Fuel Surcharge Axed
Lawmakers could bring provision back during highway bill compromise phase.
The mandatory fuel surcharge approved by the U.S. House in its highway bill is not part of the U.S. Senate version approved by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
The surcharge could reappear later, however, when the House and Senate work out differences in their respective bills.
The surcharge is opposed by 22 business, shipping and transportation groups, including the American Trucking Associations, the American Moving and Storage Association and the Motor Freight Carriers Association.
It also is opposed by the head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, who testified against it before a Senate subcommittee April 5.
The House’s surcharge legislation “would insinuate government into commercial relationships in a way that is ill-advised and that would reverse a quarter-century of U.S. economic policy,” Annette Sandberg told the Senate’s Surface Transportation subcommittee.
Sandberg also asked that the 2003 hours-of-service rule be made permanent, but with language that would allow FMCSA to revise it if necessary.
When Congress passed its most recent transportation funding extension, it required the current hours rule to be effective until the FMCSA issues a final rule. Federal courts have directed the agency to issue a new rule before Sept. 30.
“The new rule, like the old rule, will not please everyone,” Sandberg testified. “I am concerned that the revised rule will open the agency and the department to the same kinds of legal challenges we have experienced already.”
She expressed concern over proposed hours exemptions for agricultural transporters and utility vehicle drivers, exemptions that she said compromised safety.
- Backed an amendment that would require the U.S. transportation secretary, not the Commercial Vehicle Safety Administration, to issue inspection decals for Mexican trucks.
- Asked the committee to rework the passage it already approved that establishes medical review boards and creates a registry of qualified medical examiners. The language should provide advice on driver qualification standards, medical examiner education and research, Sandberg said.
- Noted her agency’s progress against household mover fraud in states with the biggest share of complaints: Florida, New York, New Jersey and California.
The Senate was expected to cast a final vote on the transportation funding bill in May, followed by the House and Senate’s conference process to reconcile differences between the two funding bills.
The Senate committee approved more than double the current amount of truck safety funding to states through the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program.
The bill also would:
- Require Mexican and Canadian hazmat haulers operating in the U.S. to undergo a background check equivalent to their American counterparts.
- Offer greater consumer protection against household mover fraud and create new penalties for movers who hold customers’ possessions hostage to increase profit. It also would allow states greater authority to enforce federal laws for the movement of household goods.
Fuel Costs Dampen Trucking Outlook in Some Regions
U.S. business activity continues expanding, but rising energy costs have softened trucking “somewhat” in several regions, the Federal Reserve reported.
From late February to early April, several Federal Reserve districts – Cleveland, Richmond, Chicago and Minneapolis – reported that higher fuel costs had forced trucking and shipping firms to install fuel surcharges.
Energy prices could soften consumer demand for the goods provided by trucks, the report noted.
In the Cleveland district, “While surcharges allow [carrriers] to almost entirely eliminate the impact of increases in fuel costs, companies are worried that these increases in shipping costs will eventually dampen demand,” the report said.
Manufacturers in the San Francisco district have said they will “keep production as close as possible to demand,” the report said.
Energy prices have made the Dallas district cautious about its business outlook, the report noted.
Still, Philadelphia’s district indicated increased trucking activity, and several districts reported moderate wage increases in trucking.
In the Cleveland district, wages and shipping rates remain stable except for surcharges, and companies in that district continue to hire drivers and add trucks to their fleets.
The Chicago district reported strong freight, although one analyst indicated some decrease in trucking during the first quarter.
The complete report is at this site.
ATA Outlines Goals for Transporting International Cargo in North America
The American Trucking Associations says it is ready to help fulfill the goals of the North American Security and Prosperity Partnership announced March 23 by leaders of the United States, Canada and Mexico.
In comments filed April 29 with the U.S. departments of Homeland Security, Commerce and Transportation, the ATA listed seven issues that it said should be addressed by the three nations in order to create “a level playing field for transporting international cargo throughout North America”:
- Full compliance with the trucking provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
- A comprehensive customs clearance system for commercial drivers.
- Speedier processing of fleets in the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program.
- Coordinated security programs, including background screening.
- Compatible hours-of-service rules that set minimum rest periods and maximum work periods.
- Compatible emission standards and widespread availability of ultra-low-sulfur diesel.
- A common set of equipment, technology and maintenance standards.
All ATA’s comments address “How can we work toward improving harmonization?” said Martine Rojas, ATA executive director of safety and security operations.
“Mexico and Canada are our largest trading partners, and the same is true vice versa,” Rojas said. “We are joined at the hip geographically and economically.”
The first issue is NAFTA, Rojas said.
“NAFTA has two sections. One is access and one is investment,” Rojas said. “Access allows trucks from one of the countries to deliver or pick up cargo and then take that cargo outside the country.”
As currently implemented, truckers can haul international cargo, but once they are in the foreign country, they cannot haul domestically, Rojas said. For example, a Mexican trucker can run a load from Mexico City to Dallas but then cannot legally haul from Dallas to Phoenix. Instead he can pull a load either back to Mexico or to Canada.
The ATA wants drivers of any origin to be able to haul anywhere, Rojas said. “That is a major piece. Right now it takes three tractors to move a single trailer across the border.”
The ATA wants U.S., Mexican and Canadian fleets to be able to establish carriers in another country for the purpose of hauling in that country.
The ATA wants a single customs transaction to suffice among the three countries. The Unites States and Canada are already working on separate automated systems, Rojas said.
The ATA wants to speed up FAST lane processing so that more drivers take advantage of it. Developed by the United States and Canada, the FAST program offers speedy custom clearance at a reduced cost to pre-approved importers, carriers and drivers.
The ATA wants a single background check process for the three nations.
“We want all three countries working together so that if we have another attack, then borders don’t completely shut down” as they almost did after Sept. 11, 2001, Rojas said. Known carriers and drivers should be able to “go ahead and ship their stuff,” Rojas said.
The ATA wants compatible hours rules, but nothing that would drop U.S. hours below the ones now in place, Rojas said. “With HOS, we want a harmonization, and that is difficult because there are different types of operations, both geographic and financial,” Rojas said.
The North American Security and Prosperity Partnership, announced by U.S. President George W. Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin and Mexican President Vicente Fox, seeks to make North American industries more globally competitive.
Cummins Boasts 45 Percent Brake Thermal Efficiency
Cummins announced May 3 that it has demonstrated an ISX heavy-duty truck engine with an increased brake thermal efficiency of 45 percent that nevertheless limits emissions to 2007 levels.
Current heavy-duty engines typically achieve a BTE of 41 percent. BTE is the amount of energy converted from diesel fuel into useful mechanical work. Increasing BTE creates more efficient machines with fewer emissions and better fuel economy.
“We are moving ahead to achieve an even higher 50 percent BTE target,” said Christine Vujovich, Cummins vice president for marketing and environmental policy.
Cummins is working with the U.S. Department of Energy to create the designs as part of the 21st Century Truck Partnership formed in 2001, its goal to reduce emissions tenfold while substantially increasing engine efficiency.
“Cummins has successfully demonstrated that the heavy-duty engine has the potential for even higher levels of efficiency while still meeting stringent emissions requirements,” said Edward Wall of the Department of Energy. “Looking ahead, this offers the opportunity for our trucks and buses to reduce fuel consumption and help reduce the nation’s dependency on imported oil.”
GATS Offers Two Free Country Concerts
The 2005 Great American Trucking Show has a star-studded lineup of country music performances. The sponsored concerts are free to GATS attendees.
Mobil Delvac is bringing Terri Clark to the 2005 Great American Trucking Show for a free concert at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 26, at the Dallas Convention Center.
Volvo Trucks is sponsoring Sammy Kershaw to the Great American Trucking Show for a free concert Saturday, Aug. 27, also at the convention center.
Free tickets will be distributed to registered show attendees the morning of the shows on a first-come, first-served basis.
Clark, whose hits include “Better Things to Do,” “When Boy Meets Girl” and “Girls Lie Too,” will perform a free concert at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 26, at the Dallas Convention Center.
Clark’s first album, released in 1995, went gold and spawned three Top 10 singles, and Billboard magazine named her Top New Female Country Artist.
The native of Medicine Hat, Alberta, has released five albums and a greatest hits collection. Her albums have gone gold, platinum, double platinum and triple platinum. She also is a member of the Grand Ole Opry.
Clark’s website is here. She and fellow GATS performer Sammy Kershaw sang a 1998 duet, “Love of My Life,” but there are no plans for the two to meet onstage at the event.
Kershaw, known for such hits as “She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful,” “I Can’t Reach Her Anymore,” “National Working Woman’s Holiday” and “Cadillac Style,” released his first album, Don’t Go Near the Water, in 1991.
Since then, Kershaw’s Cajun-tinged sound has propelled his music to multi-platinum status. He has eight albums and three greatest-hits compilations.
Kershaw’s website is here.
The 2005 GATS will be held Aug. 25-27 at in the Dallas Convention Center. For more information, call (800) 349-4287, or visit this site.
EPA Issues Warning Against Explosive Refrigerants
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is advising truck owners to avoid hydrocarbon refrigerants being sold as inexpensive substitutes for HFC-134a and CFC-12.
Marketed under such names as OZ-12, DURACOOL 12a, and HC-12a, the refrigerants are sold online and at flea markets as replacements for EPA-approved refrigerants. The EPA said they may contain large quantities of propane, butane or other highly flammable gases.
“Existing mobile air conditioning systems are not designed to use a hydrocarbon refrigerant that is highly flammable and similar to what supplies the fire in your back yard barbecue,” said Ward Atkinson, chair of the interior climate control standards committee of the Society of Automotive Engineers.
There is not enough proof hydrocarbon refrigerants will not leak from the mobile air conditioning systems to cause fires and explosions, the EPA said.
“Hydrocarbon blends can degrade gaskets and hoses designed for HFC-134a or CFC-12, making leaks more likely,” said Gary Hansen, vice president of engineering at Red Dot, which makes heavy-duty heating and air-conditioning systems.
Trained AC technicians can run a test to see whether the air conditioner has been serviced with the refrigerant it was designed for, Hansen said.
“Professional service includes electronic refrigerant identification, leak testing, leak repair, defective parts replacement, and recovery and recycling of refrigerant,” said Drusilla Hufford, director of EPA’s stratospheric protection division.
Using hydrocarbon refrigerants will void the air conditioner’s warranty, Hansen said. Vehicle manufacturers have not authorized the use of the refrigerants in current-production AC systems.
Hydrocarbon refrigerants are illegal in 19 states.
For more information, call the EPA Ozone Protection Hotline at (800) 296-1996 or visit this site.
U.S. House Approves Incentives to Replace or Upgrade Older Trucks
The U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment to its energy bill that would provide incentives to replace older trucks or add retrofits.
House members approved by voice vote April 21 the amendment to the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, D-Calif., sponsored the amendment that would provide $100 million for the program over two years, beginning in fiscal year 2006. Thirty-five percent of trucks on the road are more than 10 years old, Millender-McDonald said.
If the amendment is passed into law, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would award competitive grants to public agencies and entities for fleet modernization, while truck owners who participate in voluntary replacement or retrofit programs would receive tax-exempt incentive payments.
The amendment would also offer incentives to train technicians in advanced diesel technology and alternate-fuel engines.
Mack-backed Museum Breaks Ground
Jack Curcio, former CEO of Mack Trucks, formally broke ground April 29 on the long-awaited America on Wheels museum in Allentown, Pa.
The museum at Hamilton and North Front streets will focus on bicycles, motorcycles and automobiles as well as trucks. “America on Wheels is really telling the story of over-the-road trucking and the transportation industry,” museum director Carroll Cook said.
Mack will loan several classic vehicles to the museum, including a 1918 fire truck.
The museum also will house the offices of the Mack archives, documenting 105 years of Mack history, said Mack spokesman Bob Martin.
“We get several hundred requests a month from people asking about trucks they have bought,” Martin said. “Through the archives, we are able to tell them where the truck was made, when it was first bought, and where it was purchased.”
While the museum will be open to the public, access to the archives will be indirect, via a staff of curators.
The first person to imagine such a museum was former Mack President and CEO Zenon Hansen in the 1970s, Martin said. “We have a strong interest in seeing this come about since we were the first to think about it.”
The 43,000-square-foot museum will be the first step in the redevelopment of the former Allentown industrial area known as Lehigh Landing, near the Lehigh River.
Construction of the $15 million museum is being funded by government grants and by individual, foundation and corporate donations to a $4 million capital campaign. Operating costs will be paid out of an endowment funded by a $3 million grant from the American Truck Foundation, established by Hansen years ago to help bring the museum about.
The museum has been in the works for many years – indeed, a ceremonial groundbreaking was held in 2001 – but various obstacles delayed the project until now.
The Truck Tonnage Index fell 3.3 percent in March, the American Trucking Associations reported. The index dropped to 111.3, or 0.4 percent lower than a year earlier, the first year-over-year decrease since November 2001. This follows a revised 2.9 percent decline in February 2005.Tonnage volumes dipped because the economy was weighed down by slower consumer spending and higher energy costs, said Bob Costello, ATA chief economist.
Fuel Prices Down Slightly
The national average retail price of a gallon of diesel dipped 2 cents, to $2.262, for the week ending May 2.The average price was down in every region tracked by the U.S. Department of Energy, the biggest drop being 3 cents in the Midwest.
On average, diesel was most expensive on the West Coast at $2.530 a gallon and least expensive in the Midwest at $2.194.
North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven signed into law a bill that gives new vehicle owners control over information gathered by an event data recorder. The so-called “Black Box Bill,” says data recorded on any North Dakota motor vehicle manufactured after July 31 may not be retrieved over the vehicle owner’s objection without a court order.
The law allows some exceptions. For example, data could be retrieved by a vehicle dealer or technician in order to diagnose or repair it.
Truckers are now paying up to 35 percent more for tolls on the New York State Thruway. The Thruway board voted April 25 to approve the increase, the first general toll adjustment in 17 years. It will fund a seven-year Thruway improvement plan.
Petro Stopping Center celebrated its 30th anniversary April 22 by handing out free Iron Skillet birthday cake to customers at all of its locations. It also awarded 30 fueling customers with 30,000 Petro Passport points during April. The first Petro was founded off I-10 near El Paso, Texas, April 22, 1975.
Users of eTrucker.com now can post photographs and information about their trucks on the new eTrucker.com Truck Gallery. To load a digital picture of your truck, simply follow directions on the Truck Gallery section. Photos posted on the site will be considered for inclusion in the Reader Rigs section of Overdrive magazine.
eTrucker.com is owned by Randall Publishing Co., publisher of Truckers News, Overdrive and CCJ.
Wingfoot Commercial Tire Systems is assuming operation of eight Pilot Truck Care Centers in five states. The centers will retain the Pilot name. Wingfoot has 171 commercial tire sales, service and retread facilities nationwide.
The Knoxville-based Pilot Travel Centers has acquired and begun remodeling the High Point Travel Center in Winona, Miss. The Winona travel center, which will feature a Taco Bell restaurant, is located in Montgomery County off I-55 and Highway 82 on Exit 185 at 403 SW Frontage Road.
Truck Service Bay Expansion
TravelCenters of America is investing more than $30 million to increase the number of truck service bays at existing TA locations and establish stand-alone repair garages in key locations. On average, the bay expansion program will nearly double the number of bays at many TA locations, raising the total number of bays to 600 nationally by the end of 2006.