Politicians talk surcharges and fuel taxes amid diesel protests

Proposed legislation would mandate that any fuel surcharge be clearly stated in the freight contract and passed to the party that pays for fuel at the pump.

Amid widespread protests against record diesel prices well beyond $4 a gallon – including an April 28 truck convoy to Washington, D.C. – a number of bills were introduced on Capitol Hill designed to provide at least short-term relief, while two presidential candidates advocated a summer holiday from federal fuel taxes.

Addressing the issue of surcharge skimming by brokers and other middlemen is the Trust in Reliable Understanding of Consumer Costs (TRUCC) Act, introduced April 21 by U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. It would require the entirety of any fuel surcharge to be disclosed as a line item in the freight contract and passed to the motor carrier or other party directly responsible for paying at the pump. The House version of the bill was introduced April 30 by U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis.

The same day Snowe introduced the surcharge bill, she introduced the Diesel Tax Parity Act, which would lower the federal diesel tax of 24.3 cents a gallon to the same level as the federal gasoline tax, 18.3 cents a gallon, through Dec. 31.

An April 15 proposal by U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, garnered wide press. His proposal would suspend all federal motor fuel taxes from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and it was adopted by another presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and denounced by her rival, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. “The effect will be an immediate economic stimulus, taking a few dollars off the price of a tank of gas every time a family, a farmer or trucker stops to fill up,” McCain said.

McCain also proposed that during the same period the federal government suspend buying oil to stockpile in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a move endorsed by both houses of Congress in separate votes May 13.

Any federal fuel-tax cut, of any duration, would cut funding to the already cash-strapped federal Highway Trust Fund and presumably would have to be made up somehow. Critics of a fuel-tax holiday also argue that it would be only temporary; that the federal fuel tax, fixed for years, accounts for an increasingly smaller percentage of the ever- rising cost of fuel; and that a tax cut would do nothing to halt price increases.

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The surcharge bills led to a quickly convened hearing May 6 before the House Highways and Transit Subcommittee. Arguing for the bills was Todd Spencer, spokesman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, who said current regulations gave the average owner-operator about as much bargaining power in a freight transaction as a “guy at a payday loan shop.” Arguing against the bills was Robert Voltmann, president of the Transportation Intermediaries Association, who said the new disclosure requirements would amount to a “re-regulation” of freight transportation, in which all carrier, broker and shipper margins would be public information.

The April 28 convoy from Harrisburg, Pa., to RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., and thence to the U.S. Capitol, involving hundreds of truckers and motorists, was organized by Truckers and Citizens United, led by Pennsylvania owner-operator Mark Kirsch and J.B. Schaffner of the website The American Driver. “America can’t afford another winter at these energy prices,” Kirsch says.
– Todd Dills and Jill Dunn,

Help with fuel-saving devices
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set up a website to help truckers get financing from private lenders for SmartWay-approved fuel-saving add-ons, such as the side skirts on this Great Dane SSL dry van. The website is www.smartwayfinancecenter.com, and its toll-free number is (877) 767-8875.

Slow down, urges ATA campaign
Slowing down trucks across the industry is one recommendation of a new American Trucking Associations fuel-saving and emissions-reducing campaign launched May 8 under the name Trucks Deliver a Cleaner Tomorrow.

Carriers supporting the program include Con-way Truckload, which announced it would reduce the maximum governed speed of its 2,700 tractors from 70 mph to 65 mph, and Schneider National, which announced its 10,600 company drivers would drive no faster than 60 mph – a pledge not binding on the truckload carrier’s 2,200 leased owner-operators.

The ATA’s recommendations for the industry and for government include:

  • Set new-truck governors to 68 mph, and reduce the national speed limit to 65 mph for all vehicles.
  • Reduce congestion by improving highways, even if it means raising the federal fuel tax.
  • Impose national fuel economy standards for trucks if the standards do not compromise performance.
  • Use larger trucks to reduce the number of trips.
  • Provide incentives for truckers and fleets to buy anti-idling technology.
  • Increase fuel efficiency by participating in the EPA’s SmartWay Transport Partnership.
    More than 600 companies already have joined SmartWay, launched in 2004, including 373 motor carriers.

The ATA recommends a 20-year program to reduce congestion, focused initially on critical bottlenecks. Longer-range ideas include creating truck-only corridors that would enable larger and longer tractor-trailers.

More information is available on a new website, www.trucksdeliver.org.
– Jill Dunn

DOT proposes 25% increase in fuel efficiency
Fuel efficiency standards for both passenger vehicles and light trucks would increase by 4.5 percent per year throughout the five-year period ending in 2015 – a 25 percent total improvement that exceeds the 3.3 percent baseline proposed by Congress last year – under a proposal announced April 22 by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“This proposal is historically ambitious, yet achievable,” said Transportation Secretary Mary Peters. “It will help us all breathe a little easier by reducing tailpipe emissions, cutting fuel consumption and making driving a little more affordable.”

For passenger cars, the proposal would increase fuel economy from the current 27.5 miles per gallon to 35.7 miles per gallon by 2015. For light trucks, the proposal calls for increases from 23.5 miles per gallon in 2010 to 28.6 miles per gallon in 2015.

All told, the proposal will save nearly 55 billion gallons of fuel and a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions estimated at 521 million metric tons if realized, Peters said. The plan will save more than $100 billion in fuel costs over the lifetime of the vehicles, she said.
As required by Congress, the proposed rule allows for automakers to earn credits for exceeding Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards.
– Staff reports

One of a kind
Randy McDaniel of Yorba Linda, Calif., won a NAPA Trick Truck award at the Del Mar Nationals in Del Mar, Calif., for this unique 1938 Ford cabover. A two-year project, McDaniel’s tricked-out Ford has a different size and shape for the front grille and stacks on both sides of the extended cab. A double hauler with upper and lower decks, the truck has a completely hydraulic bed for unloading and reloading. The truck has two in-cab televisions and three security cameras. NAPA is presenting Trick Truck awards at all 24 Goodguys Rod & Custom Association events this year.

California grants idling exemptions
More choices now exist to meet California rules for idling 2008 diesel engines and for diesel auxiliary power units on 2007 and newer trucks.

California’s Air Resources Board mandated Jan. 1 that new, heavy-duty diesel trucks come equipped with tamper-resistant switches that shut the engine down after five minutes of idling. An exemption is allowed for 2008 and newer trucks that meet an idling standard of 30 grams or less of nitrogen oxides per hour.

CARB’s Karen Caesar said the following Class 8 engines satisfy that rule and don’t require the shutdown device:

  • Cummins 50-state 08 Clean Idle Certified On-Highway engines.
  • Mack MP7 and MP8 engines; the new 16-liter MP10 also will meet the requirements when it goes into production this year.
  • Volvo’s D11, D13 and D16 engines can be ordered to meet this standard.

As for idling alternatives, several clean technologies do not need CARB’s approval, most of them based on battery or thermal-energy storage technologies, Caesar said.

Diesel-fueled APUs are allowed on pre-2007 trucks, but diesel APUs on 2007 trucks and newer must meet CARB standards.

The Cummins standalone APU has not been approved yet, Caesar said. The Cummins integrated APU has a conditional certification, pending the creation of an acceptable “Verified Clean APS” hood label, she said.

Violators of the new anti-idling law face a minimum penalty of $300 and a maximum fine of $1,000 per day and criminal charges. Exemptions exist, but queuing is not one of them if a residential area is less than 100 feet away.
– Jill Dunn

Former Trucker of the Year dies at 70
Ray Barnes, a longtime Landstar owner-operator who was Overdrive’s 2000 Trucker of the Year, died April 28 at the age of 70 after a struggle with cancer. He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Sara; son, Robert; and daughter, Renee Smith, all of Pensacola, Fla., as well as five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Barnes was leased to Landstar for about 25 years and “only quit because he had to” for health reasons, said his son, Robert. “He was a hardworking, honest man. He loved to play golf and spend time with his grandchildren.” The family asks that any donations in Barnes’ memory be sent to Covenant Hospice in Pensacola or Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

IdleAire files to reorganize debt
Claiming assets of $210 million and debts of $303 million, electrified-parking provider IdleAire Technologies filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy May 12 in Delaware, where the Knoxville, Tenn., company is incorporated.

Among the claims against the company listed in the filing is an $18 million lawsuit filed on behalf of a Florida trucker who charges that an IdleAire installation pumped carbon monoxide into her cab, killing her husband and poisoning her.

The bankruptcy filing wasn’t unexpected. IdleAire told the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in mid-April that as of Dec. 31, 2007, the company had cash on hand “to sustain approximately four months of operations,” meaning only through the end of April 2008.

IdleAire said at the time it had lost $93.4 million on revenue of $31.8 million in 2007.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy enables a company to reorganize its finances free of the threat of creditors’ lawsuits, though a majority of the creditors must OK the eventual reorganization plan.

“We expect our sites to remain open and serving our customers,” company spokesman John Doty told Overdrive May 15.

The lawsuit filed April 30 in Knox County, Tenn., circuit court by attorney Don Russo on behalf of Nancy Younger of Polk County, Fla., and the estate of her late husband, William Younger, charges that while the Youngers were sleeping in their cab at a Knoxville, Tenn., truck stop in July 2007, “they were overcome by carbon monoxide gases that were sucked in through the Defendant’s HVAC system into the cab of their truck.”

As a result, the court document continues, “the Youngers sustained severe and permanent injuries, including permanent brain damage.” William Younger since has died from his injuries, the document charges, while his widow “is permanently and totally disabled and unable to work.”

Doty said the company would not comment on active litigation.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel reported that the corporate name “IdleAire Acquisition LLC” was reserved with the Delaware secretary of state’s office the same day as IdleAire’s bankruptcy filing. Doty said he had no information on IdleAire Acquisition LLC, its owners and its plans for the company.
– Andy Duncan

Detroit Diesel to offer free upgrades
Beginning July 1, Detroit Diesel will offer free upgrades to its 2007 Series 60 engines that are expected to increase fuel economy up to 2.5 percent.

Series 60 testing has indicated that regeneration of the particulate filter is more effective than originally expected, said David Siler, Detroit marketing director.

Detroit Diesel also will offer other free features that can improve the vehicle’s shifting and cruise control.

Engine owners can schedule a visit to any Detroit Diesel dealer or distributor to have their engine re-flashed free starting July 1.
– Jill Dunn

N.Y. Thruway OKs higher tolls
Although a 10 percent toll increase began only in January, the New York State Thruway Authority has approved a 5 percent toll increase for 2009 and another 5 percent increase for 2010, despite disapproval from public officials. Next on the Thruway’s agenda: reducing the E-ZPass discount.

Thruway officials say the increases – or, as the authority calls them, “adjustments” – approved April 25 are necessary to maintain safety and preserve roads and bridges. The increases are expected to generate $375 million in the next four years.

A five-axle truck traveling 285 miles from downtown Albany to downtown Buffalo now pays $60.40 in cash tolls and $52.16 if using E-ZPass, but the authority plans to reduce E-ZPass discounts in July.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s recent audit of the Thruway Authority criticized plans for increases, and Gov. David Patterson has spoken against them as well.

“For the authority to increase tolls now, and also plan a 5 percent increase in the following two years without a commitment to take every possible step to reduce spending, runs against the state’s goal of fiscal restraint in the face of a national economic downturn,” said Patterson, a Democrat.

The authority argues it has eliminated numerous positions and cut costs since 1995.
– Jill Dunn

OUT-OF-STATE commercial driver’s license holders now must take both the written exam and the road exam before receiving an Illinois CDL.

THE PROSTAR tractor has 7 percent greater fuel efficiency than its closest competitor, according to independent SAE over-the-road testing, Navistar International announced.

ED BOSKET, a contestant in the 2008 Paul K. Young Memorial Truck Beauty Championship at the Mid-America Trucking Show, won a Meritor Tire Inflation System by Pressure Systems International.

PILOT TRAVEL CENTERS opened a new location at Exit 85 from I-40 in Jackson, Tenn.

BRIDGESTONE FIRESTONE announced price increases up to 10 percent on all truck, bus and off-road tires in the United States and Canada, while subsidiary Bridgestone Bandag announced price increases up to 5 percent on all retreads in the United States. Soaring fuel and raw-materials costs are to blame, the company says.

GRAND PRIZE in the Sleeper Makeover Sweepstakes sponsored by Mercer Transportation and Indiana Custom Trucks is an ICT conversion worth more than $13,000. Owner-operators Ernie and Jan Jeror won such a conversion in a Mid-America Trucking Show raffle open only to Mercer owner-operators, but all CDL holders are eligible for the national contest. The deadline is Dec. 1. Visit www.mercertown.com and click “Enter To Win.”

ARROW TRUCKING has entered an agreement with Daimler Truck Financial to facilitate new equipment purchases and consolidate truck and trailer financing at favorable terms.

NEW SMARTWAY PARTNERS announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency include Goodyear Tire & Rubber, maker of fuel-efficient Fuel Max line-haul tires; Hyundai Translead, maker of the fuel-efficient HT Original dry van; and Eastern truckload fleet American Central Transport.

RYDER SYSTEM purchased Gator Leasing, a full-service truck leasing and rental and fleet-services company based in Miami, for an undisclosed sum.

SHOW TRUCK owners competing in Overdrive’s Pride & Polish event at the Great American Trucking Show, Aug. 21-23, can nominate their rigs for inclusion in the 2009 Pride & Polish calendar. Visit www.prideandpolish.com, and click “Calendar Nomination.”

LOVE’S TRAVEL STOPS now carry Michelin truck tires and related products and will offer tire and emergency road service at many locations as part of an agreement with the tire maker. The new Love’s Tire Care banner will fly at 100 locations by the end of 2009.

QUALITY DISTRIBUTION cut 60 jobs or 17 percent of its work force, most at its Tampa, Fla., headquarters. The bulk hauler reported a net loss of $7.6 million in 2007, compared to a net profit of $56.2 million in 2006.

GREATWIDE LOGISTICS SERVICES acquired Camrett Inc. of Wytheville, Va., which will be integrated into Greatwide’s Dedicated Transport subsidiary.

FIKES TRUCK LINE recently launched its Free Way program, designed to connect drivers with affordable equipment and financial advice.

ILLINOIS. The Route 7 bridge between Lockport and Romeoville will be closed in both directions through August for resurfacing. The truck detour for vehicles more than 13 feet, 4 inches in height is to the north, via Routes 171 and 53, to avoid the low viaducts in Joliet.

MISSISSIPPI. The new six-lane U.S. 90 bridge between Biloxi and Ocean Springs is open to traffic.

MISSOURI. Missouri and Illinois have agreed to work together on a new four-lane I-70 bridge across the Mississippi between St. Louis and East St. Louis, Ill., a mile north of the Martin Luther King Bridge. Construction will begin no sooner than 2010.

NORTH CAROLINA. The state Department of Transportation has lifted truck-length restrictions on almost 2,000 miles of state roads. Previously, only 48-foot trailers, not the industry standard of 53 feet, had been technically legal on roads other than interstates and U.S. highways, though the restrictions were seldom enforced.

WASHINGTON. Southbound I-405 through Bellevue, east of Seattle, will be closed during three weekends in August — Aug. 8-11, 15-18 and 22-25, from 11 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday. This will allow work crews to close the Wilburton Tunnel, just north of I-90, to make way for a highway-widening project. Southbound through trucks are urged to avoid the area by taking I-5 through Seattle instead.