Truckers cope with flooding crisis
At least seven carrier terminals east of downtown Nashville, Tenn., sustained flood damage after record rainfall in May left the Cumberland River at levels not seen since the 1930s. Many, however, were able to move mobile equipment to higher ground before floodwaters rose too high and remained operational during the crisis.
Several rigs were caught in high water at the downtown Nashville TravelCenters of America. As of May 13, the facility remained closed, with a potential mid-June reopening.
Mike Stone, president of Milan Express, owner of one of the affected terminals, said his company was fully operational into and out of Nashville just two days after the flooding, as were other carriers, such as intermodal fleet TCW.
“We had an emergency and disaster plan in place and got that going immediately,” Stone said. “We were able to rescue most of our freight and our equipment before the police made us leave” May 2, as waters rose above 10 feet in some areas.
Milan and other carriers moved operations to temporary warehouses and other space, in many cases donated, and scrambled to keep business going amid nearly a week of high floodwaters.
Throughout the Nashville area, carriers have been assessing losses and cleaning up or rebuilding flooded terminal buildings. Cumulative damage in metro Nashville was estimated to have reached $1.5 billion. “Some of us personally have had issues with our own homes and everything else,” said Stone.
Up to 20 fatalities were blamed on the flooding, some occurring during inundation of Nashville-area interstates, which stranded many truckers through May 3.
For more pictures and video of the flooding, visit the Channel 19 blog: www.overdriveonline.com/channel19.
— Todd Dills
Agency starts driver pre-hiring program
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on May 11 began its Pre-Employment Screening Program, which allows carriers to access driver inspection and crash records before hiring.
The PSP provides up to five years of driver crash data and three years of inspection information. Data is provided monthly by FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Management Information System, which comprises driver performance data including inspection and compliance review results, enforcement data, state-reported crashes and carrier census data.
The National Information Consortium Technologies is contracted to provide data electronically to carriers with the drivers’ written consent. The carrier must enroll to participate in this optional program, and driver records are protected under federal privacy laws.
Drivers may purchase their own Driver Information Resource record for $10 with no subscription fee. Drivers can verify their data, correct discrepancies and may obtain their own information free from the FMCSA by submitting a Privacy Act request.
Carriers are charged $10 for each driver’s history and an annual subscription fee of $100, or for carriers with fewer than 100 power units, $25.
Companies may continue to obtain driver safety performance information by submitting a Privacy Act request to FMCSA at www.fmcsa.dot.gov/foia.
— Jill Dunn
KANSAS TRUCK OWNERS may receive grant money to buy truck equipment for reducing diesel emissions. Eligible items include engine idling-reduction devices, engine upgrade and replacement, low rolling resistance tires, retrofit technologies and vehicle replacement. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is accepting applications until June 18. For information, go to www.kdheks.gov/bar and click on “Kansas Clean Diesel Grant Program.”
LOVE’S TRAVEL STOP at I-40 in Choctaw, Okla., was destroyed by tornados May 10. Employees and visitors took cover in the beverage cooler and restrooms. No injuries were reported. The company said the location, which has been in operation for nearly 25 years, will be demolished. Replacement plans have not been announced.
PETERBILT’S MODEL 384 was named heavy-duty winner of the American Truck Dealers Commercial Truck of the Year for 2010. Trucks were judged on innovation and design, driver satisfaction, ease of maintenance and safety.
Cross-border plan coming soon
Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told a May 6 congressional hearing that a cross-border trucking program with Mexico would be announced soon.
“We will come to Capitol Hill and brief every senator that has an interest in what it says, get feedback,” he said. “It’s part of NAFTA. It needs to be restarted. We believe if it is restarted these tariffs will be lifted.”
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) questioned LaHood at the end of a Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee meeting. She has pushed for progress on a new program to end retaliatory tariffs imposed by Mexico after Congress voted to end cross-border trucking last year.
Murray said she hoped for resolution when Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon visited President Obama in May. A few days before the hearing, she had met with Mexico’s Ambassador to the U.S., Arturo Sarukhan, who told her Calderon planned on raising the issue during the visit.
On April 14, U.S. Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-Ore.) and 78 congressional members sent LaHood and U.S. Trade Rep. Ronald Kirk a letter asking them to renegotiate a section of the North American Free Trade Agreement. He describes this section, U.S. NAFTA Annex I (I-U-21), as committing the United States to “liberalize cross-border trucking.”
“NAFTA does not bind the U.S. to accept subpar safety standards, and Congress is not going to waive our rights under NAFTA,” DeFazio wrote. “We are entitled to require comparable standards for safety from Mexican trucking companies.”
On May 6, the U.S. State Department of State issued a security warning for U.S. citizens traveling to and living in Mexico, but no official warnings have been issued for truckers.
— Jill Dunn
ATA: Freight hauling to grow slowly
As the United States economy bounces back from the recession, freight transportation also is on the threshold for a sustained recovery, the American Trucking Associations reports in its newly released “ATA U.S. Freight Transportation Forecast to 2021.”
IHS Global Insight and Martin Labbe Associates, which contracted with ATA to conduct the study, project that by 2021 total freight tonnage will grow 25 percent and total freight transportation revenue will grow 69 percent. However, that positive outlook is set against the backdrop of the recession; the nation’s freight pool contracted by almost 12.5 percent in 2009.
The trucking industry can expect its share of total tonnage to increase gradually from 68 percent in 2009 to 70.7 percent by 2021. Measured by revenue, trucks hauled 81.9 percent of freight tonnage last year.
“There are certainly some risks, but I think better days do lie ahead for the freight hauling business,” says ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello.
The report also forecasts railroads’ share of total tonnage will slip slightly from 14.7 percent to 14.1 percent by 2021. Air, water and pipeline freight are predicted to grow over the forecast period.
— Staff reports
Agency action expected on sleep apnea
Regulators are likely to take steps toward sleep disorder screening as early as this year, officials said at last month’s Sleep Apnea & Trucking Conference in Baltimore.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is expected to incorporate new sleep disorder suggestions into a soon-to-be-released online medical examiner handbook, said National Transportation Safety Board Vice Chairman Christopher Hart. He also said he believes FMCSA will complete a revised examination report form by September to include the assessment of sleep disorders, and publish a best practices guide for physical examiners.
Mary Gunnels, director of FMCSA’s medical programs, said the trucking industry can expect “more emphasis” on sleep apnea, though she did not specify when or what changes might take place. She acknowledged that sleep apnea among truckers is a “public health concern” and that because of the nature of their job, drivers often suffer from multiple health problems.
Hart said that higher awareness and better ways to diagnose and treat sleep apnea will ensure that “most everyone treated will return to service.” He said NTSB made recommendations to FMCSA and other agencies to implement a program to identify people who are at high risk of obstructive sleep apnea and develop guidance for drivers, employers and physicians.
Anne Ferro, head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said a widespread approach is needed to reduce fatigue-related crashes by truckers.
“There is no silver bullet … but what we need to strive for is silver buckshot,” Ferro said. She said this could be accomplished through research, programs, events, education, and targeted outreach and intervention.
The challenge for FMCSA and industry leaders is “to provide affordable and implementable solutions for the industry at large,” Ferro said, including small fleet owners and owner-operators who “can’t always leverage the economies of scale that large carriers can.”
Dr. Martin R. Walker, chief of FMCSA’s research division, noted that a 2002 study found that almost a third of commercial drivers have mild to severe obstructive sleep apnea. This study, along with a later study, found that older age and higher body mass index – two factors common to truckers – are commonly linked with sleep apnea.
— Misty Bell
Trailer orders surge in March
March commercial trailer net orders were up 165 percent from March 2009, says an ACT Research Co. report.
Commercial trailer net orders have posted year-over year growth for six consecutive months, including four months in which the increases were more than double last year.
The ACT trailer report notes year-over-year growth in all nine trailer segments. Dry van, the volume leader, has a year-to-date growth in net orders of 233 percent. Reefer van, which generally performed best during the recession, continues to gain, with year-to-date growth of 63 percent.
The improving orders pushed total trailer backlogs to their highest level in 18 months, which will support a gradual increase in production rates, the firm said.
“The stretch of stronger months has come during the normal peak season for trailer orders, so the industry is being cautious about ramping up production too rapidly to ensure growth is sustainable,” says Steve Tam, vice president of the commercial vehicle sector with ACT Research.
– Staff reports
SPOT MARKET FREIGHT availability increased by 259 percent in March compared to a year earlier, according to TransCore’s North American Freight Index. The high load volume in March, added to the atypically high totals of January and February, contributed to the strongest first-quarter volume since 2004, according to the company. March’s spot freight also exceeded February’s near-record volume by 44 percent.
THE CALIFORNIA AIR RESOURCES BOARD has begun to revise its strategy for the cleanup of on- and off-road diesel engines. CARB has asked staff to draft changes to the regulations that will mitigate the potential effects of an unfavorable economy on affected businesses. CARB also told staff to consider approaches to give credit to firms that already have complied with the regulations, and to examine the possibility of additional loans and incentive funding for the program.
Navistar settles suit over engine technology
Navistar International Corp. said it had reached an agreement May 3 with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that settles lawsuits it had filed in March 2009 concerning the agency’s certification policies for diesel-powered trucks equipped with selective catalytic reduction.
EPA agreed to hold a public workshop or hearing to address the issues Navistar raised in its challenges before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Navistar had argued EPA’s guidance documents for SCR implementation were invalid because the agency had adopted them without the required public process and had relied only on input from the SCR engine makers. Navistar contended that EPA’s guidance would allow SCR-equipped trucks to operate for extended periods without any control of NOx emissions, resulting in certification of SCR engines as meeting NOx emission requirements when they do not.
Navistar is the only heavy-duty engine maker not using SCR to meet 2010 emissions standards.
The settlement affects two related lawsuits, one directed at the February 2009 guidance memorandum to SCR engine makers and the other addressed issues related to EPA’s 2001 rule setting NOx standards.
According to Navistar, the agreement provides that EPA will “engage in a public process to re-examine its policies, for future 2011 and later model year engines,” during which it will “provide a thorough review of EPA’s policies regarding operation of SCR-equipped engines.”
“SCR technology is the only currently available option for complying with the 2010 emission standards without the use of emission credits,” said a Daimler Trucks North America spokesperson in response. “We are pleased that the uncertainty caused by questionable litigation is now eliminated and that the EPA remains committed to supporting SCR technology.”
— Avery Vise
UCR fees almost doubled
Fees for one- and two-truck operations nearly doubled as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on April 27 issued a final rule on annual registration fees and a fee bracket structure for the Unified Carrier Registration (UCR) Agreement for 2010. The rule, effective immediately, was published in the Federal Register.
The minimum fee, which applies to a one-truck operation or to a broker or freight forwarder, will go from $39 to $76. The 2010 fees are: 1-2 trucks, $76; 3-5 trucks, $227; 6-20 trucks, $452; 21-100 trucks, $1,576; 101-1,000 trucks, $7,511; and 1,001 and more, $73,346.
The fee increases under the final rule are slightly less than the hike in FMCSA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking published last September.
The agency said several factors drove the need to increase fees to provide the $113 million necessary to ensure that states receive the revenues they got under the Single State Registration System. One was a change in federal law in 2008 that eliminated trailers from the calculation; that change alone required an increase in fees to maintain the revenue even if every single carrier complied, FMCSA said.
But compliance with the registration requirement has been far from 100 percent. Between 80 and 90 percent of carriers operating 100 or more trucks have registered under UCR, but the compliance rate among brokers and freight forwarders is only 16 percent. Less than 60 percent of single-truck operations have registered; in 2008, the overall compliance rate was 62.5 percent.
In comments filed for the rulemaking, state agencies generally supported the fee increase, while the trucking industry generally opposed it. The Truckload Carriers Association said the proposal would “negatively affect the motor carrier industry in order to subsidize both noncompliant motor carriers and the states that will not put forth the effort to increase UCRA [UCR Agreement] compliance.’’
To view the final rule and comments, go to www.regulations.gov. The docket is FMCSA-2009-0231.
— Staff reports
Merits of port truck programs debated
Opposing sides presented views of two Southern California port Clean Truck Programs at a May 5 hearing as part of Congress’ examination of whether it should change trucking laws.
Highways and Transit subcommittee members heard testimony on Los Angeles and Long Beach port programs, which are similar, except for the Los Angeles port’s program that would ban owner-operators from regularly serving the ports.
John Holmes, Los Angeles port deputy executive director, testified the requirement for drivers to be employees, not owner-operators, is necessary to enforce program accountability and sustain it.
The American Trucking Associations is in a court battle against the Los Angeles port over this requirement. Last year ATA won a preliminary injunction against the requirement and is seeking a permanent injunction.
– Jill Dunn
Research shows hours rule safe
In an effort to answer questions over whether current hours-of-service regulations have hurt safety, the American Transportation Research Institute released a report concluding that trucking safety has improved since 2004. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s first major rewrite of the hours rule took effect Jan. 4, 2004.
ATRI’s analysis of data shows that the total collision rate dropped 12 percent from 2004 to 2009. Preventable collisions declined 31 percent, ATRI said.
Regulations governing drivers’ working hours seem to have little effect on safety anyway, ATRI concluded. Based on 2009 data, 87 percent of commercial motor vehicle crashes occurred within the first 8 hours of driving. ATRI also found that drivers generally used the 34-hour restart provision three or fewer times per month.
— Staff reports
Groups oppose climate change bill
The American Trucking Associations says it cannot support the American Power Act, the climate change bill introduced by U.S. Sens. John Kerry and Joe Lieberman.
Bill Graves, ATA president and chief executive officer, says the bill will raise the cost of gasoline and diesel fuel without significantly reducing the output of carbon dioxide by the trucking industry, which is a nondiscretionary user of diesel fuel.
The Senate bill would require refiners to purchase billions of dollars worth of carbon allowances that correspond to the carbon footprint of the fuels they sell. ATA says it believes the refiners then will pass this cost on to consumers in the form of higher fuel prices.
“While others might object to our characterization, the climate bill clearly imposes a tax on transportation fuels and reallocates revenue from that tax for non-transportation purposes,” Graves says. Only a small portion of the tax would go to the Highway Trust Fund for improvements to the nation’s highway infrastructure, he says.
Meanwhile, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association says the Kerry-Lieberman bill will have a tough time getting passed during an election year.
In addition, OOIDA Director of Legislative Affairs Mike Joyce says the bill ultimately will impose a tax on users of fossil fuels, such as truckers. “They said that the Congressional Budget Office would score this as not being a fuel tax, but about putting a price on carbon,” Joyce said. “Lieberman said this bill puts a price on carbon, and that means a fuel tax is coming.”
The bill will markedly increase the cost of fuel, but the trucking industry is not a discretionary user of fuel, Graves said, because “the bulk of trucking companies’ fuel use is for their economically vital role of distributing freight.”
— Staff reports
ARIZONA. Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that called for studying the safety of keeping trucks to the right on Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson and other non-urbanized areas with three or more lanes in each direction. State law limits slow traffic to the right.
CONNECTICUT. Beginning in December 2013, truck drivers operating in the state could face $75 fines for not removing snow and ice from their vehicles and fines up to $1,250 if ice or snow flies off and causes damage or injury.
IDAHO. A rest area at the junction of U.S. 20 and Idaho Highway 75 is getting an estimated $2 million makeover to add five parking spaces and create separate areas for trucks and cars. The rest area plans to reopen in September.
KENTUCKY. A law prohibits texting while driving for drivers of all ages, except in an emergency. Warnings will be issued this year to drivers to inform them of the law, which takes effect Jan. 1.
MICHIGAN. New legislation prohibits a person from reading, writing or sending text messages while driving a vehicle in the state, except in an emergency. Under the ban, texting while driving is a secondary offense that allows law enforcement officials to ticket drivers if they are pulled over for another offense.
NEBRASKA. Starting July 1, texting while driving will be a secondary offense, which means police officers can’t stop potential violators without suspecting them of breaking another law. Violators could face $200 fines.
PENNSYLVANIA. The state has ended its idling exemption for trucks during federally mandated operator rest periods. Before May 1, trucks were exempt from the idling restriction under a 2008 state law covering idling of diesel-powered motor vehicles.
UTAH. Expect delays of one to two hours during peak periods and five hours during holidays as the state rebuilds I-15 from Lehi to Spanish Fork. The 24-mile long project entails reconstructing 55 bridges and 10 interchanges. Work is planned to be done by December 2012.
WISCONSIN. Starting Dec. 1, drivers who text while driving face fines of $20 to $400. second-time violators face fines of $200 to $800. The law is primary, which means police can stop motorists suspected of this offense alone.
Trucking jobs up in April
Trucking companies added 1,000 jobs in April, but payroll employment for the industry was 3,200 lower than what the government had reported earlier for March.
Preliminary figures released by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics show that for-hire trucking added 1,000 jobs in April over March, but the latest figures also revised downward the payroll employment numbers for February and March.
The upshot is that the 600-job increase the Bureau reported for March in April became a 2,400-job loss. That’s on top of a 1,200-job downward revision for February that’s also included in the figures released May 7.
Trucking employment in April was down 47,700, or 3.7 percent, from April 2009. Preliminary data show payroll employment of almost 1.227 million jobs – down 226,700, or 15.6 percent, from the trucking employment peak in January 2007.
Nationwide, the economy gained 290,000 jobs in April.
— Avery Vise
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
JUNE 8-10: COMMERCIAL VEHICLE SAFETY ALLIANCE ANNUAL ROAD CHECK, www.cvsa.org, (202) 775-1623.
JUNE 11-12: OAK GROVE TRUCKERS JAMBOREE, Oak Grove Petro, Oak Grove, Mo., www.oakgrovepetro.com, (816) 690-4455.
JUNE 17-19: THE GREAT WEST TRUCK SHOW, Las Vegas, (888) 349-4287, www.greatwesttruckshow.com.
JUNE 18-19: MUSIC CITY CHAPTER Antique and Working Truck Show, American Truck Historical Society and Cumberland Plateau Antique Tractor and Gas Engine Show, Crossville Fairground, Crossville, Tenn., (931) 200-3203.
JUNE 25-27: NAST/CHARLESTON TRUCK SHOW, Charleston, S.C., Lucas Fry at (843) 819-0318.
JULY 8-9: WALCOTT TRUCKERS JAMBOREE, Iowa 80 Truckstop, Walcott, Iowa, iowa80truckstop.com, (563) 284-6961.
AUG. 13-14: WAUPUN TRUCK-N-SHOW, Waupun, Wis., www.waupuntrucknshow.com, (920) 324-9985.
AUG. 13-15: GREAT SALT LAKE KIDNEY KAMP TRUCK SHOW, Thanksgiving Point, Utah, Lehi Exit 284 from I-15, (800) 877-1320.
AUG. 14: MUSIC CITY CHAPTER Antique and Working Truck Show, American Truck Historical Society, Putnam County Fair, Cookeville, Tenn., (931) 235-1311.
AUG. 26-28: THE GREAT AMERICAN TRUCKING SHOW, Dallas, (888) 349-4287, www.gatsonline.com.
SEPT. 10-12: MIDWEST ALL-TRUCK NATIONALS, Riverside, Mo., www.alltrucknats.com.
SEPT. 17-19: RICHARD CRANE MEMORIAL TRUCK SHOW, St. Ignace, Mich., Ed Reavie, (906) 643-8087.
SEPT. 24-25: MUSIC CITY CHAPTER 20th Annual Antique and Working Truck Show, American Truck Historical Society and Middle Tenn. Antique and Engine Tractor Show, Hyder-Burks Agriculture Pavilion, Cookeville Tenn., (931) 235-1311.
Idleaire planning to restart 23 sites
Two months after new investors indicated they intended to restart Idleaire, the truck shore power provider has announced it soon will reopen 23 locations.
Restarts will be at independent truck stops, Pilot Travel Centers, All American Travel Plazas and franchises at TravelCenters of America and Petro Stopping Centers. Five of the reopenings would be in Texas and five more in Pennsylvania.
A manager for one store where Idleaire is scheduled to restart, Sapp Bros. of Salt Lake City, said she was told May 17 her location would have electrification available in four weeks.
Thomas O’Brien, who heads TravelCenters of America, said in a May 10 conference call with stock analysts that he expected Idleaire equipment to eventually be removed from TA locations.
Tennessee-based Idleaire, the major provider of shore power at truck stops, closed Jan. 29 after its owners the previous 18 months did not find a buyer.
The operation had served 150,000 truckers and more than 1,000 fleets using its 131 locations in 34 states.
— Jill Dunn
A SIGNIFICANT PORTION of the strong demand for truck production in the first half of 2010 was due to fleets taking advantage of build slots for power units with pre-2010 engine technology, pulling demand from the second half of the year, says FTR Associates. ACT Research Co. forecasts significant demand for new equipment in 2011. The firm pointed to a growing North American economy and rapidly tightening capacity in the truckload sector as factors leading to increased demand.
U.S. TRUCK TONNAGE ROSE 7.5 percent in March from a year earlier, the fourth straight year-over-year monthly increase, the American Trucking Associations said. The increase was the biggest since January 2005. For the first quarter, tonnage gained 4.9 percent over last year’s first quarter, says ATA.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION announced $49 billion in highway funds is available to state departments of transportation for federal projects through the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act.
THE TRUCK DRIVER who crossed a median and crashed into a van on March 26 on Interstate 65 south of Louisville, Ky., killing 10 people and himself, was talking on a cell phone and may have been speeding, according to a state police accident report. The Louisville Courier-Journal obtained the report that says the truck’s driver, Kenneth E. Laymon, was distracted and did not have his tractor-trailer under control. n