The New York Terminal Produce Market is the largest produce market in the world. Idle for more than three minutes and you could end up with a $350 ticket.
In the South Bronx, February is the cruelest month.
This year the temperature was too cold to sleep comfortably in a truck but not cold enough to legally crank up the engine and turn on the heater. That’s what Los Angeles truck driver Peter Hara found out when he tried to idle at Hunts Point, the world’s largest food market.
“I want to go back to the West Coast,” Hara said on Feb. 18, a cold, blustery day. “I almost froze to death last night.”
If dealing with the miserable cold wasn’t enough, Hara was almost fined $350 for his effort to stay warm. Instead, the trucker, who brought a load of strawberries to New York City from California, got a warning from one of the city’s finest – idling enforcement officers who patrol the sprawling 150-acre meat, fish and produce markets across the East River from Manhattan.
Other long-haul truckers haven’t been so lucky. Since the city and state began enforcing anti-idling laws last November, produce shippers say dozens of truckers have been ticketed and hundreds now refuse to go to the market because of the enforcement.
Idling laws, such as those in New York City and the state, are not new – more than 20 states and municipalities have something on the books to prevent or reduce big rig idling. The New York state law that limits idling to five minutes, for example, has been on the books since 1996. But enforcement has been lax. That is changing as cities and states scramble for federal clean air dollars and residents near truckstops and terminals clamor for cleaner air and less noise.
In fact, more regulations are on the way in California and smog-laden cities like Houston. Diesel prices and maintenance costs are forcing trucking companies to jump on the bandwagon, limiting the time drivers can idle, often without options like gensets, inverters, electric climate systems or auxiliary power units.
For truckers, the days of idling at will are numbered, and the struggle is on to find a financially and technologically viable alternative.
West Coast shore power
In California, Bill Warf, a project manager at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, has taken on that struggle. Warf, who started his career as a Peterbilt engineer, has a solution figured out for the hundreds of thousands of over-the-road trucks idling every night – shore power. Used for decades to power ships in marina berths and recreation vehicles at campsites, basic 110-volt hookups can power all the electric equipment like refrigerators, televisions and entertainment systems in modern sleepers. Climate systems that run off 110-power are also installed on many trucks and available as options on most 2004 model Class 8 sleepers. The promise is there, but the plugs aren’t.
“I started working on this program two years ago,” says Warf. “Carriers don’t have much interest in shore power because there are no plugs where they go, it’s not what truckers do and they have to invest in equipment.”
It’s a chicken-and-egg problem, Warf admits. Fleets want shore power but don’t have places to plug into, and truckstops and terminals want to provide it, but trucks don’t have the equipment. Still, Warf has convinced California grocer fleet Ozark Trucking to equip two of its 100 trucks with a system that allows them to run HVAC systems and other appliances for nearly eight hours without idling. Where plugs are available, an onboard shore power kit allows the two drivers for Ozark Trucking to run conveniences without idling – even when temperatures rise above 100 degrees.
The system includes a Dometic air conditioner/heater unit, a Xantrex inverter/charger, a Phillips & Temro basic cab wiring kit and from one to three Lifeline VRLA batteries. Depending on the number of batteries, the system provides from six to eight hours of idle-free operation. Says trucker Mike Murphy, whose Freightliner Century Class is equipped with the system, “It’s great on three points: It’s quiet, there are no emissions and there is no diesel smell.”
A few miles down the road from Ozark Trucking, along I-80 and I-5, owner-operator David Conn of Austin, Texas, polishes his Volvo VN 770 wheels on a cool, March day at the 49er Travel Plaza, one of a handful of truckstops in the United States that actually offers shore power. He is parked in one of the stop’s 16 shore power parking spaces, but even though he has a factory-installed shore power kit, he isn’t plugged in because of mild temperatures in the 70s. “I cut down idling all I can,” Conn says. “I usually plug in at home when I’m trying to keep the food in my refrigerator cold.”
Conn estimates he idles only 10 to 12 hours a week, and when he stops, he ducks into lounges, truckstops and waiting rooms. With a gallon of diesel at nearby California pumps priced above $1.84, the trucker, who pulls for Landstar Ranger, says he can’t afford to idle because he spends $2,500 to $3,500 a month on fuel. “I do everything to save on fuel,” he says.
Despite the spring-like weather, a dozen trucks in the sparsely populated lot idled away in defiance. That’s a part of the problem, say environmentalists, government workers and even fleet managers. Drivers are used to idling.
“Whenever you talk about making changes, you have to remember the industry,” says Ozark Trucking’s Ed Gemache, who is the company’s senior safety and maintenance manager. “The lights have to be on if the truck is parked, the truck can’t move unless the CB works and you have to idle it if you’re going to be a truck driver. That’s probably what they teach you in the first day of school at Western Truck Driving School.”
Others say the tradition of idling goes back to a period when trucks weren’t as reliable. “It has to be pretty darn bitter for these trucks not to turn over,” says Fred Wagner, a project manager with the alternative energy company Energetics, a U.S. Department of Energy contractor charged with studying ways to eliminate idling in big rigs. “That’s just tradition. It’s what fleets and truckers have been programmed to do.”
“That lifestyle is going to change,” says David Everhart, president of IdleAire, a national idling alternative company. “It’s going to be painful for a lot of them.”
Indeed, in Des Moines, Iowa, Howard Hein, president of Jacobson Transportation, says his efforts to limit idling in his 350-truck fleet have been challenging for that very reason. The company began monitoring idling numbers downloaded from its truck engines three years ago, and while idle times have dropped from above 40 percent, some drivers have had trouble getting the message.
“We were idling away thousands of dollars a month,” Hein says. “It’s little things. A driver comes into the office and leaves his truck running. Or it’s 65 degrees out and they idle. We don’t want them to freeze or roast, but if it’s a nice day, they need to shut the truck off. Some of our drivers used to go into a truckstop and eat and let the truck idle the whole time. We’ve improved that substantially.”
The company, which averaged 6 miles per gallon three years ago, has cut idling to 15 percent or below and averages more than 7 mpg now. Occasionally the fleet will catch a driver idling more than he should, including one who left his truck idling over an entire weekend. But drivers have adjusted and are more likely to rely on their diesel-fired Espar Air Heaters, which allow them to heat their trucks without idling. Hein says the company will eventually invest in similar air-cooling units, once it finds a reliable model.
Carriers like Jacobson Transportation and Ozark Trucking have many reasons to reduce idling. According to the federal government’s Argonne National Laboratories, idling trucks consume more than 2 million gallons of diesel every day. As fuel prices rise, the cost to truckers and their companies grows. Concerned about those costs, the country’s biggest truckload carrier, Schneider National, began equipping all of its 2004 trucks with Webasto climate systems and is retrofitting its 2003 trucks with them. For Schneider, the investment reduces idling and helps the company meet its goals as part of a new Environmental Protection Agency government-industry program called SmartWay Transport Partnership. (See “EPA Paves New Idling Route with SmartWay”)
For now the idling solution, a Webasto Air Top 2000, which is diesel-fired and fits under the bunk, provides only heat for drivers. The company is testing a cooling solution. “We’ve been able to reduce idling by quite a bit already,” says Schneider’s Mike Norder. In addition to fuel savings, the company is banking that the equipment will provide better rest than idling, which will result in safer drivers.
But fuel and safety aren’t the only concerns for fleets and owner-operators. The EPA estimates maintenance and engine wear costs from idling trucks runs up an additional $1.13 bill per truck per day. That’s owner-operator Robert Jordan’s take, too. And he has the data to back it up.
“I remember the first investment I made in idle reduction technology,” he jokes. “I bought a 20-below sleeping bag and roughed it through the winter. I couldn’t afford anything else, but I couldn’t afford to idle.”
The Wisconsin trucker says most truckers change their oil based on miles – with owner-operators routinely using service intervals of 10,000 to 15,000 miles. That’s probably a good thing since those trucks have spent as much as half of their hours idling. But Jordan, who averages an hour of idling each week, changes his oil closer to 30,000 miles. He estimates he changes his oil four to five times less a year than other truckers, a savings of nearly $1,000. Coupled with the $110 he estimates he saves a week on fuel from reducing idling, Jordan takes home nearly $7,000 a year more than truckers who idle.
As an owner-operator with children in private school, Jordan says he can’t idle. “I have this fear of taking the truck to a shop,” he says. “It’s a double hit. You’re not just hit with a repair bill, but the downtime as well. I’ve always needed money. The first time I had my truck in the shop, I lost a week of productivity and had a $3,500 bill to pay.” Jordan figured the fastest way to save money and avoid costly repair bills was to stop idling his truck. “I never did it to save money on fuel but to save money on repairs. I read somewhere what idling does to an engine and its repair life. That’s when I stopped idling.”
Engine makers say big truck engines are designed to go down the highway and that idling them is the least efficient way to run them. A truck at highway speeds is running hot enough to work optimally and has enough cooling capacity. Damage occurs on a number of levels when the truck engine idles:
- The combustion chamber isn’t hot enough, so pistons don’t fit tightly, resulting in oil blow-by, deposits on the piston and in the combustion chamber.
- Fuel doesn’t burn hot enough, leaving more diesel mixed in with oil, which reduces the life cycle of the oil and leads to a loss of viscosity.
- Heat builds unevenly, leaving components exposed to high temperatures on one side and cold temperatures on the other and leading to premature failure.
- Fans run to cool the engine, reducing their lifecycle.
The maintenance argument is starting to appeal to both equipment builders and carriers. Truck and engine manufacturers used the industry’s biggest event, the Mid-America Trucking Show, at the end of March to showcase idle reduction efforts. Cummins became the first to offer an auxiliary power unit integrated into truck and engine designs. Caterpillar announced a high-tech partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy. Several truck makers discussed their efforts to exploit new technology, like hydrogen fuel cells, and old standbys, like gensets and automated engine shutoffs, to reduce idling. And component manufacturers like Bergstrom and Dometic showed off powerful air-cooling equipment that could provide the alternative for which many fleets are searching.
East Coast environmental impact
While fleets have an incentive to not idle – reducing maintenance and fuel consumption – cities and states have compelling reasons to forbid it. Before Nov. 1, Mike Varella, a 34-year employee at the New York City Terminal Produce Market at Hunts Point, says breathing was difficult and his skin was covered with the grime of diesel exhaust at the end of a day driving his yard mule. “The air quality is much better,” Varella says. Tickets and warnings by police have virtually eliminated idling in the facility. “It’s also much quieter.
Normally, I’d have grease on my face. It’s changed a lot.”
Varella, who lives a couple of blocks from the produce market, says the change was necessary. New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (see “Welcome to New York, Please Turn Off Your Truck,” page 26) forced the produce market to begin enforcing state and city laws last summer, claiming that annual emissions from illegal idling produced 32 tons of nitrogen oxides, 31 tons of carbon monoxide and 9.6 tons of particulates – the largest source of industrial pollution in the Bronx. Since the Hunts Point community is home to more than 10,000 residents, the issue of pollution has political and practical resonance. One report on the South Bronx estimates 30 percent of children there have asthma. Bronx children are hospitalized for asthma at the second highest rate in the New York City boroughs (Harlem has the highest rate) – more than 4,000 cases a year. But kids from Hunts Point neighborhoods make up more than half that number.
New York owner-operator Terrance Battle, who spent Feb. 18 fixing his truck in the parking lot at the produce market, says he understands both sides: truckers who are freezing and miserable in their trucks and neighbors who want a better quality of life. “I’m from New York, so I understand,” Battle says. “You wouldn’t want this in your back yard.”
New York isn’t the only neighborhood feeling the effect of idling. Consider a study released earlier this year on pollution at the Mexican border; the Commission for Environmental Cooperation found children in Jaurez, Mexico, which is across the border from El Paso, Texas, were visiting the hospital more frequently and, worse, dying in greater numbers. The study found “significant associations” between child mortality and particulate matter emitted from diesel engines. The study found that 231 children 5 years old and younger died due to respiratory illness between 1997 and 2001 – a third of all deaths in children under 6 years old.
Health experts say the grim picture of air pollution at the southern border exists because so many trucks idle while waiting to cross the border. More than 1 million trucks crossed the border between Juarez and El Paso in 2001 compared to only 600,000 in 1996.
The study has its doubters, but similar evidence is popping up at other ports of entry, like the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, which are the largest fixed source of air pollution in Southern California, according to a study released March 22 by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Coalition for Clean Air. Those environmental groups estimate the ports’ ships, trains and trucks emit 31.4 metric tons of nitrous oxides a day. “Residents of the adjacent communities of San Pedro and Wilmington are already plagued by severe acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) respiratory illnesses, and suffer from some of the highest levels of cancer risk in the Los Angeles region,” the report concludes.
If concentrations near the places where trucks idle can wreak havoc, says Frank Stodolsky, principle investigator for the Argonne National Laboratory, “Imagine what it’s like in the middle of a truckstop on a cold night.” But few studies exist on the correlation between breathing ailments and diesel exhaust for truck drivers. The studies, which look at exposure to diesel exhaust, focus largely on short-term issues like dizziness and eye irritation.
While reports specifically targeting truckstops are elusive, there are piles of federal reports about the effects of diesel exhaust. A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study on adults, for example, suggests that diesel exhaust be treated as a human carcinogen, or cancer-causing agent. And there is the global impact of idling diesel engines, which in the United States pump more than 350 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air annually. For cities and states already struggling with automobile pollution issues, like ground level ozone and particulate exhaust, idling truck engines just exacerbate environmental problems.
Now cities and states are fighting back.
Houston has limited idling to five minutes between April 1 and Oct. 31. California, having passed measures to reduce idling at ports, is considering curbing idling statewide. One proposal by the Air Resources Board would require heavy-duty trucks to be equipped with an idling shut-off device, which would shut a truck down after five minutes of idling. Another proposal would limit idling to five minutes and would be enforced by ARB officers, state highway patrols and local police.
In upstate New York, idling enforcement is on the rise, too. Police have been ticketing truckers on the state’s Thruway. But efforts are also underway there to offer truckers alternatives. Last year, the state and IdleAire, a Tennessee-based company, installed truckstop electrification platforms at two sites along I-90 near Syracuse. In all, there are 45 parking spaces along the Thruway where a driver can park his truck, shut down and temporarily install an IdleAire module in his window. The module will provide air conditioning or heat as well as electricity, communications and entertainment.
It’s projects like this that give Joseph Tario, project manager for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, hope that the tide is turning. “I think it’s starting to break loose,” Tario says. “If the infrastructure was out there, truckers would have long ago plugged in their trucks. Similarly, the travel plazas would have put electrification out there if trucks were equipped.”
Still, use of the IdleAire facilities in New York is “lower than we expected,” Tario says. Only 40 percent of the capacity is being used on any given day, but Tario thinks stepped-up enforcement will change that. So will additional electrification spots and the spread of shore power technology on trucks. NYSERDA is partnering with New York’s DOT, Caterpillar, the Antares Group, and the U.S. Department of Energy, among others, on two anti-ilding projects. In one, NYSERDA, the state DOT, Antares and DOE will retrofit existing trucks and
install shorepower pedestals on the I-87 Adirondack Northway. In the second project, NYSERDA is working with Caterpillar to fund a state demonstration of its MorElectric technology on ten trucks spread over two different fleets.
In addition to California and New York, multiple states and municipalities are jumping on the anti-idling bandwagon because they’re worried about federal highway
dollars. Monies designated for repair and maintenance of highways are tied to state efforts to curb emissions. Some states target coal-burning power plants and motorists, but idling trucks are increasingly seen as a solution to meet federal pollution targets.
“We’ve been telling our customers for a long time that lawmakers are going to get rid of truck idling,” says Brian Lawrence, manager of heavy-duty trucks for inverter manufacturer Xantrex. “You have to feel for the drivers out there and the fleets that are getting cracked down on.”
Hard habit to break
But cities and states as well as idling-conscious carriers also have to overcome driver resistance. When the EPA first began looking at ways to reduce idling, they surveyed drivers. Truckers told the agency they idle primarily to stay comfortable. As more trucks have creature comforts like entertainment equipment, refrigerators and microwaves, the demand for power in the cabs – which for most truckers means idling – is increasing. Even with new options, like IdleAire, many drivers aren’t willing to give up their habits.
“I’m not coming back here,” says Los Angeles trucker Peter Hara after a cold night in New York without those creature comforts. “I’m not going to freeze.”
“Truckers leave their engines running all the time in the craziest situations,” says NYSERDA’s Tario. “I guess it’s insurance and habit. Those old habits are hard to break, but we see our repeat customer rate climb month after month. The people who like shore power come back again and again.”
But NYSERDA’s efforts, along with SMUD’s in Sacramento, are local efforts. Nationally, only IdleAire is tackling the problem. The company is seeing its usage climb, primarily through fleet-owned trucks. More than 300 have signed contracts to let their drivers use IdleAire’s services, and David Everhart says truckers have used more than 1.3 million hours of IdleAire services in the last six months. But the company faces some hurdles. It’s funded in part with grant money, and profitability may be elusive. There are inevitable comparisons to other failed truckstop-based ventures. Everhart, however, says looming legislation and fuel prices will make services like IdleAire inevitable.
For today’s truckers, availability of such services remains a big issue. States and cities may be enacting legislation and enforcing existing laws, but alternatives to idling are hard to find or, in the case of APUs and gensets, too expensive. Drivers may have to face fleets eager to cut fuel consumption and governments eager to cut emissions without a viable alternative.
If that happens, many will be left out in the cold or sweltering in the heat.
Welcome to New York, Please Turn Off Your Truck
New York City Police Sgt. Edwin Ramos is bundled against the cold as he climbs into a Ford Explorer at the Hunts Point produce market. It’s 40 degrees outside, and Ramos and his fellow cops at the world’s largest food market are on a mission – find idling trucks and shut them down.
“We have a job to do,” he says as he rolls up and down lanes of out-of-state trucks, all quiet in the brisk, February morning. The word is out: Idle in the South Bronx for longer than three minutes and your trip to New York City could be ruined with a $350 ticket. Worse, if a state trooper catches you idling for longer than five minutes, you could end up with a $1,000 fine.
On Feb. 18, there are practically no trucks idling, though the temperature is low and the wind cuts through exposed flesh. Last October, this wasn’t the case, Ramos says. Truckers idled and diesel exhaust permeated everything – from the poorly ventilated tollhouses to the docks where exotic produce from all over North and South America lay in bins waiting for delivery to Manhattan. Workers with sooty skin and irritated eyes shouted over the rattle of diesel engines and forklifts.
The shouting is still present at the New York City Terminal Produce Co-Operative Market, but the rattle from diesel engines and the acrid fumes are largely gone, thanks in large part to the political and legal pressure brought by the state’s attorney general, Eliot Spitzer. Spitzer’s office, in an effort to improve emissions, forced the market to begin enforcing the city’s idling laws that were passed in 1999.
The market and the city police insist the effort to reduce idling has been fair. Signs went up last summer, and educational efforts, including multi-lingual pamphlets explaining the rule, were carried out for months. Since full-scale enforcement began in November, there have been many more warnings given than tickets; in fact, tickets are rare. Ramos says his staff will hand out 20 to 30 warnings a week but only a couple of tickets.
“It hurts truckers’ pockets,” Ramos says. “The first time they idle, we warn them. We’re also selective. We’re not going to let the guys freeze.” Understandably, truckers aren’t always pleased when Ramos or one of his 40 fellow officers raps on their door. Many claim they don’t know, as one did Feb. 18, even though a clearly-marked sign about the law hung on a lamp post just five feet from his driver’s side window. Others berate the officers about the cold or the heat, claiming the police don’t care about their health.
This isn’t true, Ramos insists, proudly displaying newspaper articles about a trucker who police officers resuscitated from a heart attack. “We give out way more warnings than tickets,” Ramos tells a concerned tenant of the market. “We use a lot of discretion.”
In fact, neither the police nor the market is happy about the enforcement, says Myra Gordon, executive administrative director. “It’s hurting business,” Gordon says. “If no solution is found, businesses will leave this area. It will become a jobs issue.”
The reason businesses – produce shippers – are considering moving out of the South Bronx to Philadelphia or Boston, where idling laws are less stringent, is purely economical. As more truckers receive tickets or suffer through a bitter cold night or hot, humid August day, fewer are willing to bring produce to the market.
“The cost of a truck goes up to $3,200,” Gordon says. “The rest of the world is paying $2,700. A trucker who comes in here has to charge $500 more so that he feels if he gets a ticket he’ll be covered.”
Shippers say they’re already seeing a decrease in the number of available units, which is putting a crunch on their business. “This law has had a pretty dramatic impact,” says Paul Kazan, president of Target Intermodal Systems, Inc. “There’s no infrastructure to support it. No IdleAire, no lounge. A lot of drivers don’t want to come here. If they do come here, they don’t want to come back.”
As much as 30 percent of the carriers willing to do business with Target before November no longer have trucks available for delivery, Kazan says. It’s forcing him to think about alternatives – like staging trucks in New Jersey where truckers can idle with impunity. It’s cheaper than paying drivers a premium just to come to New York City, Kazan says.
Market directors, police officers, shippers and even drivers say enforcement of the anti-idling law is impractical at the produce market because no alternatives exist. New York City trucker Terrance Battle says the market needs to set up a lounge for out-of-town drivers so they can keep warm or cool when they’re stranded. “I try to get in and out when it’s cold or hot,” Battle says. “Without some kind of alternative, you can freeze or burn up.”
There is a small restaurant that remains open 24 hours, but for a long-haul driver stranded for several days at the market waiting to be unloaded, the restaurant offers little respite.
Across the street at the neighboring meat market, IdleAire installed equipment in 28 spaces that allows truckers to enjoy air, heat, electricity and other conveniences for a small hourly fee. But from the start of enforcement until the end of March, that facility was unavailable for truckers at the produce market unless they wanted to pay the $25 toll to enter the meat market.
Some progress is being made, however. The market is looking at alternatives, including installing its own truckstop electrification system for drivers. And a recent agreement with the meat market will give 5,400 produce market trucks per year access to the IdleAire facility there without paying the entrance fee.
Market personnel and police are hopeful that adjustments in enforcement procedures can be made as well. Currently, truckers can idle if temperatures fall below 25 degrees,
as they did all of January. There is no exception for high temperatures, although police generally don’t enforce the rule if temperatures exceed 95 degrees.
“I think they need to raise the temperature to 32 degrees as opposed to 25,” Ramos says. “And in the summer we need an allowance. These guys could roast to death and have heat attacks. When it’s hot, the heat just hangs in here.”
But little progress has been made on those changes, and state’s attorney general seems poised for more action. At the end of March, Spitzer reached another major anti-idling agreement – his 12th – with the meat market at Hunts Point, citing 45 instances where truckers ignored the law.
Those truckers will now join their colleagues at the produce market in suffering whatever Mother Nature throws their way.
There have always been low-tech alternatives to idling. Electric blankets, lanterns, even sleeping bags have been employed by drivers trying to stay warm and save fuel, while others have utilized window screens, battery-powered fans and misters to stay cool. High-tech alternatives tend to be bought by owner-operators and small fleet owners, who equip their trucks with gensets, auxiliary power units or multiple battery packs.
Unfortunately, the drawbacks are numerous. The low-tech solutions do not offer much comfort, while high-tech solutions cost thousands of dollars up front, add weight to the truck and take years to recoup the investment. But a flurry of activity by manufacturers and new emphasis by large trucking companies are improving options.
In March, at the Mid-America Trucking Show, Cummins, Caterpillar, Freightliner and Peterbilt, among others, all said they were working on major initiatives to reduce idling.
Cummins went the furthest, saying it will offer an APU on its engines next year that will interact with the truck’s fluid and climate systems. It will also provide 110-volt power, essentially eliminating the reasons most truckers idle. Ric Kleine, executive director of custom engineering, said the engine will allow carriers and owner-operators to save as much as $2,000 a year in fuel and other idling costs. He estimated the APU will add around $3,000 to the cost of a truck.
Kenworth and Caterpillar have partnered with the Department of Energy to produce the More Electric Truck, removing many belt-driven items from the engine and replacing them with electric units that have less parasitic draw on the engine. Cat and the DOE will test trucks equipped with that technology and APUs to see what technology is feasible.
What’s available now:
Long promised as the solution to idling, TSE hasn’t panned out yet. The reason: truckstop operators have little incentive to electrify their parking lots. TravelCenters of America ventured into electrification in 1995 when it outfitted 40 spaces with electrical hookups at a plaza near Willington, Conn. But few truckers have used them.
IdleAire began rolling out its version of TSE several years ago. The curbside delivery system offers communication, entertainment, heat and air as well as electricity to trucks through a unique window interface. The company offers 1,000 units at 16 sites, mostly truckstops. Nationally, the service costs $1.25 to $1.50 per hour.
Auxiliary Power Units
The auxiliary power unit comes in two general forms. One is a genset providing 110-volt power for in-cab devices such as climate control systems, block heaters, refrigerators and microwaves. The other drives the truck’s regular DC devices and climate-control systems, but it does not provide 110-volt power.
Long the darling of recreational vehicle owners, auxiliary generators have found a niche among hard-running, long-haul truckers because they offer complete freedom from external hookups. Gensets have small diesels and some form of electrical generator. Although this duplicates equipment already on the truck, genset engines use much less fuel than idling an engine – about 0.1 to 0.2 gallons per hour.
And gensets escape almost all anti-idling laws. Such generators typically cost between $6,000 and $10,000 installed. They also add weight.
Inverters and AC Wiring
Inverters are increasingly the device of choice for truckers wanting to use standard AC appliances. There are many well-built, powerful units on the market, but there are also plenty of low-output models at truckstops or discount stores. The results are often disappointing and sometimes dangerous. The best inverters will power appliances – from microwaves to electrically powered heaters and air conditioners – without causing problems.
Common setups typically include multiple batteries, some form of low-power shutoff to keep batteries from draining completely and a shore power pass through, which allows truckers to plug in and use power from somewhere other than batteries. The inverter is usually light and not very expensive, but when a system includes appliances like heaters and ACs as well as additional batteries, the weight and costs mount.
Optimized Idle Engines
New engines can idle comfortably at 600 rpm, substantially lowering fuel consumption. Several engine makers go further with systems that allow drivers to optimize their idling with controls that turn an engine on or off depending on engine temperature. The devices can be retrofitted to more recent engines or added as an option to new ones.
Such devices can add $750 to $1,000 to the cost of a new truck. Some truckers say the constant starting and stopping of an engine can disturb sleep.
Starting batteries are the most common source for truckers’ electrical power needs, largely because they’re always connected. This sort of use, however, can cause trouble because these batteries are designed to deliver a lot of energy in brief intervals, then be recharged. Creature comforts drain them slowly and more deeply, resulting in premature – sometimes sudden – failure.
Some truckers try to solve the problem by mounting an isolated deep-cycle battery to supply cab electricity. But such arrangements have their own problems: wiring complexity, extra costs and weight, and inefficient and inadequate recharging.
Several battery makers – Interstate and DayStarter among them – have introduced starting batteries that are better able to handle deep and frequent discharging.
Auxiliary Power Units
Auxiliary Power Dynamics
Double Eagle Industries (GenPac)
Energy & Engine Technology Corp.
Frigette TruckClimate Systems
Rig Master Power
Tag-A-Long Idle Eliminator
Inverters and Electrical Systems
Phillips and Temro Industries
EPA Paves New Idling Route with SmartWay
One major player in the drive to decrease truck idling is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. No surprise there, as the agency is in charge of enforcing the nation’s clean air and water laws and has been challenged to reduce greenhouse gases by 18 percent over the next eight years.
But what may surprise some is the EPA’s recent push to cajole rather than force trucking companies to reduce their emissions output through reduced idling. Although the agency may one day bring its heavy hand to bear against the industry, right now its efforts are aimed at improving alternatives to idling and giving carriers and shippers a carrot to use them. Under its SmartWay Transport Partnership, the EPA is giving fleets that reduce idling a public relations boost.
In February, EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt launched the partnership with 52 carriers and shippers. The voluntary program, in which participants will agree to lower their emissions by adopting new technology and business techniques, includes some of the biggest names in trucking: Roadway Express, Schneider National, Swift Transportation, Yellow Transportation, FedEx Express and UPS. It also includes big shippers like Coca-Cola Enterprises and Home Depot, who will be required to ship a large percentage of their freight on SmartWay partner trucks.
That’s half of the carrot: trucking companies who adopt the SmartWay standards will be eligible for business from premium shippers who have met the same standards. The other half is from using the SmartWay Partnership logo, which fleets can deploy once they’re in compliance. The agency is gambling that big fleets will want to show off their environmental stripes with the logo, putting it on trucks and company media.
The EPA modeled SmartWay after its successful EnergyStar program. EnergyStar lets manufacturers of electronics and appliances use a logo if their product is energy efficient.
Leavitt says member carriers will reduce emissions and fuel consumption by eliminating idle time, improving tire inflation and making changes in routing and scheduling. “The companies in this group will reduce carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere all over the country,” Leavitt says. “The fuel savings from this partnership will result in a reduction of at least 33 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from the air. That’s the equivalent of six million cars being off the road.”
At the same time, the agency is moving forward with a plan to establish idle-free corridors – entire interstates that have options such as shore power available so that trucks won’t have to idle. Last June, former EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman announced the National Transportation Idle Free Corridor plan, which would eliminate idling along major rail and truck freight routes. The program is in its infancy, but it is already funding alternatives like IdleAire and truckstop electrification efforts in New York and California.
The Cost of Idling
Estimating how much money you waste when you idle isn’t that difficult. Experts estimate a truck engine uses between 0.8 and 1.2 gallons of diesel an hour when idling, depending on three factors: age and efficiency of engine, idle speed and parasitic draw – the amount of electricity accessories such as appliances use. Some new engines can use as little as a half-gallon an hour idling at 1,100 rpm.
The amount of time you spend idling varies by personal habits – the number of nights you spend in your sleeper and what parts of the country you run in. Fuel costs, too, vary by region.
Using averages from Argonne National Laboratories, a typical long-haul trucker spends more than $2,800 a year to idle. You can adjust the data in this formula to figure your own idling costs.
Estimate the number of hours each year you idle to cool or heat your truck while parked. If you’re not sure, use an average of six hours a day, 43 weeks a year, or about 1,800 hours.
Multiply that by the fuel you burn in an hour of idling. If you’re not sure, use 1 gallon per hour.
Multiply your fuel consumption by your average fuel cost. For 2004, that is about $1.60. That gives annual fuel cost.
Multiply your hours idling by 14 cents (.14), the average cost of engine wear and oil consumption for an hour of idling. That gives total non-fuel cost.
Add fuel and non-fuel costs to get the total cost of idling for one year.
Factoring in maintenance costs
While fuel consumption is a truck owner’s biggest incentive to reduce idling, maintenance costs are not far behind. But unlike fuel economy, maintenance impacts are harder to measure.
“I don’t dispute there’s a maintenance benefit to reducing idling,” says Ed Gamache, senior safety and maintenance manager with Sacramento, Calif.-based Ozark Trucking. The fleet has two trucks equipped to avoid idling. “There’s got to be a benefit, but I don’t have any numbers yet.”
Even scientists aren’t sure of the number. The Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory estimates an idling engine costs 14 cents per hour in maintenance costs. Another DOE estimate pegged the number closer to 80 cents. Even using the smaller number, idling still results in hundreds of dollars of maintenance costs a year. Owner-operator Robert Jordan says most of the savings are from longer oil and filter change intervals.
The average trucker averages less than 30 miles of travel for every hour the truck runs because of idling, Jordan says. “Your goal should be to have your engine hours equal your driving hours.” All trucks come with an engine control unit that measures driving time and idling time. If you monitor it for a week, you can subtract the number of hours you logged driving from the total number of hours on the engine during a seven-day period. That will tell you how many hours you’re actually idling.
Once you know how many hours you’re idling you can use those hours to determine your oil drain intervals. A typical trucker changes his oil every 15,000 miles, Jordan says, but that’s because they’ve idled so much and the engine has as many as 600 engine hours on it. Eliminate that idling and the trucker could double the amount of miles between intervals. “With idle elimination this 600 engine hours becomes 30,000 miles,” Jordan says. “In one year you will go from 10 oil changes to five. At $130 each, this could save you an additional $650.”
Then there’s the lifecycle impact, which is harder to measure. Jordan suggests many components could go twice their distance if the truck wasn’t idling. “My 7-year-old Mack has all the original components in place with the exception of the turbo, alternator and air compressor,” Jordan says. Jordan’s Mack has more than 900,000 miles on it, and he expects it to reach 1.8 to 2 million miles before he has to overhaul it. And even though he cranks his truck twice as frequently as some truckers, he says it still has the original starter.