Pictured from left to right: Alex Radosavljevic and Sammy Leylek

From first mile to last, trucking companies are the lifeblood of the North American supply chain. It can be easy to forget that behind each shipment are real people doing some of the most challenging work in the industry.

We recently sat down with one of our valued carrier partners, Fresh & Frozen, to gain insight into what it’s like to work as a truck driver or dispatcher.  We interviewed Alex Radosavljevic, a local driver who has been with the company for two years. Dispatcher Sammy Leylek was also on hand to give his unique perspective.  Here’s what they had to say.

How did you get into trucking?

Alex: I had been working at a factory previously, where I had a driving job.  From there, I decided to apply for a Commercial Driver’s License and switched to driving trucks. I originally worked as a long-haul driver, but now I’m doing local runs.

What made you switch to local runs?

Alex: It’s nice because I get to come home every day. It’s more conducive to my lifestyle. It’s actually logistically more challenging because I’m doing multiple stops per day—sometimes 4 or 6 deliveries in one day.  But on the other hand, it’s better for my body.

What do you like most about driving?

Alex: I like the autonomy. I get my assignment for the day, get my coffee, and just drive.  I get to listen to whatever I want—usually either news on the radio or something on YouTube. I like to switch between music and something educational.  When I’m listening to an interesting newscast or podcast, time flies.

What else do you do to pass the time?

Alex: I bring an RC (radio/remote-controlled) toy car with me for when I’m stopped. I’ll get that out and play with it in the parking lot.  Otherwise, I like to watch YouTube videos on my phone. I don’t have a sleeper cabin, but I’ve installed a bean bag chair where the passenger seat would normally be. Some people will try to sleep sitting up in the driver seat.  I couldn’t do that. The bean bag chair is more comfortable.

Sammy: A lot of drivers also like to talk to each other to pass the time. They’ll get in these big group conversations over the phone, with several people on the line at once—like a party line.

Are you married and do you have kids?

Alex: Yes, I’m married. I’ve got one daughter and another one on the way. That’s another reason I’m not doing long-haul anymore.  After my daughter was born, I switched to local because being gone five days at a time was no longer worth it.

Have you ever missed a holiday because you were scheduled to drive?

Alex: I’m lucky because I’m Orthodox Christian, so my holidays don’t fall when most people’s do. Christmas and Easter come later for me, so it’s not typically a problem.  Many people don’t have that luxury though.

Sammy: It can be hard to get drivers to work on holidays, which makes my job hard because whether a truck is sitting or moving, I’m paying for it.  I once worked as a courier driver and had to work nights and holidays, so I can relate. It’s a sacrifice. I missed a lot of my kids growing up.

It depends on the person though. Some like being away for long periods of time and some don’t.  Some people only go home once every three months and are fine with that.  They’ll take care of their bills and other household items from their phones. Others will drive with their spouse in a team. Husband and wife team drivers are pretty common, but also in high demand because they can do more hours at a time.

As a dispatcher, what challenges do you regularly face?

Sammy: My biggest challenge is feeding loads to drivers and making sure the trucks are rolling so that we can make a profit. Many people don’t understand how cost per mile varies by city. For drivers, no matter where you send them, they make the same amount per mile.  That’s not the case for me. It’s all about balancing out lanes to make a profit.

Some drivers won’t take certain loads or won’t go to certain cities. I’d like for drivers to put themselves in my shoes. At the end of the day, I want them to make money, but I have to make money too.  We have to work together and compromise. For example, if you’re sitting and your shipment doesn’t deliver until the next day, take something else in the meantime, and I can get you something better in the next city. I don’t have a magic wand. I can’t always say “poof, here’s a California load for $6K.”

What are your thoughts on the upcoming ELD mandate?

Sammy: Unfortunately, everyone has to comply by December of this year. There’s no getting out of it.  About a third of our trucks are already outfitted with ELDs. Safety-wise, it’s a good thing.

Alex: You think so?  I’m not so sure about that. If I have to wait six hours for a shipper to load my truck, I’ll take a nap. But then I have less time to drive even though I’m wide awake because I already slept. Then, when I have to go off duty, I can’t sleep.  So, you end up with tired drivers on the road with irregular sleeping patterns.  Or drivers trying to make up for lost time, which is also dangerous.  I don’t think many shippers or receivers think about this.

Sammy: I’m worried that ELDs will kill some of our revenue. Drivers won’t be able to drive as many miles per day. They’ll get stuck waiting for hours to reset.

What can shippers and receivers do to ease the burden?

Alex: Load on time. Slow loading can really screw you up.  A lot of times, you’ll get inexperienced loaders trying to go fast, but they end up damaging the shipment, and it takes even more time. If you’re loading a full 30 pallets, it’s going to take you at least an hour—probably an hour and a half.  Any faster, and you’re cutting corners somehow.  My advice is to take your time, and don’t try to impress your boss.

Sammy: If shippers got more efficient with loading, and took more steps to prevent boxes from getting damaged or leaking, ELDs could work great.

Alex: Costco is really great to work with as a receiver. When I’ve got a Costco delivery, I pull in and there’s a person ready to take my paperwork.  I get a little pager, and they’re done in an hour or an hour and a half maximum—even when there’s a problem. Then a camera takes a picture of the shipment, and I’m on my way. Everything is really efficient.  It’s a good example for other shippers to look to. Unfortunately, this is the exception, not the norm.

Sammy: Another thing shippers can do is let you drop trailers.  If I can have my driver do something else in the meantime, that helps.

Do you like when shippers have “driver-friendly” facilities?

Sammy: Some places will have waiting areas that are like sports bars. Some of my drivers love that they can go in and chat with people.  It’s better than sitting in your cab.

Alex: It depends on the driver. Personally, I don’t care about amenities like that. I just want to get out fast so that I can keep making money.

What’s the biggest misconception about drivers?

Alex: That it’s easy.  The lifestyle especially can be very challenging.  You’re sitting in a box all day and you’ve got irregular sleeping patterns. It’s not for everyone.

To Alex, Sammy, and all the other truck drivers and dispatchers out there, whether you are new to moving our freight or have done so for years, your contribution and hard work have helped us build trust with some of the largest shippers in North America. We are grateful for all that you do and look forward to many more years of partnership.