by Canadian Shipper

Continued expansion into western and southern U.S. and a new reefer division are part of Bison Transport’s expansion plans. Don Streuber, president and CEO, Jeff Pries, vice president, sales & marketing, and Rob Penner, vice president, operations, explain the reasoning behind these and other moves in an exclusive interview.

CT&L: You’ve been named to Platinum Club of the 50 Best Managed Companies Award after winning the award for eight consecutive years. What’s key to staying on top of customer demands particularly during a period of rapid legislative change as we are experiencing right now?

Streuber: It was a real privilege to receive the platinum award on behalf of our entire workforce because it represents the contributions of everyone. The difficulty in repeat performance is maintaining the understanding that there is always room for improvement. The Platinum status has required innovation, hard work and a commitment to continued excellence. As our slogan "Bison canbecause we’re people driven" suggests, it’s our people who make the difference.

CT&L: You’ve joined the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay Transport Partnership, a national Partnership to reduce greenhouse gas and other emissions from ground freight. You are the only Canadian carrier to do so. Why have you chosen to be a leader in this field?

Streuber: We have taken an aggressive role in trying to be leaders in the management of emissions because it makes good business sense and it’s the right thing to do for our environment. In 1999 we received the National Fuel Efficiency award in Canada and we are proud to have received it again this year. Several years ago we were the first major fleet in Canada to install in-cab heaters in all of our tractors, prior to government incentives, to reduce emissions from idling and also to improve our fuel economy.

CT&L: How is the expansion of your service in the west coast and southern states working out?

Pries: Our growth last year was quite significant and the west coast and southeastern states were a very important part of that growth. Our operation there is stable. The launch of those services went very well and we’ve stabilized our activity and our network. At this stage our plan is to continue growing in those regions.

CT&L: You made some very important investments in your human capital last year with Tatonka. How is that paying off for you at this early stage?

Penner: We are very happy with the investment. Our existing driver force is very enthusiastic about the project and our driver recruitment efforts since we installed it have been stronger than even we expected. Recruiting tells us that it’s helping attract the right caliber of driver to Bison. The fact that we picked up the National Fuel Efficiency Award is indicative of the immediate impact we saw from Tatonka’s fuel management module. The test group participating in that module achieved a 3% fuel savings and we are still maintaining that.

CT&L: Capacity is becoming a very important consideration in the marketplace. How is your Asset Based Logistics division coming along?

Pries: We launched ABL with a mandate that it would complement Bison clients with a new service offering to provide additional capacity and that’s exactly what ABL has been able to accomplish. It has been able to develop carrier partners who team up with our fleet to provide exceptional capacity in a market that’s very tight with capacity. The growth of our ABL division has kept pace with the growth of our trucking operations.

CT&L: What impact are the new U.S. hours of service regulations having on your operations?

Penner: We are certainly seeing a decline in productivity. We anticipated the new hours of service costing us about 500 miles per truck per month and, from a driver perspective, about 15 miles per day per driver. The initial impact on our operations has been in the neighborhood of our expectations. We’ve also had to relinquish some optimization to ensure we were not keeping our drivers waiting. We are actively working with our clients to define the impacts of the new hours of service regulations on our business together. In many cases that means trying to find better ways to smooth out the loading/unloading process so that the non-driving activity is minimized.

CT&L: How will the U.S. hours of service, and eventually the Canadian hours of service, transform the current shipper-carrier relationship?

Pries: We are actively working with our clients to define the impacts of the new hours of service regulations on our business together. In many cases that means trying to find better ways to smooth out the loading/unloading process so that the non-driving activity is minimized. We’ve had great cooperation from our clients so far in finding ways to resolve these issues, including working on border security programs, streamlining border clearance and increasing trailer pools at their facilities. We need to continue to reduce the amount of driver downtime at each load transaction to minimize the eventual impact on hours of service.

CT&L: Bison has also made considerable investments in its technology infrastructure. Anything new on the technology front?

Streuber: We are not at present pursuing any new technology infrastructure but we are actively pursuing the mining of data which our internal systems capture in an effort to optimize efficiencies and work smarter on each and every load. We take very seriously the information we capture and we do recognize it has things to teach us. We also try to communicate to our customers those areas where they can experience increased efficiencies and improved economies. It’s all part of working together to find better solutions.

Pries: We are using some forecasting tools within our operation to better predict where capacity is, where it’s going to be and what we need to do to adjust it to make sure it’s available to our clients. In our business forecasting of resources can make all the difference to a client.

CT&L: Last year was very busy one for Bison, of course. New logo, new headquarters, the investment in Tatonka, expansion of your U.S. market coverage. Are you planning on taking a breather this year or is it still full steam ahead?

Streuber: Last year was a very successful year for Bison Transport. In addition to the changes mentioned, we grew our fleet by 18%. We are looking forward to budgeted growth in 2004 of 10% on our fleet and that is prior to us introducing our new refrigerated division, which we expect to commence operations by the beginning of summer.

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