Modern Transportation focuses on providing high levels of safety, service, and reliability

May 3, 2017
OVER the past 30 years, Modern Transportation has emerged as a major bulk carrier of dry industrial bulk minerals and liquid chemicals, with concentrations in the South, Southeast, Northeast, and Midwest. In addition, Modern reaches as far west as Salt Lake City, Utah and the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming.

OVER the past 30 years, Modern Transportation has emerged as a major bulk carrier of dry industrial bulk minerals and liquid chemicals, with concentrations in the South, Southeast, Northeast, and Midwest. In addition, Modern reaches as far west as Salt Lake City, Utah and the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming. Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Modern Transportation and its 438 drivers serve customers with a fleet that includes 340 tractors and roughly 600 trailers. The fleet is dispersed across 24 locations spanning 16 states.

“We primarily focus on Fortune 1000 manufacturers and shippers who expect high levels of service reliability and safety,” says Patrick Cozzens, President of Modern Transportation. “We compete on service rather than rates, and that has been a successful strategy over the past three decades.

“We live our mission every day, which states that we will provide superior transportation services to our customers in the safest, most professional, and efficient manner. Every decision our leadership team makes throughout the course of a day stays consistent with our mission.

“The strong customer service focus and solid customer relationships we foster have helped with the expansion into liquid chemicals. Our current business mix is approximately 70% dry bulk and 30% liquid chemicals, including both hazardous and non-hazardous commodities.” Modern reports that they intend to grow both of these market segments, with accelerated growth on the liquid side. “We fully expect our dry and liquid mix to be 50-50 within the next 12 to 15 months,” reports Cozzens.

“We believe 2017 will be a good year for us. We recognize an impending capacity crunch, and shippers are asking for longer-term contracts. The economy is getting stronger, and we hope to see increased infrastructure funding sooner than later.”

A Company of Family Values

Modern Transportation got its start in 1987 when a sister company needed a carrier to haul soda ash from a railyard near Butler, Pennsylvania to a glass manufacturer 90 miles away. Today, that first shipper still remains as one of Modern’s largest customers.

The founders of Modern were entrepreneurs who had worked together and had years of experience in the transportation and logistics industries. Further, they shared “family values” and a vision to create a company where people are appreciated, respected, and valued for the talents they bring to the table. To this day, those founders still serve as members of the board of directors. And those core values continue to drive Modern’s success by attracting safe, experienced drivers and professional, successful, and innovative managers.

The range of cargoes has broadened significantly over the years. Today, dry bulk cargoes include a wide range of minerals used in the production of glass-based products, including soda ash, limestone, and sand. Materials used in building products include granules for shingles and carbon chemicals used in exterior siding and gypsum for wallboard.

More recently, the carrier has been hauling frac sand, drilling chemicals, and water in various oil and gas shale plays. Modern Transportation has also moved into specialty chemicals and petrochemicals. Liquid cargoes include foodgrade glycerin, various acids, and other hazmat and non-hazmat liquids.

On the dry bulk side, Modern Transportation’s dedicated hauls typically range from 60 to 90 miles, with three hundred miles as the maximum trip length. Liquid shipments average 200 to 300 miles, with the maximum being 2,000 miles.

Modern Transportation trucks and drivers are dispatched by Terminal Managers from the locations to which they are assigned. To support the safety and operational performance of the terminals, three Regional Operation Directors are geographically positioned throughout the system.

Tech savvy

Due in part to Cozzens’ experience in the high-tech sector, the carrier has created managerial dashboards that provide visibility to dynamic operations data from various sources. Through the years, data had been stored in nine separate databases. Yet, among the streamlining Cozzens brought to Modern, creating Modern’s single “data warehouse” has been one of the most significant.

“We are very much a data-driven company,” Cozzens says. “We have leaders throughout our company with years of successful experience. We rely upon that experience, yet typically temper decisions with the intelligence that our historic data provides us.”

Every member of leadership has a customized dashboard interface that is tailored to the individual’s specific area of responsibility. The system provides real-time visibility to key metrics, providing a solid basis upon which to make operational decisions throughout the business day. Managers are able to monitor the daily productivity of each tractor, trailer, and driver to make better decisions in near real time.

In addition, the system has improved Modern Transportation’s ability to maximize payloads. A daily report indicates when dry bulkers and tank trailers haven’t been filled to maximum capacity at shipper locations. This has allowed Modern to collaborate with customers and engage the drivers to maximize loads, maximize resource utilization, and create a win-win for everyone involved.

The carrier also has improved its ability to analyze cargo seasonality. By examining and analyzing freight patterns and lane volumes, managers can proactively shift equipment and drivers to locations that are busier.

Busy drivers

Maximizing fleet productivity includes slip-seating company tractors whenever possible. “We do our best to keep equipment running around the clock,” says Tim Dougan, Modern’s Director of Corporate Development. “Whenever we can reap greater productivity from a fixed cost, we are enhancing our profitability and our ability to re-invest in our people and our operation.”

Finding plenty of motivated, skilled drivers is a management objective and Modern has always focused on experienced truck drivers.

Tammy Bennett, Modern Transportation’s Director of Human Resources, explains the reason for the adjustment in driver recruitment strategy: “The nature of our customer and product mix demands a highly-skilled professional. With the inception of social media and the emergence of electronics and artificial intelligence, climbing behind the wheel doesn’t seem to attract as many new people to that profession. Times have changed, as we recognize the enhanced challenges of recruitment and retention.”

“Our turnover rate in 2014 was 72%, a period of time during which our company was growing rapidly. We were able to reduce turnover to 67% in 2015 and down to 56% in 2016”, reports Bennett. “One initiative that has served our turnover efforts well has been our introduction of exit interviews. When a team member makes the decision to separate, we reach out to have a conversation to find out their reasoning. As we begin to see patterns, we work to address those reasons.”

“Not only have we taken steps to address any common concerns that might arise, but we’ve also developed an Outbound Recruiting Process. In 2016, we hired a seasoned, successful outbound recruiter who knows what we’re seeking and knows where to find the kind of team members we wish to attract,” shared Bennett. “Furthermore, we work to promote our family culture. Although our culture promotes value and appreciation, whenever we place someone new in a leadership position, we take steps to assure his or her leadership style promotes the culture we desire.

“Finally, we rely heavily upon social media. Our Facebook page and our Twitter are simply two additional ways to help our drivers recognize the value they bring to our organization.”

Driver recruiting

Another advantage the Outbound Recruiting Process provides Modern is the ability to focus upon drivers who meet their minimum qualifying standards. For example, recruits must be at least 24 years of age. Further, over the past five years he or she must exhibit a minimum of 2 years of safe truck driving experience. Specifically seeking that caliber of candidate enables Modern to move those top candidates through the hiring process more quickly. “Prior liquid load experience is an absolute must,” states Tony Cutuli, Modern’s Senior Director of Safety and Workers Compensation. “We know tanker drivers possess a set of skills that are refined through years of experience. We also recognize the enhanced skillsets that liquid tank drivers must possess.”

In the effort to find just the right professional truck drivers, Modern Transportation managers review a 10-year work history for each applicant. “Although we look at the last decade, we tend to really hone in on the past five years. Anyone exhibiting recklessness or careless driving, numerous speeding violations, driving under the influence, distracted driving, and even seatbelt violations are politely excused from consideration,” Cutuli says. “For Modern, Safety is not simply something on our Wish List.”

“We have traveling Regional Driver Trainers who provide education for our new hires at the driver’s home terminal,” shares Cutuli. “Those trainers have high standards that absolutely must be met before a driver is permitted to serve our customers.”

Once the initial education is complete, the three Regional Driver Trainers also provide recurrent Smith System of Defensive Driving throughout Modern’s system. “We’ve always been regarded as a carrier who always puts safety to the forefront, a reputation that is reflected in our CSA scores and numerous safety awards. Smith System education simply served to accentuate that dedication to safety. In addition, our drivers seemed to embrace the 5 Keys of Safety outlined by Smith System,” says Cutuli. “Incident rates are down, and we know that the Smith System training has greatly contributed to that success.”

A key element in the Modern’s overall approach to safety has been the carrier’s “Home Safe Tonight!” mantra. Banners at each fleet location tout the slogan “I promise to do everything I can to ensure that I go home safe tonight!” and are signed by every member of the Modern Transportation team based at a location. “We are extremely passionate about that part of our Mission, and we are continuing to build on it,” Cozzens says. “In many of our terminals, and indeed our Corporate Office, ‘Home Safe Tonight!’ is often the last thing our team members hear before leaving on a run or at the end of a business day.”

Each Modern Transportation facility conducts a Monthly Safety Discussion which covers a wide range of topics. Members of Terminal Leadership may review relevant aspects of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s CSA program, workplace injuries, fatigue management, and company policies. Perhaps the most impactful discussions, however, surround specific safety events that may have occurred at Modern. “Thankfully, those are extremely few and far between,” notes Cutuli.

Safe fleet

The focus on safety extends to the fleet—both tractors and trailers. PeopleNet on-board computers handle electronic driver logs. Nearly every tractor contains collision avoidance and roll stability systems, and the newest trailers also have roll stability.

Most recently, Modern has invested in the next generation of safety. With a timeline of the end of May, every Modern tractor will have a Lytx DriveCam® installed. “This product is an inward and outward event recorder, triggered whenever a safety “event” occurs. Should abrupt braking, aggressive acceleration, or lane swerving occur, the event recorder will capture a portion of video before and after the event,” Cozzens says. “Our drivers have been asking for the on-board cameras, as they will clearly illustrate the challenges our drivers experience every day. Already these event recorders have exonerated drivers who otherwise may have been blamed for a mishap.”

A majority of the company tractors are leased from major full-service lease providers. Key tractor lessors providing Modern Transportation with tractors are Old Dominion Truck Leasing, Ryder System Inc, and Penske Truck Leasing.

“Our tractor lease programs have been extremely successful, due in large part by the caliber of companies with which we partner,” says Bob Smith, Modern’s Senior Director of Equipment & Maintenance. “They afford us high-quality service and a flexibility that bodes well for our service product. Leasing serves to minimize our capital investment in rolling stock. Further, it enables us to leverage the fleet management skills and the maintenance infrastructure of the truck leasing companies.”

Modern employs sleeper tractors for longer chemical hauls, while the majority of daycab units are Freightliner Cascadias. Most recently, they have introduced daycabs from Mack and Volvo as the newest members of the Modern fleet, yet geography occasionally dictates that they also run tractors from other major manufacturers.

The newest tractors have 15-liter diesel engines rated at 455 horsepower and automated manual transmissions. Manual transmissions are specified for tractors operating in the dump and oilfield applications, by virtue of their off-road and terrain challenges. Modern has begun testing a 6x2 axle configuration for improved fuel efficiency, especially when the un-driven axle is lifted during empty backhauls, which are a major component of our dedicated business model.

Alternate Fuels

Modern continues on the forefront of testing alternate fuels. Natural gas fueled tractors have been a part of their fleet since 2013, and of the 20 units currently in the fleet, 15 are fueled with liquefied natural gas while five use compressed natural gas. All of the natural gas tractors have 12-liter Cummins Westport engines rated at 400 horsepower. Modern is proud of their dedication to alternate fuels, particularly in light of depressed diesel prices. That dedication speaks volumes to their commitment to sustainability and environmentally responsibility.

“When 12-liter natural gas engines became available a few years back, we insisted on obtaining enough units to conduct meaningful testing,” Cozzens says. “Even in the face of lower diesel prices, we feel natural gas still has its place as a truck fuel. Our natural gas trucks are application specific, run about 1,200 miles a day, and are used on dedicated routes. And if you haven’t noticed, diesel prices are on the rise.”

“Almost all of our dry bulk movements are dedicated hauls. We meet specific customer requirements and are anxious to work with our customers on innovative projects.

“Over the past three years, we’ve found our natural gas fueled trucks to be popular with our drivers. They find the engines to be quieter than diesel engines and fuel more quickly. Plus, drivers report that their clothes don’t smell like diesel at the end of their shift.”

So what’s next for this three-time winner of SmartWay’s Excellence Award? “We’ve already entered into discussions regarding electric tractors,” declares Cozzens. “Not only does the concept run consistent with our commitment to the environment, but fewer moving parts equates to streamlined fleet maintenance processes. When it comes time to test, we plan to be involved.”

For product handling of dry bulk cargoes, Modern Transportation specifies Gardner Denver or Tuthill blowers on tractors. Trucks used to haul chemicals have remote mounted cast iron pumps and air compressors powered by hydraulics.

Trailer fleet

Manufactured by Heil Trailer International and MAC Trailer Manufacturing, most of the dry bulk trailers in the fleet are owned by Modern Transportation. Dry bulker capacity ranges from 850 to 2,000 cubic feet.

Of the dry bulk trailers in the fleet, 223 are configured for gravity unload with 12-inch gate valves and 192 are unloaded pneumatically. For safety, the trailers have remote operated domelids from RMC Engineering and Bellseng. BTI is the preferred supplier of valves and other hardware on the trailers.

The newest trailers have been specified with Hendrickson axle/suspension systems. Some of the trailers also have Haldex lift axles. Running gear includes Goodyear tires and Alcoa aluminum disc wheels.

About 90% of the 70 liquid chemical trailers in the fleet are leased, and lessors include Transport Resources, Global Tank Leasing LLC, Dana, Tremcar, Paragon Tank leasing, and Jack Olsta Co. The most recent purchases have been for 7,000-gallon Heil DOT407 trailers and 7,000-gallon Mac non-code tankers used for glycerin. The carrier also runs some DOT407 aluminum tankers built by Tremcar and Mac.

Tank hardware includes Betts domelids and product outlets and Girard pressure and vacuum relief vents. Product hoses are supplied by Hart Industries. Tank trailers are specified with safety ladders and the ladders and manhole box have secure points for fall protection. Drivers are required to wear a safety harness and fall-arresting lanyard when working on top of a tank.

“We do all we can to ensure that our drivers go home safely at the end of every shift,” Cozzens says. “At the same time, we run the sort of equipment that enables us to provide our customers with the safe and reliable service they require. Our commitments to our employees and our customers are designed to ensure that Modern Transportation is one of the best tank truck carriers in the industry.”   ♦

About the Author

Charles Wilson

Charles E. Wilson has spent 20 years covering the tank truck, tank container, and storage terminal industries throughout North, South, and Central America. He has been editor of Bulk Transporter since 1989. Prior to that, Wilson was managing editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter and associate editor of Trailer/Body Builders. Before joining the three publications in Houston TX, he wrote for various food industry trade publications in other parts of the country. Wilson has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and served three years in the U.S. Army.