House says no to border program

| December 12, 2008

The U.S. House of Representatives voted against extending the Mexican carrier program. The House voted 395-18 to prevent U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters from granting authority to a Mexican carrier to operate beyond the border zone unless expressly authorized by Congress.

President Bush was expected to veto the bill because of NAFTA obligations.

Rep. Pete DeFazio’s bill, HR 6630, which blocked extension of the program, passed as amended Sept. 9. Information on how the Oregon Democrat’s bill was amended was not immediately available.

Voting in favor of the bill were 215 Democrats and 180 Republicans. It was opposed by 15 Republicans and three Democrats; 21 members did not vote. At press time, the Senate had not voted on it.

On Aug. 4, John Hill, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, announced he would continue the program two more years.

“The world is watching how we choose to honor our international commitments,” Hill said. “At a time of surging exports and growing demand by U.S. truck drivers for new opportunities, it is simply irresponsible for Congress to deny American drivers the opportunity to compete in Mexico and American shippers a more efficient and timely way of getting their goods south.”

The program has been a lightning rod for congressional criticism since it began a year ago. An amendment was passed in December to cut off funding for the program, but bill backers and Peters disagreed on interpretation of the bill’s wording, so the program continued.

Bush has consistently backed the program, although he signed the omnibus funding bill in December that contained the amendment backers had expected to stop the program. Immediately before the vote on DeFazio’s bill, the White House issued a statement that enactment of the bill would endanger the United States from meeting its North American Free Trade Agreement obligations.

Program opponents argue that NAFTA’s requirement for opening the border is contingent on Mexican trucks meeting standards equivalent to U.S. safety standards and background checks and charge that the DOT does not require Mexico to do so.
– Jill Dunn


Documentary focuses on truckers testing LoneStar
International Trucks, a division of Navistar, partnered with director Brett Morgen to produce a 45-minute documentary about three truckers’ stories as they drove across the country in new International LoneStars.

“Drive and Deliver” premiered Aug. 22 in Dallas during the Great American Trucking Show. Attendees had the opportunity to meet the film stars and Morgen, who has won awards as a producer and director of documentaries on subjects ranging from boxing to African-American music.

The LoneStar, marketed as a premium owner-operator tractor, is being shipped to dealers this month. “Drive and Deliver” is being released this month on DVD (available via www.InternationalTrucks.com/shop) and a series of local screenings at various International dealerships. Visit www.internationaltrucks.com for more information.


DAC report ruling goes against owner-operators
After a four-year fight, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association’s attempts at a class action against USIS’s DAC Services, the creator of truck drivers’ DAC reports, have stopped for the time being. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver Aug. 19 affirmed a lower court’s decision against the plaintiffs – five owner-operators.

At issue were the Termination Record Forms carriers provide to USIS upon the resignation or firing of an employee. The suit argued that the TRFs constituted a “consumer report” used for employment purposes, and hence the Fair Credit Reporting Act required notice to be sent by USIS to any driver upon receipt of a TRF that concerned the driver.

USIS’s Kent Ferguson, manager of the Employment History File database, in a late July interview, responded to the notion that drivers felt they were being “blacklisted” by DAC. He reflected the thrust of the court’s eventual decision, saying that USIS was not a one-stop shop for potential-employee information. “A trucking company can’t very well just look at a DAC report and not hire an individual because of that,” Furguson said. They are certainly aware of the way the system works and will do their follow-ups.”

Enforcing company follow-ups is a matter for the industry to address, Ferguson suggested, not USIS.

“Although a Supreme Court review is unlikely,” said attorney Paul Taylor, “I will be very surprised if this is the end of OOIDA litigation against USIS.”
– Todd Dills


Honk if you love makeovers
Donald Wolford Jr. of Greencastle, Pa., is the winner of Castrol Tection Extra’s 2008 Big Honkin’ Truck Makeover contest.

“This is truly a dream come true,” Wolford said. “I have been driving big rigs for 20 years and this will provide me the career boost so I am able to stay on the road for 20 more.”

“We wanted to give back to one deserving driver who values the maintenance of his truck and relies on its performance and aesthetics for business success,” said Tracy Drelich of BP Lubricants USA.

The Chrome Shop Mafia did the interior and exterior customizing for the $50,000 makeover. The job included products from these sponsors:

  • Go Green Fuel Hydrogen Enrichment Technology system
  • Continental Tire North America
  • Alcoa Wheels
  • National Seating
  • Sirius Satellite Radio
  • Grote Industries
  • Your Truck Shop

Truck stop with biodiesel plant opens in Virginia
The first site to offer a truck stop with an adjacent biodiesel production facility has opened in Virginia.

Red Birch Energy describes itself as “from farm to fuel,” selling bodiesel from canola seed at significantly less than diesel. In August, Red Birch Country Market Biodiesel Truck Stops began selling B-20, which is 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent diesel, on U.S. 220 North in Bassett, Va.

The company is also working with a dispensing pump manufacturer to create a blending pump that will allow customers to choose the fuel blend – the higher the biodiesel portion of the mixture, the lower the cost.

Red Birch contracts with local farmers to grow canola seed for feedstock. The canola is grown on idle winter grounds and does not compete with the food market. The seed is harvested in late spring and delivered to the crushing operation where the oil is extracted with feed meal as the by-product.

The extracted oil is refined into B-100 biodiesel and produced to ASTM D-6751 standards. The meal by-product is used by local farmers as feed supplement. The final fuel product, B-100, is pumped to the truck stop next door where it is blended with No.2 diesel.

More information is available at www.redbirchenergy.com.
– Jill Dunn


Contest seeks best fleets for drivers
The Truckload Carriers Association and CarriersEdge have launched the inaugural Best Fleets to Drive for Contest.

The nomination-based program will identify and celebrate the top employers in the North American for-hire trucking industry. Winners will be announced in March.

All fleets with 10 trucks or more are eligible to participate. To be included, fleets must be nominated by at least one of their drivers. Nominated fleets will be evaluated on compensation, pension and benefits, professional development, driver and community support and safety record, among others.

“Too many people think the trucking industry is nothing but dead-end jobs and unethical employers,” said Mark Murrell, president of CarriersEdge. “This survey offers a platform for setting the record straight.”

Nominations will be accepted up to Nov. 30. For more information, visit www.bestfleetstodrivefor.com.
– Staff Reports


Highway construction fund bailed out
The U.S. Senate on Sept. 10 approved moving $8 billion from the government’s general fund to the Highway Trust Fund, which is set to run out of money by the end of September. The action puts the federal government a step closer to keeping money flowing for highway projects.

The legislation now goes back to the House for a second vote before it is sent to President Bush to sign. The Senate measure provides the aid this year; the House bill had made it available in fiscal 2009, starting Oct. 1.

“The Senate should be commended for acting swiftly to address the immediate needs of the trust fund,” Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said following the vote.

The Highway Trust Fund comes from the federal feuls tax, but U.S. drivers have reacted to soaring fuel prices in 2008 by reducing their driving for eight straight months through June. “The lesson is clear,” Peters said. “It’s time to embrace a new approach to transportation that does not rely on high fuel consumption and instead directs funds where they are actually needed.”

The long-term solution, Peters said, is a highway reauthorization plan that follows the DOT’s recent recommendations to move beyond the gas tax and explore other funding that is commensurate with the national priority for reduction of petroleum use.

In the past, the Bush administration has proposed transferring funds from the Highway Trust Fund’s mass transit account, which has a surplus.
– Staff reports


Feds reject Pa.’s I-80 tolling
The Federal Highway Administration rejected an application from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to place tolls on Interstate 80.

The governor, however, wants to proceed with an alternative plan to privatize the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Gov. Ed Rendell renewed his proposal to turn over operation of the Turnpike to a private group comprised of Citigroup and Spanish investors, who would pay $12.8 billion upfront in return for a 75-year lease. The state would use interest from the payment to fund a $1 billion-a-year increase in road and bridge construction and repairs that was approved by the state legislature in 2007. State legislators, however, remain cool to the privatizing idea.

Barry Ciccocioppo, a spokesman for the Democrat governor, said Rendell was disappointed. “The governor said we need to take action while the lease is on the table,” Ciccocioppo said.

Last year, the Democrat governor signed Act 44, the state transportation funding plan for highway, bridges and mass transit that authorizes the Turnpike to lease operational control of I-80 from PennDOT for 50 years.

Act 44 requires the Turnpike to provide PennDOT with $83.3 billion over 50 years. It also would implement Turnpike toll increases of 25 percent this January and increases of up to 3 percent each following year. Ciccocioppo said not tolling I-80 will result in $450 million shortfall for the Act 44 plan.

In explaining the I-80 tolling decision, Federal Highway Administrator Tom Madison said, “There is simply no evidence that the lease payments are related to the actual costs of acquiring an interest in the facility.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association cheered the I-80 tolling decision because it maintains imposing tolling on I-80 would violate federal law.
– Jill Dunn


IdleAire tries it again with new ownership
IdleAire Inc., comprised of six investment management companies, now owns essentially all of the bankrupt IdleAire Technologies Corp.’s assets with the official closing on its $17.5 million bid, the company announced.

IdleAire Inc. owners include advisory clients of Airlie Group, Kenmont Investments Management, SV Special Situations Fund, Whitebox Advisors, Wayzata Investment Partners and Wilfrid Aubrey LLC.

“It’s a new company with new owners who are very optimistic about IdleAire’s prospects,” said John Calabrese, a partner with the turnaround specialist firm CRG Partners Group. Calabrese and Stephen Gray, a managing partner of CRG, are providing temporary management of the company while a search for a chief executive officer is under way.

The new company is retaining both the IdleAire brand and the Advanced Travel Center Electrification designation. The new company also is expected to remain headquartered in Knoxville, Tenn., and to retain current IdleAire employees, although there will be changes in senior management.

IdleAire has 131 locations in 34 states, providing filtered heating and air conditioning, electrical outlets and communications and entertainment options that allow long-haul truck drivers to shut down their engines instead of idling. The only truck retrofit required to utilize IdleAire services is a $10 window adapter that stays with the truck. More than 1,600 fleets pay for basic IdleAire services for their drivers.
– Staff reports


California sues trucking companies working ports
California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. filed lawsuits Sept. 5 against trucking companies he charges misclassified owner-operators serving the Los Angeles/Long Beach port complex as independent contractors and said he would soon file suits against other trucking companies.

Meanwhile, the American Trucking Associations said it would appeal if a federal judge maintains a Sept. 8 temporary ruling refusing to halt a ports program that would affect trucker employee-independent contractor status.

Brown announced a crackdown Sept. 5 on port carriers that unlawfully classify workers as independent contractors after his office’s task force began investigating this in February.

“We are cracking down on these two companies and investigating several others that are taking advantage of their workers and cheating the state out of payroll taxes,” he said. “These are low-paid truck drivers working long hours under onerous conditions who are not getting the benefits they deserve.”

Brown alleges the investigation uncovered numerous state labor law violations by several trucking companies.

ATA spokeswoman Tiffany Wlazlowski said his effort did not involve association members, “so we have no knowledge or information about it.”

In Los Angeles U.S. District Court, Judge Sandra Synder issued a tentative ruling denying the ATA’s request for a preliminary injunction against the ports’ Clean Truck Program.

On Oct. 1, the ports were to begin their Clean Trucks Program. Long Beach will allow owner-operators to serve the port if they are leased to a carrier who signs a concessionaire agreement with the ports. This agreement contains rules and fees for the concessionaires, such as having insurance made available to these owner-operators.

However, Los Angeles’ agreement requires truckers serving the port to become employees of the concessionaire companies. Both ports plan to make allowance for owner-operators who infrequently serve the complex.
– Jill Dunn


Arkansas database helps carriers screen drivers
Since January, Arkansas’ new first-of-its-kind database helped state trucking companies avoid hiring 45 drivers who had tested positive for alcohol or drugs, refused to test or provided an altered specimen.

This year, a new law, Act 637, requires employers of Arkansas commercial drivers to search the Arkansas Commercial Driver Alcohol and Drug Testing Database before hiring.

Arkansas employers and state Medical Review officers must report positive drug or alcohol test results, refusal to submit to the test or submission of an altered specimen to this central database. If a driver meets these criteria, employers and Medical Review officers are required to report it to the database within three business days.

The system reports violations to the driver’s substance use record the same way commercial driving records are updated.

Since Arkansas began the database in January, 263 positive test results have been reported.
– Jill Dunn


Nominations due for Highway Hero Awards
Nominations for the 26th annual Goodyear North America Highway Hero Awards will be accepted through Nov. 30. The awards honor drivers who come to the rescue of fellow motorists.

Nominees must meet the following criteria:

  • Must be a full-time truck driver;
  • Must be a resident of the United States or Canada;
  • The incident recognized must have occurred in the United States or Canada;
  • Must have been on the job or on the way to or from work, and in his or her rig at the time of the incident;
  • Nominee’s truck at the time of the incident must have 14 wheels or more;
  • The incident must have taken place between Nov. 16, 2007, and Nov. 15, to qualify.

Nomination forms and program details may be obtained by calling the Goodyear Highway Hero Hotline at (330)796-8183. The nomination form also is on the program’s website at www.goodyear.com.
– Staff reports


Trucking firms’ assets go on virtual auction block
Assets of Alvan Motor Freight and Performance Transportation Services will be auctioned off in two separate public auctions, said Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers.

Alvan’s assets include 350 tractors, 700 trailers and 140 forklifts, while PTS’ assets include about 1,000 specialized car carriers. All assets, which also include shop tools and office furniture, are being sold free of liens.

The PTS auction is set for Oct. 3 at the Ritchie Bros. auction site in North East, Md., at 3201 W. Pulaski Highway. The Alvan auction is scheduled for Oct. 14 at Alvan’s Detroit terminal at 9911 Harrison Road in Romulus. To register for the auctions or for more information, go to www.rbauction.com/transportation.

PTS, based in Allen Park, Mich., was North America’s second-largest transporter of new automobiles, SUVs and light trucks. Alvan, based in Kalamazoo, Mich., was a family-owned Midwestern regional less-than-truckload carrier.
– Staff reports


TransAlive founder publishes 9-11 book
Normally, TransAlive USA’s 40-foot AmCoach gives rides to sick or recuperating truckers, but after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, TransAlive founder Bob Hataway and his wife, Carol, drove their bus to Staten Island and helped the able-bodied truckers who were working disaster relief who worked New York City disaster relief.

Hataway’s new book, After That

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