Congress begins highway funding debate as FAST Act set to expire

Trucking news and briefs for Tuesday, May 25, 2021:

Congress floats two highway funding proposals; one ignores truck parking
With the current highway spending legislation, the FAST Act, set to expire Sept. 30, some House Republicans and a bipartisan Senate committee each released surface transportation funding proposals in the last week.

The Republicans’ plan, the Surface Transportation Advanced through Reform, Technology, & Efficient Review (STARTER) Act 2.0, would provide more than $400 billion for infrastructure over five years and prioritizes programs that address core infrastructure functions, notably highways and bridges. Republicans said it would help facilitate commerce and would focus on safety and efficiency. It was introduced by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-Missouri) and other Republican Committee leaders.

On May 22, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) introduced its surface transportation reauthorization proposal, which will be marked up by the full EPW committee this week. EPW’s proposed Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021 would authorize $303.5 billion for Department of Transportation programs for highways, roads and bridges.

Unlike the House Republicans’ proposal, the Senate EPW’s proposal does not include any provisions related to truck parking capacity promotion in current drafts.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association applauded the STARTER Act, primarily for not including any proposals to increase motor carrier insurance minimums and for including language for establishing a grant program to expand truck parking capacity.

“Republican members of the [Transportation & Infrastructure] Committee clearly understand how destructive an unnecessary increase to insurance requirements would be for any industry engaged in or reliant upon trucking,” said Todd Spencer, President and CEO of OOIDA. “A highway bill is supposed to spur economic growth, not jeopardize countless small businesses and blue-collar jobs. We encourage House Democrats to take the same approach as Republican counterparts on this issue and reject any increase.”

The bill does not, OOIDA argued, get all the way toward dedicated annual funding for parking projects, which the association among others has pushed for in recent memory. OOIDA also said it disagreed with the bill including a provision to allow 18-20-year-old drivers to haul interstate.

[Related: What's at stake for truck parking advocates, states in dedicated federal funding

The American Trucking Associations also lauded the STARTER Act because of its provisions for truck parking, even absent dedicated funding amounts for capacity, and what it deems workforce growth with the 18-20-year-old provision.

“We now hope that all members of the [House Transportation & Infrastructure] Committee will work in good faith with their colleagues across the aisle to debate these ideas and advance this process in a responsible and bipartisan fashion,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. “Roads and bridges are not partisan, and the American people are depending on our leaders in Washington to get this job done.”

The Senate committee's legislation was introduced by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Delaware), EPW chairman; Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia), EPW’s ranking member; Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), Chairman of the EPW Subcommittee on Transportation Infrastructure; and Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota), the subcommittee’s ranking member.

eCapital in expansion mode for factoring, equipment finance

The eCapital Corp company, a capital solutions provider for small and medium-sized businesses both in North America and the UK, most closely associated with trucking as a freight factoring provider, has consolidated a total of eight acquired entities into a simplified corporate structure after a 2020 of large amounts of growth. Last year, the company delivered $4 billion in financing across 80 industries in the United States and Canada, and also achieved an approximately 67% year-over-year increase in gross revenues.

Company COO Charles Sheppard noted a good amount of that growth has come in the form of equipment financing as well as factoring, the latter business segment a combination of acquired businesses under the eCapital Freight Factoring name, with 3,000 individual customers and $2.5 billion in annual invoice purchases. 

"On top of that," Sheppard said, "we do equipment financing" in a way that Sheppard and company describe as alternative financing, based on an intent to deliver working capital based on the quality of its customers' underlying assets – from receivable (such as invoices) to existing equipment and real estate holdings, such as they may be. "We have a specific niche there, [funding in some instances based on] older equipment with equity in it. We'll use the value of the collateral to determine" funding amounts in some instances, as with a traditional asset-backed loan to a degree.

Factoring, Sheppard said, has matured through the years "in the sense that even a small owner-operator with just two-three trucks" like as not can be a "highly leveraged business in terms of financing – it cost so much with equipment, and traditional lenders just don't favor start-ups." Factoring speeds up the flow of receivables, and competition among factoring companies themselves has made "the cost come down," a continuing long-term trend documented clearly in recent-history reporting in Overdrive.  

[Related: Sharing risk: How load factoring offers strategic value]

On eCapital's website, clients can access streamlined TMS-type features through which small fleets can "manage the load, dispatch trucks and invoices, collect on invoices, Sheppard said. eCapital "can onboard a customer very fast, too, sometimes in 24 hours – with access to fuel cards with discounts similar to larger fleets." 

Non-customers, as is the practice at some other factoring companies, can get free access to the company credit-checking services if so desired. 

"It's always been my focus to use technology to try to bring down our overall costs for handling a piece of paper to pass those savings to our customers," Sheppard said. The consolidation that's happened at the company is part and parcel of that, he added. "We’ve had a high-demand year as a result of supporting  trucking companies through a very, very challenging time. We do appreciate the work." 

ATRI outlines research goals for 2021
The American Transportation Research Institute will focus its research this year on under-21 truck drivers, electric trucks, marijuana decriminalization, driver-facing cameras and zero-emission trucks. The ATRI Board of Directors approved the list of research topics at a recent meeting.

ATRI’s Research Advisory Committee selected research topics that examine workforce, infrastructure, legal and operational issues, which align with multiple top concerns identified in ATRI’s annual Top Industry Issues survey. Additionally, given the heightened attention on electric vehicles, two of the top priority studies will examine specific trucking impacts arising from increased deployment of electric trucks.

Specifically, the 2021 ATRI Top Research Priorities are:

  • Understanding how to best integrate 18-20-year-olds into the trucking industry. This research will utilize a case-study approach to document best practices for recruiting, training and retaining younger individuals into trucking careers.
  • Charging infrastructure considerations for electric trucks. From examining power demand scenarios to availability of grid connectivity and vehicle charging requirements, this research will be a trucking industry-focused assessment that identifies the electrical infrastructure issues associated with deploying electric trucks.
  • Marijuana and other drugs: Impacts of decriminalization on the trucking industry. As more states move to decriminalize marijuana and other drugs, this study would update ATRI’s 2019 report by examining roadway safety and workforce impacts in those states changing their controlled substance laws. 
  • Quantifying the impacts of driver-facing cameras on fleets and drivers. This analysis will focus on safety, litigation and workforce impacts from deployment of driver-facing cameras.
  • Understanding the environmental impacts of zero-emission trucks. This research will be a comparative environmental impact study of the full lifecycle – manufacturing, operations and disposal – of electric versus diesel Class 8 trucks.
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