Chew on This: eBOL Makes its Debut

August 9, 2023

Chew on This is a blog series featuring insights and commentary from our Director of Less Than Truckload (LTL), Tom Chew. In each post, Tom shares his thoughts on a variety of topics related to the LTL industry, including trends, best practices, and industry news. Chew on This is a must-read for anyone interested in staying up to date on all things LTL.

There is never a dull moment in transportation!

The past month was full of changes within the LTL space. We saw the third largest LTL carrier file for bankruptcy after 99 years and a rollout of electronic bill of lading (eBOL).


Yellow files for bankruptcy

The big news everyone in the transportation industry has been talking about is that Yellow Corp. has filed for bankruptcy. Yellow was the country’s third largest LTL carrier, accounting for roughly 10% of the LTL market share, and it did $5.245 billion in revenue in 2022. From a shipment count perspective, it handled an average of 49,000 shipments per day in 2022.


What caused Yellow’s demise?

It is worth noting that Yellow avoided bankruptcy multiple times in the past. However, it was reported in March that its debt was $1.5 billion, with $729.2 million owed to the federal government. The Treasury Department granted Yellow a $700 million loan in 2020, and it had paid $67 million in cash interest as of June 30.

When reports came out that Yellow would not be able to contribute to the workers’ health benefits in July, the union announced it would strike. This was averted at the last minute when the fund agreed to give Yellow a 30-day extension. Unfortunately, the damage was done. During the weeks of stories about Yellow’s financial woes and mounting uncertainty, multiple shippers and brokers had been steadily moving their business to other LTL carriers to avoid freight getting stuck should a strike occur.


What is happening now?

With Yellow out of the picture, all that freight must go somewhere, right? Thankfully, the LTL market has plenty of capacity for those shipments to find a home. We are seeing a fluctuation of business to carriers they did not have before, so there will be an adjustment period. There have been slower transit times and service issues as carriers adapt to the newfound volume. Shippers who previously used Yellow will see their prices increase as Yellow was predominantly a lower-cost carrier. On a positive note, all of this will work itself out over time, and because things were slower before Yellow went under, other carriers can pick up the business Yellow used to handle.


Electronic Bill of Lading (eBOL) makes its debut 

One of the initiatives by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) started in 2019 was creating a standard for an eBOL. The group inside the NMFTA is called the Digital LTL Council, and they spent three years getting stakeholders together to discuss and enhance the standard. In 2022 the Digital LTL Council called carriers, shippers, and third-party logistics (3PL) companies to embrace the new standard eBOL application programming interface (API). The implementation took place on July 20, 2023, and multiple carriers and 3PLs have started utilizing this feature.

In creating a standard process, the industry is getting rid of uncertainty surrounding issues such as:

  • Obtaining tracking (PRO) numbers
  • Identification and communication of what is being shipped
  • Details such as how many pallets are involved, and which articles are on the pallets
  • Packaging type
  • Ensuring the appropriate equipment is being used to pick up the shipment


How does the eBOL work?

The eBOL allows information for a shipment to be sent to a carrier and billed in their system via an API connection. In the past, this has been done via paper BOLs, and it takes time for the paperwork to get returned to the original service center by the driver, processed, imaged, and billed overnight. There is a massive cost savings benefit and a quicker turnaround time for getting shipments invoiced in a carrier’s system. This also allows the carrier to have visibility on a shipment before it is even picked up. The cost savings can be passed on to the shipper or 3PL participating in the eBOL program. Another benefit for the 3PL is giving them greater visibility on their customer’s shipment by already having information like the PRO number. There are multiple benefits to participating in the program for all parties involved!


In conclusion

Yellow filing for bankruptcy makes it the largest LTL carrier since Consolidated Freightways (CF) in 2002 to file for bankruptcy. The market is adjusting accordingly, and the remaining carriers working through issues with new volume will improve with time. Meanwhile, the eBOL is a welcome change, and I am excited to see how it enhances the user experience from all perspectives. Kudos to everyone involved in making it a reality!