Wage Increases

Many fleets upping salaries and benefits to attract and keep drivers.

Many drivers can’t believe their good fortune these days. “We’ve had to battle owner-operators on the phone telling us it’s too good to be true, you can’t do that,” says Doug Albrecht, Barr-Nunn’s director of recruiting.

Albrecht refers to Barr-Nunn’s guaranteed low diesel price, one of a host of pay and benefit incentives that carriers are offering this winter in an industry desperate for drivers.

Schneider National announced in December what it called the largest pay increase in its 70-year history. The per-mile base rate for Schneider owner-operators jumps from 86 cents to 90 cents, which means an extra $4,000 for someone running 100,000 miles a year. The average pay increase for company drivers, too, will be $4,000 a year, the company said.

Dart Transit announced in December its second round of owner-operator pay increases in a year, to take effect in the first quarter of 2005. “Adding the two increases together, Dart has raised contractor pay about $7,500 a year,” says David Oren, Dart executive vice president.

Heartland Express announced in December a pay increase of 3 cents per mile, which combined with an earlier 2004 pay increase means Heartland drivers will make 15 percent more in 2005 than in 2003.

Sign-on bonuses for owner-operators are $5,000 at Parrett and U.S. Xpress and $7,000 at Paschall Truck Lines (PTL), which doubled its sign-on bonus for company drivers to $3,000.

Beginning in August, Barr-Nunn, based in Grainger, Iowa, guaranteed 99-cent diesel to its owner-operators who fueled within its fleet network, which includes Flying J, Pilot and TA. More than 99 percent of the fleet’s contractors took advantage of the offer, which puts Barr-Nunn in a better position to negotiate fleet discounts. Even more importantly for the carrier, 50 new owner-operators have signed on, and driver turnover has dropped from 90 percent to 60 percent.

“At first it cost us a pretty penny, but now our fuel surcharges have caught up with it,” Albrecht says. “It’s really been innovative. We’ve gone from losing 14 to 15 owner-operators per month to losing four to six per month.”

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Barr-Nunn will continue the program through June 30 at least, Albrecht says, though the guaranteed price has inched up a nickel to $1.04. The national average diesel price is nearly twice that.

Some argue that a price war of compensation packages will do little to bring new drivers into a tough industry – but while it lasts, it sure will help drivers already in it.
Linda Longton

Trucking Brings in Billions in 2003
Local general freight trucking revenues increased more than 7 percent in 2003 to $16 billion, while long-distance general freight revenues grew 2 percent, to $95 billion, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The data is included in the bureau report, “2003 Service Annual Survey: Truck Transportation, Couriers and Messengers, and Warehousing and Storage,” released Dec. 22.

Combined revenues for truck transportation, warehousing, storage, and courier and messenger industries increased nearly 3 percent to $242 billion in 2003 from $235 billion in 2002.

Courier and messenger revenues rose nearly 3 percent, and warehousing and storage revenues increased almost 6 percent.

Truck transportation revenues alone reached $172 billion in 2003, up 2.5 percent. General freight contributed about two-thirds of all trucking revenue, with $111 billion. Specialized freight using flatbeds, tankers or refrigerated trailers accounted for the rest, at $60 billion.

The truck transportation figures excluded private motor carriers that operate as auxiliaries of non-transportation companies, such as retailers.
Jill Dunn

Trucking Group Calls Illinois Toll Increase a Necessary Evil
Trucker Larry Eslick is fighting mad about toll increases in Illinois.

As of Jan. 1, five-axle truck drivers must pay $3 to $4 at tollway plazas instead of the previous $1.25 to $1.50. The truck rate increases whether or not trucks use I-PASS.

Passenger vehicles that use I-PASS, on the other hand, won’t see their tolls increase at all. To Eslick, who figures the toll increase will cost him more than $4,000 a year, that difference is a clear case of “discrimination against truckers.”

“It was shotgunned through, and nobody had time to react to it,” Eslick said. “I called the American Civil Liberties Union about it, but they said there was nothing they could do.” Eslick, who has attended meetings concerning the toll increase, wrote Gov. Rod Blagojevich, his congressman and his U.S. senators, to no avail.

Highway administrators argue that trucks should pay higher tolls than automobiles because they cause more wear and tear on the roadway.

“The tolls are not discriminatory,” said Joelle McGinnis, the Illinois tollway authority’s press secretary. “The rates for truckers were amended after talks with the Midwest and Illinois Truckers Association.”

Don Schaefer, executive vice president of the Midwest Truckers Association, said the new rates are lower during non-peak hours than the rates originally proposed. “They are still increasing them, but just not as much.”

The MTA views the new rates as good for trucking in the long run, because they will pay for road improvements, such as the south extension of I-355, that will speed travel and make it safer. “We view the increase as a necessary evil,” Schaefer said. “We’re not excited about it.”

The tollway’s long-term goal of eliminating toll booths is good, too, Schaefer said, because it means safer roads and cleaner air.

Much of the uproar over this toll increase is simply because this is Illinois’ first in 20 years, Schaefer said. “This is a good thing, but maybe it would have been better if they increased by 5 cents here and 5 cents there, rather than all in one fell swoop,” Schaefer said. “Our toll fees are still the same as the national average.”

The tollway authority says the toll per mile for a five-axle truck will be 31 cents, less than half the per-mile rate for California’s toll roads and less than a hundredth of the per-mile rate paid by a trucker crossing the George Washington Bridge in New York City.

Schaefer said the new rates do, indeed, discriminate – against owner-operators. Large trucking companies simply will build the new rates into the costs they charge the customer, he said. “It is the little guys, the owner-operators, this will affect the most because they have no one to hand the costs off to.”
Lance Orr

Contractor of the Year Receives His New International Tractor
Carroll Benn, an owner-operator leased to Dart Transit, took delivery in December of a new International 9900ix, part of his prize package as the 2003 Independent Contractor of the Year.

Benn picked up the keys to the truck, built to his specifications, at the Prairie International dealership in Quincy, Ill. Benn has been driving professionally for 35 years, 18 of them as an owner-operator, and has more than 3 million miles without an accident or a late delivery.

“Driving a truck was my childhood dream,” said Benn, a native of Center, Mo. “I wouldn’t do anything else, no matter how much it paid.”

The Independent Contractor of the Year contest is co-sponsored by the Truckload Carriers Association and Overdrive magazine.

Benn’s new truck has all aluminum wheels, a 525-hp Cummins ISX engine, a Road Ranger 18-speed transmission and a 72-inch integrated Sky Rise Pro Sleeper that includes swivel and reclining seats, a TV/VCR, a refrigerator, keyless entry and power windows.
Andy Duncan

New York Thruway Truckers Could See Large Toll Hike
The New York Thruway Authority Board has initially approved a toll increase that would mean a 35 percent increase for commercial vehicle drivers May 1.

The board passed the proposal Dec. 16 to fund a $2 billion road improvement plan for the 641-mile Thruway. The proposal has to pass the state review process, which includes public hearings, and the state comptroller’s review. Board members will vote on the final proposal in April.

William Joyce, president of the state Motor Truck Association, said he didn’t agree with the price increase difference for commercial and non-commercial vehicles. Passenger vehicles would pay only a 25 percent increase.

“What strikes me as funny is what little opposition there has been,” Joyce said. “If there’s a bright light out there, it’s that they would no longer have to pay a premium for 53-foot trailers.”

In 1990, the authority began allowing trucks with 53-foot trailers on the Thruway at a toll rate of 14.6 cents per mile. Tractor-trailers with five or more axles pay 12 cents per mile.

The proposal would represent the first increase since 1988. Under it, commercial E-Z Pass customers would receive a 5 percent discount and be eligible for volume discounts. An additional 10 percent toll increase is proposed for cash customers in 2008, but E-Z Pass customers won’t be affected.

The proposed funding would improve 500 miles of roadway and 220 bridges. It would also fund 15 new dedicated E-Z Pass lanes, 12 higher-speed E-Z pass lanes and 16 new highway-speed E-Z Pass lanes, so users don’t have to slow down at toll booths. The plan would also add 695 truck parking spaces and reduce the number of vehicle classifications from 43 to nine.

The total revenue for 2004 is projected to be $466 million. Under the proposed toll schedule, revenue would increase to $576 million in 2005, $697 million in 2008 and $728 million in 2010.
Jill Dunn

Caterpillar Researching Alternatives to SCR Technology for 2010 Engines
Caterpillar is urging engine makers to keep their options open for 2010 emissions standards, suggesting that SCR technology may not be the only way to go.

James Parker, vice president of the Caterpillar Power Systems Marketing Division, said Caterpillar’s Environmental Technologies Group is running tests on technologies that meet the 2010 emissions regulations without using selective catalytic reduction.

“The group is working toward a system solution that combines combustion and fuel system technologies, electronics and after-treatment to both meet the 2010 EPA standards and provide customers with the same reliability, durability, operating cost and fuel economy as today,” Parker said.

This is not the first time Caterpillar has disagreed with widely accepted emission standard solutions.

In 2002, when all of the other engine manufacturers decided to use cooled-exhaust gas re-circulation to meet the 2002 emissions standards, Caterpillar developed ACERT technology, which meets the EPA standards in a different way.

“At Caterpillar, we believe it is critical for the industry to explore all possible technology options before coming to conclusions about any single solution,” Parker said.

“Our research suggests that while it is an excellent technology for a stationary application, SCR may not be the best technology for mobile applications, such as on-highway trucks.”

Engine combustion technology has a big advantage over SCR in that it doesn’t require the addition of oxide-killing urea to fuel tanks, the statement said.
Lance Orr

Experts: Sleep Loss Leads to Obesity
Want to gain weight? Sleep less.

A recent Columbia University study found a link between obesity and the amount a person sleeps – regardless of the person’s exercise regimen, age and emotional state.

Researchers at Columbia’s School of Public Health found the relationship between sleep loss and weight gain may be anchored in the secretion of two hormones, leptin and grehlin. The former suppresses appetite; the latter regulates body weight.

The study found that sleep deprivation lowered leptin levels and raised grehlin levels, creating a hungrier body that cannot regulate its weight.

While other medical experts agree that sleep loss and weight gain are linked, they disagree about the mechanism behind the link.

A University of Chicago study in a recent Journal of the American Medical Association suggested the link lay in human-growth hormone secreted while the body is in deep sleep. Lack of sleep creates a hormone deficiency “associated with increased fat tissue and abdominal obesity, reduced muscle mass and strength, and reduced exercise capacity.”

Eve Van Cauter, the University of Chicago professor of medicine who led the study, said regular deep sleep could delay the development of a pot belly by as much as 20 years.
Lance Orr

New Truckstops
A new Love’s Travel Stop has opened in Corbin, Ky. It is located along Interstate 75 at Exit 29. This was the final Travel Stop to open in 2004, but Love’s is planning to open stops in Georgia, Illinois, Indiana and North Carolina this year. Love’s also previously opened a new location in Skippers, Va. It is located at I-95 and Highway 629/Moores Ferry Road, off Exit 4.

Petro:Lube Opens in Joplin
In December, Joplin Petro Stopping Center opened a new Petro:Lube on Exit 4 off I-44 and Highway 43 outside of Joplin, Mo. The five-bay Petro:Lube comprises 21,000 square feet and includes two dedicated oil and lube bays, two tire bays and one repair bay. It is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and can provide drivers with oil changes, tire sales and repair and external engine repairs.

Real-Time Traffic Data
Sirius Satellite Radio will provide real-time traffic data to vehicles over its nationwide satellite radio network. The company has signed an agreement with NAVTEQ, a mapping and traffic data reporting service, to offer consumers reliable traffic information in their vehicles.

Pilot Buys Two Facilities
Pilot Travel Centers has bought two I-65 locations in Kentucky from Davis Brothers Oil. The two new Pilot locations are in Lebanon Junction, at Exit 105, and Sonora, at Exit 81. Both are south of Louisville. The purchases give Pilot 16 locations along I-65 and 270 nationwide.