Wow!  It’s been a busy couple of weeks in Contractor Relations.  With the board system changes, CSA 2010, and planning for the Mid-America Truck Show, I have barely had time to think, much less blog.  I want to take some time, while I have it, to talk to you all about preferences.  Preferences trigger the computer to find the freight that you want to do.  They can also be used to weed out the freight that you don’t want.  Also keep in mind that anything I am about to say is strictly just my opinion.  You and your coordinator need to communicate well to decide what the best preferences are for you.  If you leave it up to your coordinator to set your preferences, then keep doing so.  They are the expert at setting preferences, and they know what is best for you.  Just to make a statement, preferences have nothing to do with the changes that we made to the board system.  We have been using them for about seven years now, and they are nothing new.  If you have never heard of a preference before, please skip to the next blog entry. 🙂

Anytime that you are dispatched on a load, your coordinator immediately sets preferences to look for freight in the area of your load destination.  Your preference has a lot of information in it.  I will discuss the most important parts of the preference.

  • Date/Time of Availability – One of the most important details of a preference.  This tells your preference what date and time to start looking for a load.  Typically, if you are dispatched on a load, this date is defaulted to whatever the delivery date is on the load.  If you plan on delivering a load early, you need to communicate that with your coordinator, because they must change this to reflect your actual empty time.  Also if you are not going to be ready to run until a certain date, maybe because you are at home, then your coordinator needs to update this date as well.
  • Trailer Type – This will determine what type of freight you are matched up to.  Obviously, if you have a Step-Deck, then it will show in your preference, and you will not be offered freight that will not work with your trailer type.
  • Maximum Tarping Capabilities – This will typically show, with a number, how high of a load you can tarp.  Usually it is represented with a 4, 6, or an 8.  You want to have the correct info in here to be able to be offered as much as possible.  If you tell your coordinator that you only want to tarp 4′, they will put a 4 in this field, and you will never get offered anything that tarps bigger.
  • Maximum Scale Weight – Much like tarp size, you want to have your highest possible scale weight in your preference.  The computer will not offer you any freight that weighs more than the weight in your preference.  Not even 1 pound over.  If you can scale 47,000 pounds, but you told your coordinator that you didn’t want to haul over 45,000 pounds, then you are probably missing out on a lot of load offers.  I know some people don’t want to haul heavy loads, but wouldn’t you at least like the opportunity to be offered them?  You can always say no.
  • Minimum CPM / Minimum Miles – This section of a preference is what coordinators use to weed out some of the freight that a driver is not interested in.  The Minimum CPM (Cents Per Mile)  is used to exclude cheaper freight in an area of the country where rates are higher.  I personally didn’t use the minimum cpm much as a coordinator.  If you put $1.20 in there, what if a load comes up that is a $1.19 going right to the house?  Same with minimum miles.  You can say that you don’t want to haul anything less than 600 miles, but what about the 500 mile load that takes you into a good freight area.  Most coordinators use these options very cautiously.  But they do come in handy in areas where there is a lot of freight, and you want to narrow the search a little.
  • Origin and Destination Preferences – This section of a preference shows your destination, whether it is the destination of the load you are last dispatched on, or your deadhead destination, such as when you deadhead to the house.  This tells the computer where the area, or starting point of where you want to search for freight.  There is also a section here that gives the coordinator an opportunity to list states or regions of the country that the driver would prefer to go to.  For example, the coordinator can put in KY as a preferred state, and the driver will only be offered freight that is going to KY.  Or if a driver wants a Western load, the coordinator can put in those specific regions, and the driver will only be offered West bound freight.  If a driver wants to be offered all destinations, then this option will be left blank.
  • Deadhead Miles – Everybody’s favorite topic!  This part of the preference is pretty self-explanatory.  The coordinator, will enter the desired amount of deadhead miles here.  The computer will match freight to the driver within the radius that is set for deadhead miles.  A lot of drivers want their d/h miles stretched way out, which matches the driver to more freight.  The adverse effect is the higher amount of freight a driver is matched to, the less efficient the coordinator becomes, and if there are more trucks matched up to the freight in the screen, the longer the freight will take to run down the board.  If you expand your search, and increase your deadhead radius, you have to use the other options of the preference to weed out the freight that you don’t want.  If a driver is matched to a bunch of freight that they are not interested in, then they are just slowing the system down, and making it harder for trucks that are interested in the freight to accept it.
  • Exclusions – This function is used to exclude certain types of freight from being offered.  If you don’t go to particular states, cities, or regions of the country, then your coordinator can input them into the preference to exclude them.  Same with certain types of commodities.  If you refuse to haul coils, those can be excluded from being matched as well.

When I was coordinating, I would set multiple preferences each time my trucks were dispatched.  I would set the first preference at a fairly short deadhead (75-150 miles).  I would leave it pretty wide open, with a very low min. cpm, and whatever general exclusions applied to that particular driver (no NYC, no coils, etc.).  This preference would be a good platform, to offer short and long freight.

The second preference would be at a little higher of a deadhead (200-250 miles).  I would bump the minimum cpm up about 10 or 15 cpm, and put a minimum mile setting of about 600-750 miles.  So the further deadhead I put in, the better the freight has to be.  This second preference looks for mid-range to longer freight that you can run in 1-2 days and make some good revenue on.

The third preference would have a large d/h (300-400 miles).  I would bump up the minimum cpm another 10 – 15 cents again, and move the minimum miles up to 1000-1500.  This preference would look for long freight only.  Still staying with the motto, more deadhead it is, the better the load has to be.  Keep in mind this is just an example! Preferences need to be set differently based on what part of the country you are in, and what types of areas you like to run.

So I would have about 3 preferences.  One for shorter freight, one for mid-range miles, and one for long miles.  Drivers ask coordinators all the time to stretch the deadhead miles out on their preferences to try to find a load.  If you do this let your coordinator know what you really need out of a load if you deadhead that far.  You don’t want your coordinator to move your deadhead out to 500 miles, and offer you a bunch of 200 mile freight.  Or offer you freight that is 500 miles away coming right back to where you are sitting.  You would be putting a lot of unneccessary load offers on your coordinator, and bogging down the freight offering system at the same time.

Learning about preferences takes weeks  for a new coordinator. So don’t expect to read this and be an expert on them.  You really need to communicate well with your coordinator, and let them help you determine what the best preferences will be right for you.   Just like drivers tell me that I need to be out on the road for a week to really know what it is like to drive a truck.  Well, drivers need to be in our office and in front of the computer for a week to really know how preferences work.  I suggest that next time you come through, check out the preference screen in the computer.  Your coordinator, or myself will be happy to show you.  This will all make more sense with a visual.  Have a great weekend, and go Mercer!

  1. Dan & Jane Danger
    March 12, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    You did good my man! Although some coorinators will likely kick you in the butt for your suggestion, (LOL) we think it’s an excellent idea for a driver to come there and see for him/her self what they can have & have not entered into that preference screen. Communication is the key when looking for that next load.

  2. Kenny Lee
    March 14, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    Jason, good info.
    I just unloaded @ DHL in Atlanta,Ga. on saturday, I called the answering service to “unload” and asked to be put on the “SCA board”. The operator said, “we don’t do that anymore”. So,, where do I stand on the unload list in the SE area? Thanks, K. Lee

    • Jason Schaftlein
      March 15, 2010 at 11:05 am

      We are still putting trucks on boards. The boards however, do not affect the order in which the load runs. We are putting trucks on boards, to help give our contractors an idea of where they stand, and also to notify agents how many trucks are in their area. I’ll get the weekend issue fixed.

  3. Milt O'Neill
    March 15, 2010 at 7:12 am

    The problem comes when you have a floater! How about a realistic default preference when a floater is in place. Then when the temporary coordinator is trying to keep up with freight offerings, unloads/loads, check calls, etc, we will get offered freight that will be realistic. The old 75 mile dead head preference does not do anything for a contractor now that FIFO is in place, except limit that offerings to a coordinator.

    • Jason Schaftlein
      March 15, 2010 at 11:08 am

      Hopefully your preference is already set before the floater takes the seat. If you are dispatched on a load while the floater is running the board, then call in and discuss your preferences with them. It is impossible to create a default preference that suits everyone, and every location. Coordinators do leave notes for the floaters, and there are also comments in the driver info screen that discuss where the driver likes to run, and what types of preferences need to be set.

  4. bigron
    March 16, 2010 at 11:03 pm

    im gonna say a few things here, and im sure to piss people off, but thats ok, cause i belive i have some good points that may trigger some good ideas,

    as far as im concern, there is no 2 trucks that will every agree on the same type of preference, for example, drop deck vs flatbed, some drivers that have dropdecks, wont do anything but drop deck loads…some drivers will haul anything, like myself, so me and joe schmo will never agree on whats best, whats best for me, is different for the rest of you, i like your ideas jason, but the minimum cpm is alot of reason trucks sit, in these times folks, you must steamline your operations, you must be willing to run 10 cheap loads to ever 1 good load…if you cant accept this ratio as reality, then it is my belief you need to go oos and let the rest of us work, another thing is dead head miles, i dont like to sit around and wait in a bad area, ill eat alot of miles to put a decent load on the trailer, or a short load thats kinda cheap to cover the fuel, but my operating cost are not the same as others either, i belive you need to know ur cpm to operate the truck, and your coord. needs to know this as well, if you dont know this, you need to figure it out, and i bet you will make more money, and keep moving better, but hey, im one guy, i dont know it all, but i am a business man, as well as a driver,

    as far as the FIFO system, that changes things remakably from my view of it, i belive it rewards drivers who are lazy, or purposely sit for days wating for a perfect load to come on by, this is wrong folks, i belive it needs to be put under better control, if you are away from home, there should be a minimum time from when u had a load offererd that YOU refused before you are 36 hrs, so lets say that u get offered a load 12 noon on monday, and your refuse, you have 36 hrs to accept a load or go oos.. yes this mean the guys looking to haul 15k lbs of no tarp pipe to california…but is gonna refuse every load and clog up the system so that guys in the area cant get a load cause you are gonna dead head 700 miles to get a load in boston, when your in cleveland…

    just some things i think need to be addressed…
    sorry if i seemed ranty, but these are things people need to know to be successful in todays tough times

    • Jason Schaftlein
      March 18, 2010 at 7:32 am

      Wow Ron…you’re starting to type as much as me! 🙂 You are absolutely right that no two trucks should have the same preference. Preferences should be different based on what type of equipment you have, where you are in the country, and what your expectations are. The cpm is usefull if you are in an area like Chicago where there may be 35 loads to choose from. It makes it easier on a coordinator to not have to offer you all of the cheapest freight an agent has. However, if you are in Wyoming…then they need to be wide open.

      Amen on knowing what your operating costs are. The people who really succeed as Owner/Operators are incredible business people. You have to know what your expenses are before you can try to control or change them.

      Obviously I am a big fan of the changes we made to the system. I don’t think it rewards anyone more than the old system. This system actually levels the playing field more. We would not have put the time in to discuss the board changes, and take the time to put them into place if we didn’t think it would be a better situation for our contractors. As far as the 36 hour then oos situation….We have never been that aggressive with forcing people to take a load. That’s basically what we would be doing. Take a load, or we won’t load you. Probably never going to happen. Also Ron…I know that guys that run short freight, and work their butts off get ticked at guys who sit around and cherry pick. Bottom line is you can work as hard as you want to here. I bet the guy that runs hard, and pulls short, cheap freight to get keep the wheels turning makes more that the cherry picker. Maybe the cherry picker gets a good load here and there. I always found that our system works for all types of drivers. Wow I’m starting to ramble. Maybe it’s time to blog. Thanks for the comments Ron!

  5. Greg
    March 17, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Wanted to echo some of what bigron said. It is always good to know your operating costs. Also when ever you have A board system there are always going to be those that will find ways to work it to there advantage. Ulimately Mercer FIFO system is what t is, and you have to make it work for yourself or go someplace else to work.

    • Carolyn
      March 18, 2010 at 8:38 pm

      The #1 reason Mercer is such a great company is it allows you to run your way. I have been here since 1984 for all except 2 1/2 years when my first husband decieded that he could better somewhere. He found out real quick that wasn’t (after about 15 other carriers) so, so we came back and was here until he died in 1999. When I married again, I came back home. You can make as much or as little money with Mercer as you want to. You can run where you want, when you want, and go home when you want. What could be better?

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