Wegmans Drivers Discuss Sustainability, Safety, and Comfort

Wegmans yardman Greg hauls trailers around the 1500 Brooks Ave. yard using a fully electric yard truck.

For years, the Wegmans fleet and sustainability teams have focused on eliminating diesel from our fleet, with the ultimate goal of operating a carbon-free fleet. While the available technology just isn’t where it needs to be for us to reach our goal in the immediate future, the team continues to make headway through the use of alternative fuels, electrification, and collaborative partnerships with technology suppliers. In 2022 alone, we eliminated 45 diesel-powered trucks and replaced them with Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) ones. We also started the transition to fully electric yard trucks. We recently sat down with Wegmans truck driver Rob Culmone and yardman Greg Huffer to learn how our path to a greener fleet is not only good for the environment, but also for our people and our company.

Tell me a little about your background.

Rob: I’ve been with Wegmans approximately 16.5 years. I was here for one year part time, while also working for a local distributor. Wegmans offered me a fulltime job, twice actually. I turned them down the first time because of my other job, and then realized how good of a company it is and that they (Wegmans) aren’t going anywhere. I took the job with the goal of retiring from here.

I also joined the safety team 7 years ago, where we focus on ensuring the safety of our drivers.

Greg: I’ve been with Wegmans almost seven years. I’m the yardman at Brooks Avenue (distribution center). Ever since the day I got here, I’ve loved it. I drove for four or five other companies previously. I was a yardman at my previous job, and before that, I drove over the road for approximately 30 years.

How does it feel working for a company that is committed to a sustainable fleet?

Greg: Personally, it makes me feel better because I’m not smelling or breathing in any exhaust. When I leave at the end of the day, I feel better about myself, and I’m not as worn down as when I was driving a diesel truck. I’m pretty amazed and can’t believe the extent Wegmans goes through to try new things. If they feel it’s going to help the company, then they go for it, and 99.9 percent of the time it benefits not just the company, but also the drivers.

Rob: It’s great. If anyone growing up has gone down the road back in the day, and you just watched those diesel trucks pump out that black smoke for 10 gears, 15 gears, and just blowing it up. Now you get a good feeling that you’re driving down the road in pretty much an emissions-free truck. It makes me feel good, and I think the younger generation likes that too.

Rob has driven for Wegmans for nearly 17 years.

Rob, you were with Wegmans prior to the introduction of CNG trucks to our Rochester fleet in 2015. How does driving a CNG tractor compare to driving a diesel one?

Rob: In my almost 17 years, I’ve driven everything from brand new diesel trucks, all the way up to the current CNGs and the recent demo of the Nikola truck. Our first CNG trucks were Kenworth trucks – beautiful trucks, well-built. However, their transmission wasn’t friendly with the motor; it didn’t match up well. The fleet team listened to driver feedback and did everything they could to get those trucks to run well, but they couldn’t figure it out. That’s when we made the switch to our current Volvo trucks with the six-speed Allison Transmission that drives like a car. Initially, the drivers going from the Kenworth to the Volvo were worried that we were getting more of these CNG trucks and it’s not going to be good. But they got in them, and they’re like, “wow, this drives like a car. It takes off really good, shifts smooth.” Everyone’s really happy about them.

Our CNG trucks today are great. They’re top of the line, efficient. A little under horsepower, but that could change with a new motor coming out next year. They’re a little less on fuel milage, but better on emissions in the air. There’s no more black soot coming out of our trucks, and that’s a huge plus.

Greg, what does a yardman do?

Greg: We put empty trailers on the dock for outbound grocery to be delivered to the stores. Once they’re loaded, we put them out in the yard and the drivers will come and get them. Then we have back hauls. Whenever they call for a back haul, we grab the trailer that’s in the yard and put it on the dock for unloading. That’s what we do all day long.

Greg, you have a long career of driving, and I’m assuming most of that time’s been driving diesel trucks. How does driving an electric yard truck differ from driving a diesel one?

Greg: I’ve been driving the electric yard truck approximately five months. The biggest difference between the two is the noise. There’s no noise and no vibration. The thing that’s amazing, is because there is hardly any sound, so you can hear everything that’s going on around you. If someone blows a horn, you can actually hear it. It’s amazing. It’s like driving an oversized golf cart. That’s what it sounds like. The power is there, just like a diesel. There’s no emissions, which is great for the environment. I love it. After I started driving it, I fell in love with it. I was hesitant at first – I didn’t think it was going to be able to do the job, but it will keep up with a diesel with no problem. They’re very reliable.

We’ve tested class-8 electric trucks for our fleet, but with their limited range, they aren’t a good fit for our fleet. Why does electric make sense for our yard trucks?

Greg: On a full charge, I can run the truck for an 8-hour shift and there will be approximately 60 percent left of the battery. I average around 17 miles a day around the yard. We have 3 chargers on site, so when one truck is not being used, it’s always plugged in. Even if someone goes on break for a half hour, they plug it in.

Wegmans is known for being a values-based company. How has that come into play with their focus on fleet technology?

Greg: High standards. They are always safety conscience of all us drivers, and they’re always looking out for the best things for us. That’s one of the big things why I like working here. They’re always looking out for us.

Rob: Caring is one of the big ones, but also, the respect we get as Wegmans drivers and how the company treats us. There are a lot of things on these Volvos that are fantastic. The company didn’t have to add them – it’s not a standard in the industry. We have heated wiper blades, so the days of pulling over and having to snap the wiper blades to get the ice off them are over. We also have heated windshields, headlights, and mirrors.

Another safety aspect is the lane departure warning system and blind spot monitoring, similar to what you find on a lot of cars these days. The thing in these trucks is, when you turn your signal on, if there’s a vehicle there, a yellow light will flash, but it also beeps a horn inside the cab. It’s huge because if you don’t see the light for some reason, you’ll hear the horn, which will hopefully stop you from moving over and preventing an accident.

We have heated and massage seats, and touchscreen radios with Apple CarPlay. We also have a multifunctional steering column, which a lot of trucks don’t have. We have telescopic, tilt, and raise, but also the opportunity to tilt it up and down. That’s all about comfort, so when you get in there and you have multiple seat settings, it’s nice to be able to get in your comfort zone. As far as the company going above and beyond with these trucks, they absolutely did.

To learn more about our sustainability efforts, visit our sustainability spotlight page.