new trucks are extra thick to help drivers obtain higher quality sleep.
“Better sleep, safer drivers,” Reynolds adds.
To continue to advance the safety of Transport America drivers, all new tractors will come equipped with Lane Keeping Assist Technology. Anything from a cough or a sneeze to a driver nodding off can cause an abrupt and dangerous lane change. Lane Keeping Assist Technology alerts the driver of the change while maintaining a safe location within a lane.
In addition to Lane Keeping Assist Technology, the new Freightliners and Kenworth tractors will be equipped with side-object detection technology. Monitoring the blind spot is always a challenge and irresponsible four-wheel drivers on the road pose a huge safety hazard for professional truck drivers. This new technology reduces potential accidents by alerting a driver of an object in the blind spot area (about 15 to 20 feet from the driver’s seat toward the trailer) on both sides of the tractor-trailer.
“These technologies, combined with other safety technology that we currently use in our trucks, will continue to help us reduce our exposure to crashes,” says Reynolds. “Will they completely prevent them, unfortunately not. But little by little, these investments will add up and have a measurable impact on our safety record.”
“And that’s important to attracting and retaining good drivers, and in securing loads from customers,” Reynolds adds. “We know that what really matters is our drivers arriving home safely after being out on the road. There’s no load worth dying for.”
Improvements aren’t limited to just Transport America’s tractors. It’s fleet of trailers will be upgraded, too, over the course of the coming year.
According to Reynolds, one of the major improvements the company is planning is to reinforce the rear bumpers of its trailers to reduce the impact of four-wheel vehicles that crash in the back of a Transport America trailer.
In addition, the company is installing new rear facing lights on the back of the company’s trailers which will give drivers improved visibility when backing up to loading docks in poorly lit or dark loading areas.
The company also is installing new air pressure monitors for all trailer tires that automatically adjusts tire pressure to optimum levels. This technology ensures that tires are inflated to their safest levels, while at the same time, optimizing fuel consumption.
Professional truck drivers are used to having one eye on the horizon. This mindset also applies to the advancements in driverless technology. Driverless vehicles continue to make strides in effectiveness and accessibility. However there are plenty of logistical hurdles that stand between fully autonomous vehicles being the norm.
“The amount of regulation around the country that would need to occur for autonomous trucks to safely navigate our roads is simply tremendous,” says Reynolds. “We are just beginning to understand how this technology will shape the future, so it will be many years before we see driverless trucks on our roads.”
While the use of driverless vehicles may be a ways off, some of the technology that would be used in driverless trucks is already helping to make our nation’s roads safer for all drivers, including four-wheelers.
“As it exists now, technology such as Lane Keeping Assist Technology and Side-Object Detection is improving the safety for our drivers,” says Reynolds, “that’s technology Transport America wants to invest in now.”
With major players in the vehicle industry developing electric-powered products, Transport America is continuously monitoring how those changes may impact the future of truck driving.”
Transport America has ordered a Tesla electric semi-truck with the understanding that the adoption of such new technology may be years away.
“While electric trucks will make their way into the industry, the infrastructure to facilitate a massive change doesn’t exist yet,” said Reynolds.
The biggest hurdle to electric trucks is charging stations.
“Right now, it simply takes too long to charge a tractor,” says Reynolds. “And until that changes, you won’t see the numbers of charging stations you would need at truck stops or support centers to make it feasible.”
“But, that may change in the years to come,” Reynolds says. “The technology is advancing quickly.”
It Boils Down to Respect
Transport America knows that drivers are aware of these massive changes in their field and want to know that both their excitement and concern is heard.
The company understands that when professional drivers succeed, the company does as well. Respect is built into every choice and those choices are made with full awareness of what drivers go through on a day-to-day basis.
Putting professional truck drivers first has been the cornerstone of Transport America’s mission. Now, Transport America is taking that concept a step further with its new Freedom Fleet program for owner-operators who drive for Transport America.
Freedom Fleet offers owner-operators more freedom in managing their business more precisely. The program gives owner-operators a new sense of ownership – the ability to be paid a percentage of the revenue earned by Transport America on the loads they haul for the company.
Ron Anderson, Director of Transport America’s Intermodal Logistics department, who has worked with Transport America for 28 years, helped develop Freedom Fleet. Working closely with owner-operators, Anderson and his team have designed a program that gives owner-operators more control over their revenue stream, and thus, their ability to be successful.
“We wanted to make something for drivers made by drivers,” says Anderson.
Transport America’s, owner-operators and lease-to-own drivers helped design the Freedom Fleet load board app. The App allows drivers to see potential loads of cargo within Transport America’s Solo operating territory. The owner-operator has the ability to select their next load online based on the amount of revenue that a particular load will generate for them, Freedom Fleet also allows owner-operators who would prefer to be paid by the mile to continue with that payment model as well.
Through the percentage-based pay program, owner-operators receive:
Choose their own loads
Earn 65% of line haul (in comparison to $1.03 per mile on all miles under the mile-based pay system)
Fuel surcharge on all loaded miles
$5,000 new hire sign-on bonus
Industry leading discounts on fuel, DEF, tires and repairs
Prepass available supplemental medical and dental program
Assistance with insurance coverage
Paid accessorial, detention, lumpers and stop-offs
“Transport America knows experienced owner operators count every cent and every mile,” says Anderson, “They are excellent drivers, and excel as business owners who take everything into account. The Freedom Fleet program acknowledges this and lets drivers pick loads that maximize their revenue stream.”
“This system allows an owner-operator to be a business owner and contribute to Transport America on the successful delivery of a load,” says Anderson, “they choose the load and plan their route.”
“Based on our testing to date,” Anderson says, “owner-operators are making more money, and more importantly, feel like they have more control over their work. That’s really important to them.”
“The program is already garnering positive word-of-mouth reviews within the owner-operator community,” Anderson adds. “We’ve seen a handful of owner-operators who used to drive for us in the past come back to Transport America because we have implemented this program.”
Anderson and the team at Transport America understand that professional truck driving takes both skill and business savvy. Nobody knows their vehicle better than drivers, and now, with Freedom Fleet, owner-operators and Transport America lease-to-own drivers are earning more for managing their businesses wisely.