Industry News

Mexican trucks will not be able to haul loads from one U.S. city to another.

Drivers for Mexican trucking companies will soon be able to take their U.S.-bound loads all the way to their destination. The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for Mexican truckers to
begin hauling freight north of the border eight years after the North American Free Trade Agreement would have given those carriers access to U.S. highways.

The Court unanimously ruled that the Bush administration can open the border to Mexican trucks without first completing an extensive environmental analysis.

Public Citizen, along with labor and environmental groups, sued to stop the trucks from entering the United States The groups said that federal regulations required the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to do an Environmental Impact Statement and a general conformity evaluation before allowing Mexican-domiciled trucks to operate on U.S. highways. An appeals court agreed, ruling that the agency had violated the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and related Clean Air Act regulations.

But the June 7 Supreme Court decision reverses that lower court victory and puts implementation on the fast track.

No timetable has been set for opening the border, but the Bush Administration has made opening the border a priority and the FMCSA began certifying Mexican carriers in Fall 2002.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta says the ruling “means more opportunities for American companies, more jobs for American drivers and better deals for American consumers.”

Mineta says Mexican-domiciled trucks and buses that do business in the United States will be made to comply “with all applicable safety and environmental standards.”

Once FMCSA opens the border, the trucks will be able to operate as Canadian truckers currently do: delivering cargo to a point in the United States before returning to their country. They will not be able to operate as for-hire carriers while in the United States, hauling loads from one city to another.
—Jill Dunn

Trucking organizations are fighting a proposal that would introduce tolls on the national highway system.

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The American Trucking Associations, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the National Private Truck Council and other trucking groups sent a letter to congressional members wrangling out differences between the House and Senate transportation funding bills. The American Highway Users Alliance, AAA and the National Association of Manufacturers and many other groups added their signature to the letter.

The letter’s authors stated that converting Interstates to toll roads would result in drivers avoiding tolls by congesting local roads not suitable for increased traffic and that business located by Interstates would lose money.

The cost of truck deliveries would increase for those businesses that use tolled routes, and the cost increases would have a ripple effect on the economy.

Adding tolls when Americans already pay fuel taxes and highway user fees represents a form of double taxation, the groups concluded.

They support an amendment to the House transportation bill, which endorsed tolls as a way to pay for new Interstate highway capacity, but rejected mandatory tolls on the current system. Congress has passed funding extensions since late September, anticipating agreement on a six-year transportation funding package.

President Bush said he would veto legislation that exceeds his $256 billion proposal, but the Senate approved its $318 billion package by large enough margin to defy his veto threat.
The House version asks for $275 billion.

A variety of indicators and experts agree: The trucking economy is roaring.

After a “false start” rebound in 2003, trucking can expect a stronger and more sustained recovery this year and beyond, forecasts Bob Costello, chief economist of the American Trucking Associations.

“This industry’s definitely back,” said Costello, addressing motor carrier executives at the Randall Trucking Symposium 2004 in May. Costello’s comments are bolstered by data showing increases in freight volume and demand. For example:

  • The Transportation Services Index, which measures output of services provided by the for-hire transportation industries, reached the highest level in the 14-year period covered by the index, reported the U.S. Department of Transportation. The TSI rose 1.0 percent in March, to 122.5.
  • ATA’s Truck Tonnage Index rose 2 percent to a record high 160.8 in April. The seasonally adjusted index increased for the third straight month and the seventh month in the last eight.
  • Cass Information Systems reported its index of freight expenditures rose every month this year and its shipments index increased to 1.193, the highest point in three years.

One clear sign that manufacturing needs to increase – and will do so on a longer basis than last year – is that inventories are depleted. The ratio of manufacturing inventory to sales is virtually flat, “the lowest it’s ever been in history,” Costello said. Consequently, factory orders for durable goods are up 17.5 percent from a year ago.

Large carriers were the first to bounce back after a downturn that saw thousands of carriers go out of business. But now there are signs that small carriers, too, are getting more business. Trucking lost a lot of freight to the railroads during the downturn, but there are signs of freight shifting back to trucking.

But even with all the good news, carriers may have a hard time taking advantage of it. All trucking companies are facing the rising costs of insurance, driver wages, fuel and equipment, as well as lost productivity due to the new hours of service. Costello cautioned that those rising costs will counter much of the strong demand for trucking.

Not only are fuel prices at record highs, but the price volatility of recent years appears to be here to stay. The difference between the average national price and recent prices on the West Coast has increased dramatically due to California’s “boutique” fuel requirements, and the lack of a single national fuel standard compounds problems for the industry.

It appears compliance with the new hours of service rule has hurt productivity about 3 percent, based on fleet reports, Costello said. If that’s true, the industry needs to add 60,000 trucks just to meet current freight demand. “Capacity is tightening day by day,” he said.

Truck idling can be reduced, but the alternatives can be costly, heavy and maintenance-intensive, said some of those attending the National Idling Reduction Planning Conference in Albany, N.Y., in May.

“Idle reduction affects my lifestyle,” said owner-operator Gail Swiger, citing typical driver opinions about idling reduction. “I need to be comfortable during my DOT-required sleep. I worry about voltage spikes during restart and the risk of a no-start. There is nothing in it for me.”

The U.S. Department of Energy, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation sponsored the meeting on anti-idling technology. Attendees discussed a variety of options, from on-board auxiliary power units to truck stop electrification.

EPA believes idling “uses about 1 billion gallons of fuel per year, for a cost of over $2 billion to the trucking industry,” says the agency’s Suzanne Rudzinski. “Idling wastes fuel, creates unnecessary emissions, increases maintenance and shortens engine life.”

She said many counties are trying anti-idling measures to control emissions problems.

One regulatory problem is the inconsistency of idling rules from state to state. Another is whether the government should provide financial incentives to buy idling reduction equipment, such as exempting purchases from the Federal Excise Tax.

Still, the government and private industry are supporting anti-idling efforts like an electrification project at the Sunoco Travel Plaza in Wilton, N.Y., which has a shore power installation. Attendees to the conference toured the facility, where both Caterpillar and KLLM Transport Services had shore-power-capable rigs plugged in during the system demonstration.

“This is a great strategic location because of the number of trucks,” said William Flaherty, a vice president with Niagara Mohawk Power Co. Michael Panich, principal of the Antares group, which installed the shore power system, said truckers connecting there normally use off-peak generation and transmission capacity, which is ideal economically.

While electrification is drawing attention, so are gen-sets and APUs, which “do it all,” said Michael Beauchamp, manager of tractor engineering at Schneider National. APUs are small diesel engines that provide electricity and run climate systems and can be operated anywhere. “But the preventive maintenance interval isn’t the same and, with the additional maintenance, they don’t cost-justify,” Beuchamp said.

Schneider has a driver incentive program that helps lower its idling rate to about half the national average, Beauchamp said. The fleet uses diesel-fired cab and coolant heaters and auto engine start-stop systems. APUs also have other disadvantages, like adding weight.

Truck stop electrification is workable, but availability will have to be improved for it to become effective, participants said.

“You can’t just supply power; you need heat and air conditioning,” said Tom Badgett, chief information officer of IdleAire Technologies. The IdleAire system, which is in several truck stops, provides heat, cool air and telecommunications services.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will temporarily remove some information from its SafeStat website until it can provide more reliable information.

The agency will remove the Accident Safety Evaluation Area within 90 days, following a report critical of the site’s data. FMCSA provides detailed information about carriers including the SafeStat score, a number derived from accident, out-of-service and compliance review data.

Insurance providers and shippers will use a carrier score to influence premiums or make shipping choices, something federal transportation officials did not intend. This is a big issue for carriers because that the number can reflect incomplete or inaccurate data, according to a Feb. 13 report from the Office of Inspector General.

The Accident SEA score, which influences a carrier’s SafeStat score, is based on crash reports provided by the state. These state reports sometimes do not have a desirable standard of timeliness, completeness and accuracy. FMCSA Administrator Annette Sandberg says that Safestat is effective in identifying the highest-risk carriers, but “continued display of the Accident SEA risks misleading public users of Safestat.”

The overall Safestat score will also be removed. The two areas will return to the website as soon as agency officials are confident that they provide better information.

Although the accident and overall SEAs are removed from public access, FMCSA and state enforcement partners will have access to all SafeStat scores, and carriers will be able to access their scores for their own evaluations.

Three scoring components will remain available to the public – Driver, Vehicle and Safety Management SEAs. These scores are based on data that the agency trusts because it is gathered by the FMCSA or provided by states under controlled collection.

Texas will expand its pilot program offering free wireless Internet at four rest stops to providing the service at all 84 rest areas and 12 travel information centers.
Last fall, the Texas Department of Transportation began wireless Internet service at twin rest areas in Donley County and two Hardeman County rest areas. All are on U.S. 287 in the Northern Panhandle.

TxDOT is now asking for proposals from vendors able to provide free wireless Internet service and pay telephone-like Internet access at kiosks.

Andy Keith, a TxDOT maintenance manager, says he envisions kiosk computers offering service in 15-minute increments. Users would swipe a credit card through a reader. This service should be provided at “a reasonable fee to be collected by the vendor,” Keith says. Wireless access will remain free for anyone providing their own equipment.

“Since fatigue is a factor in 1.5 percent of all crashes, anything we can do to get people to pull off the road and take a break is going to make our highways safer,” Keith says.

Existing and prospective owner-operators can learn business tips this summer at the Arnold Transportation and Specialty Risk Insurance Education Tour, a free presentation offered at stops nationwide.

The tour, also known as The Ultimate Road Trip, begins at the 25th Walcott Truckers Jamboree July 8-9 and continues through the end of September, says Dick Follis, Arnold Transportation’s director of fleet development. The tour will stop at TravelCenters of America facilities and at truck shows, including the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas, Sept. 10-12.

“I think everyone agrees there is a need to help owner-operators reach a greater level of success,” Follis says. “This is also a great opportunity to attract more drivers to the industry.”

The tour’s focal point is a video presentation by small-fleet owner Kevin Rutherford, who is also an owner-operator accountant. Truckers can view it while sitting in Atlas/Sears Air Ride seats in a 53-foot drop-deck trailer set up like a NASCAR trailer.

The presentation’s topics include managing money, developing a business plan, finding a good tax service, buying or financing equipment, maintaining equipment, choosing the right company, reviewing a lease, medical insurance, planning for retirement and dressing for success.

Organizers will answer questions following the 60-to-90-minute presentation. Attendees will receive complimentary items, including a CD copy of the presentation, a hat or T-shirt, and an introductory version of the 2004 Overdrive Partners in Business manual.

The complete 2004 PIB edition will be reissued in time for the Great American Trucking Show, where Rutherford will present free owner-operator business seminars daily.

Other tour sponsors include Communications Development, Continental Tire, Dorsey Trailer Repair and Mototax.
More information on the tour is available by calling (888) 522-5046, ext. 3409.

Carriers will soon be required by law to follow a training regimen for truck drivers who have held a commercial driver’s license for one year or less.

The federal rule requires trucking companies to focus their training of such truckers on driver qualification requirements, hours of service and “driver wellness,” or basic good health maintenance. Carriers will also have to advise drivers about whistleblower protection under the new guidelines issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The regulation becomes effective July 20 and affects drivers with less than one year’s experience driving in interstate commerce. Those who started driving between July 20, 2003, and Oct. 18, 2004 must be trained by Oct. 18. Employers are required to maintain drivers’ training certifications while they work at the company and until a year after leaving the company.

The rule, which applies to drivers of buses as well, is a response to the 1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, which found private companies provided inadequate training to new drivers of heavy trucks, school buses and motor coaches.

In February 2003, the FMCSA settled a lawsuit with safety groups by promising to issue certain truck safety rules by a series of deadlines after missing congressional deadlines for issuing the regulations.

With the addition of this new rule, the agency has met the lawsuit’s deadlines for hours-of-service regs, training requirements for longer-combination vehicle drivers and background checks on hazardous waste haulers.

A proposed delay of tighter requirements for commercial driver’s license applicants raised security concerns with the office of inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The DOT offered a plan to delay a proposed rule requiring CDL applicants to prove citizenship or legal presence in the country. DOT inspector general Kenneth Mead’s office is not comfortable with that or with the agency’s recent proposal “to provide temporary work visas to certain aliens,” Mead stated in the June 4 memo to the DOT. “While details are still being developed, it appears that workers with temporary work visas, should they be issued Social Security numbers, would be eligible to obtain a CDL.”

The OIG’s 2002 audit of CDL programs had recommended all CDL applicants demonstrate citizenship or legal presence. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration agreed and stated it would issue a planned rulemaking on the matter in October 2003, but the draft May 2004 DOT regulatory agenda said this plan has been delayed until next May.

The OIG is “concerned that the continuing delay in issuing this proposed regulation exposes us to increased risk,” Mead wrote.

CDL applicants who are not seeking a hazmat endorsement do not have to prove legal presence in the United States. They only must provide a Social Security number, which does not verify citizenship or legal presence, he wrote.

“Since nearly 70 percent of the 11 million CDLs issued since 1989 do not carry a hazardous materials endorsement, this presents a very large loophole,” Mead stated.

A federal agency proposed standards for onboard data recorders in light vehicles June 10, but issued no recommendation for heavy trucks.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s proposal would not require the installation of event data recorders. The proposal, with a suggested effective date of September 2008, addresses EDRs that manufacturers choose to install in light vehicles.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which has called for EDRs on commercial trucks, applauded the NHTSA proposal. It is “an important step forward in addressing crash data, emergency response, and accident analysis issues regarding accidents on our nation’s highways,” said NTSB Chairman Ellen Engleman Conners.

An EDR detects a crash and records certain information for several seconds of time before, during and after a crash.

NHTSA is proposing to require that the EDRs voluntarily installed in light vehicles record a minimum set of specified data elements useful for crash investigations; specify requirements for that data; increase the survivability of the EDRs and their data by requiring that they function during and after front, side and rear crash tests; require vehicle manufacturers to make publicly available information that would enable crash investigators to retrieve data from the EDR; and require vehicle manufacturers to include a brief, standardized statement in the owner’s manual indicating that the vehicle is equipped with an EDR and describing the purposes of EDRs.

New research indicates frequent, small amounts of caffeine promote wakefulness better than one huge cup in the morning.

The research, conducted at Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine, was published in the May 10 issue of Sleep journal.

Charles Czeisler, a professor of sleep medicine at Harvard, says people might fight drowsiness better by drinking about a quarter cup of coffee frequently throughout their workday.

“Most people take a huge jolt of coffee in the morning to jumpstart their day; they get the super grande latte from Starbucks,” Czeisler says. “Their caffeine levels soar only to fall as the day progresses in the face of rising sleepiness.”

The research indicated persons on the low-dose caffeine did better on cognitive tests and exhibited fewer accidental sleep onsets, or microsleeps. Tests showed that subjects given a placebo experienced microsleeps nearly 2 percent of the time during the scheduled wake episodes, compared with 0.3 percent of those drinking caffeine.

Still, the people who had caffeine reported feeling sleepier more than their placebo-taking counterparts. The study’s authors say that could indicate caffeine helps keep you awake but does not replace the restorative effects sleep provides.

Sixteen male test subjects were in sequestered private suites, free of time cues, for 29 days. The researchers scheduled the groups to live on a 42.85 hour day with 28.57-hour wake episodes meant to copy schedules common to doctors and military or emergency services personnel.

Petro Stopping Centers’ network of Wi-Fi service is now available at more than 50 facilities nationwide.

Drivers can sign up for this new service by launching the Internet browser of any PC that is equipped with a wireless network card from participating Petro locations, then selecting the “Sign up” tab. The service is sold by the hour, day, month or year. It is paid for with a credit card or by purchasing a pre-paid card available at Petro Travel Stores.

INVESTIGATORS looking into license fraud have charged a Chicago businessman and his associates with helping at least 600 unqualified individuals obtain commercial driver’s licenses and regular licenses in Wisconsin. Since 1998, the Chicago-based Operation Safe Road has exposed fraud in Illinois’ and Florida’s licensing system. Federal authorities are continuing their investigation into Wisconsin’s system.

CON-WAY TRANSPORTATION Services has formed Con-Way Truckload, a new operating company that will become active in the first quarter of 2005. The new company will serve Con-Way’s three regional less-than-truckload carriers, providing linehaul service on full loads of LTL shipments in transcontinental traffic lanes. The company will add 450 jobs in the next two years.

CALIFORNIA LAWMAKERS want to fine motorists for unsafe driving resulting from smoking, adjusting the radio and other distractions. The Senate passed a bill in May that would allow police to stop a motorist if engaging in one of nine distracting activities that result in unsafe driving. Activities include smoking, eating, drinking, grooming and personal hygiene tasks. Potential fines range from $35 to $150.

FREIGHTLINER IS ADDING a third shift and 593 new full-time jobs at the company’s Cleveland, N.C., truck plant to meet increased production demands at the plant, which builds heavy-duty trucks.

GREAT DANE TRAILERS has opened a branch at 1155 Four Star Dr., Mount Joy, Pa. The 35,000 square-foot facility has a paint booth and 12 service bays.

A LOUISIANA BILL that would fine or imprison motorists who transform the left-hand lane of some highways into “rolling roadblocks” awaited the signature of Gov. Kathleen Blanco at press time. The bill, which would become effective Aug. 15, is designed to prevent drivers from lingering in the left-hand lane when driving outside city limits on highways with at least two lanes in each direction. First-time offenders could be fined a maximum of $175 for the first violation or incarceration of not more than 30 days. Subsequent violations could result in a fine of $500 or less or a maximum imprisonment of 90 days.

MACK TRUCKS announced it is taking its branded apparel and accessories to a new level with a new marketing firm and an expanded product line that will be available in retail outlets beyond corporate stores. The exclusive three-year agreement with Johnny M LLC covers all men’s, women’s and children’s apparel categories, as well as cloth and leather bags.

U.S. XPRESS ENTERPRISES has started a two-phase project that will add 500 to 1,000 jobs, mostly office support positions, over several years at its Chattanooga, Tenn., headquarters. The carrier plans to begin construction of a 50,000-square-foot office building within six to 18 months, adding 500 jobs, and a second phase of construction within five to seven years, adding 500 jobs.