Industry debates bigger trucks
The battle over whether federal laws should expand truck weights and lengths or keep the present limitations heated up this spring.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the Teamsters and safety groups support the current limits of 80,000 pounds and 53 feet for tractor-trailers on interstate highways to the National Highway System. The NHS covers some 160,000 miles of highway, while interstates represent 44,000 miles.

The American Trucking Associations, the National Private Truck Council and some shipping organizations favor expanding these limits. They support the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act of 2009, or H.R. 1799. It was introduced by Reps. Michael Michaud (D-Maine) March 30 and was referred to a House subcommittee with 12 co-sponsors.

That legislation would allow trucks a maximum gross weight of 97,000 pounds, provided the vehicle has at least six axles, including a tridem axle group with a weight limit of 51,000 pounds. The heavier weight limit, as well as axle weight increases of up to 2,000 pounds, would be allowed only if approved by a state legislature.

The bill would increase the annual Heavy Vehicle Use Tax to a maximum of $800. Funds generated by the increase would be dedicated to pay for bridge projects in states allowing the operation of the heavier vehicles.

The NPTC commissioned the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute to study the issue. That research indicates heavier, longer trucks would yield significant improvements in fuel consumption, cost, congestion, distribution efficiency and driver availability.

On the other side of the issue, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) introduced The Safe Highways and Infrastructure Preservation Act, or S. 779 and H.R. 1618, March 19. This would extend the current limit of 80,000 pounds and 53 feet on interstate highways. It was referred to a House subcommittee the next day and had 67 sponsors.

On May 4, safety advocates launched the StopBiggerTrucks.org grassroots campaign to ask Congress to reject size and weight increases for trucks.

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They noted a new poll by Lake Research Partners that indicates 80 percent of Americans believe bigger trucks will decrease highway safety. Only 16 percent would support Congress approving bigger overweight trucks and rolling back the 1991 congressionally mandated freeze on double and triple trailer trucks.
– Jill Dunn

Truck stop medical clinics close
Professional Drivers Medical Depots permanently closed its five clinics. Dr. John McElligott, who helped found PDMD, says other parties are interested in the locations, but he won’t be involved if they reopen.

McElligott says he will continue to refer truckers to any of about a dozen clinics when they call (865) 862-8902.

PDMD locations were at truck stops in West Memphis, Ark.; Knoxville; El Paso and Laredo, Texas; and Atlanta.
– Staff reports

Analysts see higher demand by next year
Despite signs the economy may be approaching bottom and indications of a slightly more optimistic attitude in the trucking market, it is not clear sailing yet. Those were the conclusions of an online seminar hosted by FTR Associates May 7.

FTR President Eric Starks said freight demand, down 12 percent year over year, is slightly below levels that indicate a severe recession. Consequently, he predicted more weakness in equipment demand.

Many carriers owe more than their equipment is worth, Starks said. “They can’t get rid of it in the secondary market, so they are sitting on it.” And with so much idled equipment, “why would banks lend money even if they had it?”

Nevertheless, the attitudes in trucking are “slightly more optimistic,” Starks said. “The heavy bleeding has stopped, and by the second half of next year, we should start to see some positive demand.”

FTR predicts about 106,000 Class 8 factory shipments to the North American market in 2009, rising to 151,000 in 2010 and 196,000 in 2011.

The federal stimulus package might help the trucking market, but not in the near term, he said. Carriers “won’t begin to feel it until the fourth quarter,” Starks said, which means it will be the first half of 2010 before demand will impact equipment buying.
– Linda Longton

Trucking employment drops in April
Payroll employment among for-hire trucking companies in April dropped 1.2 percent from March levels and 9 percent from April 2008 on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to preliminary figures from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The estimated 16,200 jobs lost in April increase to more than 57,000 trucking jobs lost since the end of 2008 – a decline of 4.3 percent. Job cuts since the beginning of August, when trucking job cuts began to accelerate, total nearly 107,000, or 7.7 percent. The BLS numbers reflect all payroll employment in for-hire trucking, but they don’t include trucking-related jobs in other industries, such as a truck driver for a private fleet.

According to BLS, seasonally adjusted trucking employment peaked in January 2007 at more than 1.45 million.
– Staff reports

L.A. port offers truck incentives

The Los Angeles Harbor Commission on May 8 approved up to $44.2 million in port funding toward the 2009 Clean Truck Incentive Program at the Port of Los Angeles.

The 2009 incentives will be used to help bring trucks into service at the port that run on liquefied natural gas, compressed natural gas or lithium-battery electric power.

The commission says this initiative follows last year’s incentive program that put into service more than 2,200 trucks that meet or exceed 2007 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency emissions standards. Since the launch of the Clean Truck Program on Oct. 1, pollution at the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex has been reduced by more than 23 percent, according to the commission.

“Our goal is to put 1,000 alternative fuel trucks into service through our 2009 Clean Truck Incentive Program, and the funding our board just approved is a major step in that direction,” says Geraldine Knatz, the L.A. port’s executive director. “Natural gas technologies offer a variety of environmental benefits that make them a good fit for drayage in this market. Through this program, we will help truck operators purchase alternative fuel trucks and continue our aggressive efforts to reduce port truck emissions.”

The funds will be used to offer concessionaires in the Port of Los Angeles CTP incentives of up to $80,000 for each LNG or CNG truck they purchase. Port terminal operators or concessionaires also can receive up to 80 percent of negotiated cost for each electric truck they purchase for terminal or drayage truck use.
– Staff reports

Show to feature 2010 engine discussions
Truckers attending the Great American Trucking Show will get the latest information about the new engine technologies planned to meet 2010 emissions regulations during the 2010 Engine Super Sessions and Ride and Drive, Aug. 20 at the Dallas Convention Center.

The event will kick off with a panel of engine makers discussing their technology and fuel economy, cost, maintenance and driver acceptance. The second session will cover changes from the driver’s perspective, including dashboard and engine performance alerts, maintenance issues and the impact of onboard diagnostics.

The third session will focus on the properties of diesel exhaust fluid, as well as its cost, consumption levels, infrastructure and recommendations for storage and handling.
After the sessions, attendees will be able to inspect and ride in trucks equipped with 2010 engines.

To attend the engine sessions and the Great American Trucking Show, register online at www.gatsonline.com.
– Staff reports

‘Hot fuel’ lawsuit heats up, Costco to settle
Costco has agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit over “hot fuel,” becoming the first company to do so in a multi-district case involving major fuel retailers.

If fully approved, the agreement would be in full effect within five years. Costco would install temperature-sensing pumps that adjust the fuel amount to provide the same energy content in each gallon.

The lawsuit includes truck stops, such as Travel Centers of America, Petro, Pilot, Flying J, Hess, Love’s Travel Stops and Speedway SuperAmerica, and service station chains such as ExxonMobil and Chevron.

Costco signed the agreement April 12 in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Mo. That agreement affects Costco gas sales in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

In 2006, several truckers filed what became a class-action consolidated lawsuit. On April 3, U.S. Magistrate Judge James O’Hara mostly denied defendants’ objections to materials for discovery and gave them until May 8 to comply.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has backed the fight to require automatic temperature control devices at the pump, while NATSO, the truck stop trade group, has aggressively opposed requiring temperature-sensing implementation.

The National Conference on Weights and Measures will review the matter again at its July meeting.
– Jill Dunn

Ruling retains most of L.A. port program
A ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Christina Snyder leaves in place the centerpiece of the Clean Truck Program, allowing the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to ban dirty diesel trucks and clean up air pollution from the surrounding port communities, while putting on hold disputed sections of the program. Judge Snyder set the full trial date for Dec. 15.

The preliminary ruling allows the California ports to continue to ban dirty diesel trucks and collect fees from cargo owners to raise funds to help finance the replacement of the older trucks servicing the port. The ruling, however, temporarily put on hold disputed sections of the program, including the collection of truck concession program fees, concessionaire financial capability requirements, preferential hiring consideration of the First Source application list, off-street parking requirements and a requirement that carriers gradually transition to using employee drivers at Los Angeles cargo terminals.

Enjoining the concessions came after a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth District unanimously ruled in favor of the American Trucking Associations and remanded the case to the U.S. District Court, indicating the judge should grant ATA an injunction against all or part of the concession plans.

Beginning Oct. 1, 2008, the ports banned 1988 and older vehicles. On Jan. 1, 2010, the ports will ban 1993 and older trucks, and unretrofitted model year 1994 to 2003 trucks. By January 2012, all vehicles 2006 and older will be banned.

As of Oct. 1, 2008, any motor carrier out of compliance with a port’s concession agreement had been barred from entering that port, a situation ATA argued has caused motor carriers to suffer both short- and long-term capital losses and injuries to business goodwill.
– Staff reports

The Oakland Port Commissioners Board approved its Maritime Air Quality Improvement Plan, a master plan to improve air quality related to port maritime operations through 2020.

The board authorized the use of $2 million of Port of Oakland funds to help truckers pay for diesel particulate filters that will reduce pollution, and the use of up to an additional $3 million of port funds to reduce pollution from trucking at the Oakland seaport. The filters are certified to reduce emissions by 85 percent.

The port commissioners approved the funding in support of retrofitting drayage trucks that serve the Port to help truckers meet the new state regulations that begin to take effect next year. The port board also approved funding to install 10 DPFs on port-owned vehicles in advance of statewide requirements, with a goal of reducing diesel emissions by 85 percent.

Port Board President Victor Uno says the plan is unique because it was developed from the ground up through ongoing consultation and input from a multi-stakeholder task force. “Air pollution comes from many sources in the Bay Area, and we want to do our part to help reduce diesel pollution from port-related activities,” Uno said.

“This plan is a valuable tool, allowing us to move forward with feasible projects that clean up the air and thereby promote a healthier community,” says Richard Sinkoff, the port’s director of the environmental programs and planning division.
– Staff reports

Tacoma port OKs plan to cut emissions
The Port of Tacoma (Wash.) Commission has authorized a fee-free, market-based program for reducing truck emissions.

A 2008 Tacoma port truck study indicated 86 percent of its trucks met 2010 emission standards. To encourage the remaining 14 percent to upgrade, the commission plan will:

· List pre-qualified drayage companies and promote companies that meet modernization goals.
· Partner with organizations to identify funding opportunities and options for fleet modernization.
· Work to improve terminal gate operations, which may include implementing anti-idling policies.
· Develop a communication and outreach strategy for the regional trucking community.
· Explore operational and technological innovations that might improve efficiency, such as secure, pre-gate parking.

The commission will also develop a system to track progress and continue partnering with the Port of Seattle to implement common components of each port’s truck program and coordinate expediting transportation infrastructure improvements.
– Jill Dunn

OOIDA sues state over ‘arbitrary’ fatigue enforcement
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has sued the Minnesota State Patrol over what it calls an “arbitrary enforcement program” to declare truckers fatigued and place them out of service.

State patrol spokesman Andy Skoogman said the patrol had not yet responded to the suit.
“We believe driving with fatigue is a serious public safety issue and the training we conduct to identify fatigued drivers is consistent with training to conduct with other road-related issues,” Skoogman said.

OOIDA members filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.
– Jill Dunn

ALABAMA. All drivers with metal coil loads that originate or end in the state are required to be certified on coil securing. Fines start at $5,000 and range up to $10,000 per incident.

ARIZONA. Vans equipped with cameras to track speeders are back on the highways for the first time since a civilian camera operator was shot and killed April 19 while parked beside a freeway in Phoenix. A man has been charged with first-degree murder, drive-by shooting and shooting a gun at a structure.

FLORIDA. A new law authorizes police to stop drivers who aren’t wearing seat belts. In addition, the state legislature was considering a 35 percent increase in motor vehicle registration fees that would raise the cost of registering an 80,000-pound truck to $1,300 from less than $1,000.

ILLINOIS. The legislature is considering a bill that would end split-speed limits for trucks and allow them to drive 65 mph outside urban areas. The law would apply to trucks weighing at least 8,001 pounds, starting in 2010.

MISSOURI. A bill that would have led to increased use of public-private partnerships on highways and bridges died in the Senate transportation committee. Only a Mississippi River project near St. Louis is permitted to use the partnership format.

NEW YORK. Laws have been signed authorizing the use of red light cameras at intersections in Buffalo, Rochester, Long Island and Yonkers. New York City has used such cameras for 15 years and will add 50 intersections for surveillance. Under a five-year pilot program, cameras will take photos of the license plates of vehicles running red lights. A $50 ticket will be mailed to the vehicles’ registered owners.

WEST VIRGINIA. A toll may be charged next year for the 4-mile state section of the Mon-Fayette Expressway and U.S. 35 between Winfield and the Ohio River to pay for expanding a 14-mile segment to four lanes. DOT held hearings on a proposal to increase tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike. The toll for five-axle trucks would jump to $6.75 from $4.25.