Hours-of-service rule protected for now
The newly inaugurated Obama administration on Jan. 20 halted all regulations that had not taken effect by that date, a move that could delay several Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations issued in recent months. Meanwhile, FMCSA took the final action on the last full working day before President Obama’s inauguration to ensure that the new administration would not be able to undo the final regulations governing truck drivers’ hours of service.
In a Jan. 16 letter to several organizations, FMCSA stood by its decisions to retain the 34-hour restart and 11 hours of driving, saying there had been ample scientific evidence backing the safety of the regulations. Public Citizen, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Teamsters Union and the Truck Safety Coalition on Dec. 18 had filed a petition for reconsideration. Those groups now have 60 days after the Jan. 16 denial to file for a review of the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which twice has struck down the Bush administration’s hours-of-service rules on various grounds.
The Obama administration also could initiate its own reconsideration of the hours rules, but it would have to start over from the beginning with a notice of proposed rulemaking. The Bush administration’s Nov. 19 publication of the hours rules came in just under the wire to avoid the moratorium on rules the Obama administration declared last month and possible congressional action to negate them.
Though the moratorium affects all rulemakings at least temporarily, the targets are major rules that are politically controversial. It’s not clear that any of the three regulations FMCSA issued in December would be targeted. In fact, departments and agencies have the authority to let some regulations proceed without further review. As of late January, it was not clear whether the Department of Transportation or FMCSA would object to any recent rulemakings affecting motor carriers. The three regulations that could be affected are:
·Medical certification requirements as part of the commercial driver’s license (effective Jan. 30; Docket No. FMCSA-1997-2210)
·New entrant safety assurance process (effective date Feb. 17; Docket No. FMCSA-2001-11061)
·Requirements for intermodal equipment providers and for motor carriers and drivers operating intermodal equipment (effective date June 17; Docket No. FMCSA-2005-23315)
The most controversial of the three probably is the intermodal regulations, but any disagreements are chiefly among different industries and probably not between Democrats and Republicans. Under legislation enacted in 1996, Congress can stop rulemakings by a majority vote in both the House and Senate and the president’s signature if those steps occur within 60 days of submitting the freeze to Congress.
– Avery Vise
Bright Spot: Driver Turnover Down
Amid all the economic gloom and doom, one bright spot for the trucking industry is record low driver turnover – 65 percent for large truckload fleets and 58 percent for small truckload fleets, said American Trucking Associations Chief Economist Bob Costello at the NATSO Show 2009 in Nashville.
When the economy begins to turn next year, Costello said it will be good for the survivors. “Truck capacity will tighten fairly quickly once a recovery commences, but until then it will be difficult for fleets,” Costello said.
Otherwise, economists painted a bleak picture for this year. While forecasting an end of recession by year-end, Wachovia Managing Director and Senior Economist Mark Vitner said, “the end of a recession is not a very good time. It means things are not getting any worse – things have just stopped falling.”
Costello echoed those sentiments. “Unfortunately, we are dealing with very bad freight volumes,” he said. “We just reported horrible tonnage numbers for the month of December.”
December freight numbers were down 11 percent, which is the third worst percentage all time and the worst for a single month without the influences of a labor strike. Since its peak in 2006, for-hire freight volumes have fallen 16.2 percent, and Costello said it’s not over.
June through December for-hire loads show decreases in all trucking sectors, with tanker and flatbed sectors taking the worst hits at approximately 20 percent declines each. Dry van for the same time period was down more than 15 percent and reefer posted less than a 5 percent decrease.
Costello said the reefer segment has been more stable because consumers still have to buy perishable goods like food and medicine.
Costello reported fleet failures (five trucks or more) slowed in December, largely due to fleets capitalizing on the collection of fuel surcharges in the midst of falling fuel prices, but that was only a short reprieve. He expects fleet failures to increase in the coming months.
As for how much the proposed $850 billion stimulus package proposed by the Obama administration will help the economy, both economists were blunt in their assessments.
“I feel like the recession doesn’t need the stimulus package for the recession to end,” Vitner said. “It won’t kick in until the end of the year. It’s basically political cover for the Obama administration so they can work on fixing the real fundamentals of the problem, like the banking system.”
As for the reported funds for infrastructure in the proposal, Costello said, “It’s less than $50 billion – closer to $35 billion – to build roads and bridges.”
Pointing to the long-term outlook, Costello said there is reason for optimism. ATA is forecasting a market-share increase for the trucking industry among all modes of moving goods by 2018. “The long-term looks good for trucking,” he said.
– Randy Grider
Suppliers Plan for Diesel Exhaust Fluid
Truckstops shouldn’t worry about meeting the demand for diesel exhaust fluid, which is essential for most 2010 engines. A Detroit Diesel-sponsored panel of DEF producers and distributors told attendees at the NATSO Show 2009 in Nashville that supplies will not be problem.
“DEF is readily available,” said Jim Spooner, vice president and general manager of Colonial Chemical Co. The 39-year-old Tabernacle Township, N.J.-based company has more than 12 years experience in urea, the essential component of DEF, which will be an essential feature of selective catalytic reduction technology to meet 2010 emission regulations.
All major engine makers will use SCR and DEF, with the exception of Navistar, which is using enhanced exhaust gas recirculation technology in its 2010 MaxxForce power units.
DEF suppliers said retailers will have options when purchasing DEF in bulk using underground tanks for distribution, totes, in barrels or in smaller containers, such as 5-gallon or 2.5-gallon capacity.
DEF has a shelf life of approximately one year if stored between 15 degrees F and 80 degrees F. Storage for extended periods outside these parameters can affect functionality.
Spooner said retailers should only buy DEF that has been certified by the American Petroleum Institute, which should begin certification in the next few months.
Distributors expect some retailers may move from smaller containers to bulk as demand for the engines increases over the next few years. Pilot Travel Centers, which has more than 325 retail locations, announced last fall it will sell DEF at its fueling islands.
DEF is composed of 32.5 percent pure urea combined with high-purity water. Spooner said DEF is safe and relatively inexpensive. Trucks using SCR engines will have DEF tanks located on the chassis. In the case of Daimler brand trucks, the DEF tanks will come in capacities of six, 13 and 23 gallons.
David Siler, director of marketing for Daimler, said one advantage of SCR and DEF is fuel economy, which should increase 3 to 5 percent on average. “With our new DD15 engine using our BlueTec