4 Tachographs : a German operator's experience
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CORDES AND SIMON of Schwenningen, in the Black Forest area of southern Germany, are typical German haulage contractors. The firm operates 40 vehicles of varying types and sizes from three depots and it may, in many ways, be compared to a British operator of a similar number of vehicles; the German transport industry is very comparable with our own because it comprises, in the main, many relatively small firms.
On a recent visit I talked to Dr Herbert Cordes, proprietor of the firm, at his Schwenningen depot where 10 of the vehicles are based. He outlined his pattern of operations and explained the important part that tachographs, fitted in all his vehicles, play in the control and economic assessment of his business.
Under German law all vehicles of more than 7.5 tons gross weight must be fitted with tachographs. Compulsory fitting of these instruments appears to be acceptable to most operators, so much so that many of them voluntarily install the instruments in vehicles below this weight. Certainly, tachographs are acceptable to the OTV, the German equivalent of our TGWU, and Germait drivers; in fact, the history of the use of the instruments in Germany shows the union to have been as keen as anybody to have them made a legal requirement.
Dr Cordes' introduction to tachographs was in 1954 when two vehicles he purchased had them fitted as standard. The charts from these first two instruments were kept on file purely to satisfy the legal requirement and they were put to no other use.
This situation continued for a number of years until quite by chance Dr Cordes was invited by the Institute of Transport Technology of Cologne University to take part in a series of comparative cost assessments. The original intention of the Institute was to undertake a full comparative efficiency exercise among the participating hauliers (about 10 in number) but this proved too difficult because of the variety of traffics and methods of operation of the group. The cost comparison, therefore, was restricted to, the common factors such as tyres, fuel oil, maintenance and repairs and wages.
Dr Cordes found from the early comparisons that, while most of his cost figures were Very favourable, his cost per kilometre for tyres was much higher than the other participants. In an endeavour to discover the reasons for this he asked Kienzle7 Apparate GmbH the tachograph manufacturers, to help, which they did by subjecting a series of his tachograph charts to their analysis procedure.
The results of the analysis showed that in general the vehicles were being driven too fast and braked too hard, resulting in the heavy tyre wear. The analysis reports, Dr Cordes said, opened his eyes to the information which the charts could reveal and which he had not bothered with previously.
His first step was to talk to the drivers, showing them what he had found out and instructing them to keep within a maximum speed of 60 kph (37-i mph). From then on he made considerable use of the charts in studying driving techniques and at the same time he looked at the work done by his drivers. He found that drivers were delaying journeys so that they could clock up 12 hours away from base which entitled them, under German income tax law, to claim 22 marks (£2.50) expenses for the day tax-free. Dr Cordes' knowledge of the area and the customers enabled him to see where drivers were hanging out their time and to take the necessary action.
These investigations served the additional purpose of verifying for the income tax inspectors, whose duty it is to ensure that there is no collusion with the drivers to get this tax-free money, that the claims were genuine and could be proved by the charts. The income tax inspectors are now happy to examine the charts for this purpose and accept them as satisfactory evidence of the claims.
Dr Cordes uses the charts as the basis on which he pays wages (drivers' average basic salary is £1900 a year) and the expenses mentioned above plus a free telephone call home which they are allowed on the nights away from home. The charts are also used for distinguishing between good and bad drivers. Bad drivers are dismissed, but the good ones are rewarded in accordance with an incentive scheme, payments being made twice yearly, in May and before Christmas; for a consistently good driver these can amount to some 600 marks (about £69) a year.
The standard of driving is assessed by the Kienzle analysis department from charts selected at random by Dr Cordes. Kienzle issues a report of its findings, recommendations as to how any shortcomings may be rectified and an assessment of the driving ability indicated on the chart. The assessment is in four grades, very good, good, satisfactory and unsatisfactory. The assessment is made for both town driving and cross-country driving and the report relates in detail general and specific driving errors, mileages omitted, mathematical errors and even technical faults with the instrument if any have developed.
In addition to the incentive scheme for careful driving, a bonus is given for each year of accident-free driving; this amounts to 200 marks (about £23) plus 30 per cent of the no-claims bonus on the compulsory vehicle insurance.
There are no queries or arguments from drivers about any payments of wages, expenses or bonuses because they know that these items will have been checked on the charts. They are, however, free to examine the charts themselves at any time. In fact, contrary to the spy-in-the-cab attitude adopted in this country about tachographs, in Germany it is the usual practice to leave the key in the instrument so that the driver is at liberty to open it any time and see what recordings have been made.
One of the most important uses to which Dr Cordes puts the tachograph charts is in route planning. He operates a changeover trunk service between Schwenningen and one of his other depots near Dortmund in the North of Germany, a distance of 565 kilometres away. This service was carefully planned and timed by the use of the charts, and it now operates very smoothly.
The original problem facing Dr Cordes was to try to increase the number of trips per week and at the same time make them more socially advantageous for the drivers. His planning resulted in an operation in which two lorry and trailer combinations carrying 23 /24 tons are used, one from each end. The vehicles and the trailers are fitted with identical demountable bodies so that at the changeover point the two trailers are exchanged complete and the vehicles exchange bodies.
The changeover point is at Mannheim which is 200km north of Schwenningen; the reason that this place was chosen, far from the halfway point, is twofold. One is that to change halfway would have meant drivers from both ends exceeding the statutory maximum daily driving distance of 450km and eight hours' driving time so that a second driver would be required on both vehicles; and the other that road conditions are far superior from the north without the long, tortuous climbs, meaning that timing the meeting would be most difficult.
The plan for the operation is that one driver leaves Schwenningen at 8 pm nightly, getting to Mannheim at about midnight, the same time as the northern vehicle which left base at 6 pm with two drivers. The northern vehicle gets back to its base at about 7 am, one driver having driven for 8 hours and the other for 4 hours. This second driver goes off duty and then comes on again at 6 pm and drives the trunker till 10 pm, thereby completing 8 hours' driving in the day. Then the remainder of the journey to Mannheim and the return is driven by the fresh driver who started with him at 6 pm. In this way three drivers operate the vehicle for 24 hours over two night shifts.
The tachograph is an essential element of control in this operation and it also, because of certain exemptions in the German records regulations, allows the drivers on the trunk run exemption from keeping a record book. This exemption relates to vehicles that are engaged on a regular trunk route journey between two fixed points and, to qualify, the drivers must have in their possession at all times written instructions concerning the trunk journey for three weeks ahead.
The trunk vehicles are equipped with radio-telephones so they can be contacted from any ordinary telephone and they can also contact each other should the need arise. In the event of some delay to one vehicle the other one travels farther to a secondary rendezvous to help make up the lost time. The drivers on the trunk run are given a great deal of flexibility and responsibility, although on the surface the thing appears to be very strictly controlled. Of course, a trip of this nature could not be too rigidly restrained from either end because of the hazards which might be encountered but experience has shown that the discipline of the drivers ensures a smooth operation.
The trunk service is the backbone of the