FMCSA's lease-purchase task force to discuss safety incentives, opportunities in agreements

Trucking news and briefs for Tuesday, May 28, 2024:

FMCSA’s Truck Leasing Task Force meeting twice this summer

The task force charged with addressing predatory practices related to lease-purchase programs in trucking will meet twice this summer, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced in a Federal Register notice publishing Wednesday.

The Truck Leasing Task Force will meet on Thursday, June 13, and Thursday, July 18, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern both days, with the meetings being held virtually for their entirety.

During the June 13 meeting, TLTF members will discuss whether truck leasing agreements properly incentivize safe operation, including driver compliance with the hours-of-service regulations and laws governing speed and safety generally, and resources to assist truck operators in assessing the financial impacts of leasing agreements.

A public comment period will also be held during the meeting to allow truck drivers and lessees to share their personal experiences with leases and to present any supporting information they would like to share to assist TLTF in making recommendations on such agreements.

The July 18 meeting will primarily cover the opportunity that equitable leasing agreements provide for drivers to start or expand trucking companies and the history of motor carriers starting from single-truck owner-operators. Similarly to the June meeting, a public comment period will be held.

Advance registration is required by June 7 for the first meeting, available here, and by July 12 for the second meeting, available here.

[Related: Lease-purchase task force zeroes in on restrictive maintenance covenants]

PHMSA proposes to increase hazmat transport registration fees

A Department of Transportation agency is proposing to increase the annual fees paid by carriers who transport hazardous materials.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in a notice of proposed rulemaking published May 24 proposed what it called “overdue updates to the registration fees under the statutorily mandated registration and fee assessment program for persons who transport, or offer for transportation, certain categories and quantities of hazardous materials.”

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The annual registration fee is currently set at $250 (plus a $25 processing fee) for registrants qualifying as small businesses or not-for-profit organizations and $2,575 (plus a $25 processing fee) for other non-small-business/nonprofit registrants.

PHMSA noted that the small business fee has not been raised since it was adjusted to $250 in 2006, and the fee for large businesses was last adjusted from $975 to $2,575 in 2010.

Under the proposal, PHMSA would increase the fee by $125 to $375 for small businesses and nonprofits, and by $425 to $3,000 for other registrants -- the maximum allowed under federal statute.

The purpose of the registration program is to fund the Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness (HMEP) grants program, which supports hazardous materials emergency response planning and training activities by states, local governments, and Native American Tribes.

The 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law increased the authorized funding level for the grants by $18.5 million, leaving PHMSA to need to adjust fees to meet the new funding level. The total funds received from registrants during the 2022-2023 registration year, less processing fees, was approximately $24,662,200, which was short of the federal limitation by more than $22 million.

PHMSA is accepting public comments on its proposed registration fee increase here through Aug. 22.

[Related: Ohio, Arizona hazmat disasters hold lessons for carriers, owner-ops in the fight against safety complacency]

ATRI outlines new research priorities

The American Transportation Research Institute identified its research priorities for the upcoming year at its recent board of directors meeting in San Antonio. ATRI’s Research Advisory Committee selected a diverse set of topics designed to address some of the industry’s most critical issues, the group said.

The 2024 ATRI top research priorities are:

Mining driver demographic data to identify new pathways to trucking careers. This study will capitalize on ATRI's extensive truck driver demographic data collected through driver surveys over several decades. The data will be used to identify changing demographic trends in the professional driver population, allowing the industry to better target driver recruitment and retention strategies, ATRI said. The research will also examine potential pathways into the industry from previously untapped populations, including young adults aging out of the foster care system. 

Update on the impacts of nuclear verdicts. In 2020, ATRI released a study examining the frequency and impact of nuclear verdicts on the trucking industry. That research documented the scale and frequency of verdicts following truck crash litigation and explored the growing use of third-party litigation financing. This update will utilize more recent data to examine how verdicts have changed since the initial study, impacts on motor carrier insurance premiums, factors contributing to nuclear verdicts, as well as potential impacts from state-level lawsuit abuse reform legislation passed in recent years. 

[Related: The pervasive impact of nuclear-verdicts hype, threat]

Comprehending the scope of cargo theft in the U.S. Cargo theft is a growing issue for motor carriers, shippers, insurers and consumers. This research will examine existing data sources and work with motor carriers to better quantify the scale and frequency of this often-unreported crime. The research will also examine existing and emerging cargo theft tracing and prevention programs to identify best practices.

[Related: Cargo theft jumped another 46% to begin 2024]

Calculating the cost of truck bottlenecks. For the past several decades, ATRI has utilized its extensive database of truck GPS data to monitor and quantify traffic congestion on the nation’s highways. This research will provide a more granular analysis of the cost of congestion for specific bottleneck locations from ATRI’s top 100 truck bottlenecks list, as well as case studies quantifying the return-on-investment for locations where targeted infrastructure improvements have resulted in reduced congestion. 

Federal Excise Tax (FET) cost-benefit analysis. The 12% FET on the purchase of heavy-duty trucks and trailers is considered by many to discourage investment in newer, safer equipment with cleaner engines. This analysis will examine the impact of the FET on carrier decisions to avoid new equipment investment, such as unrealized safety and emissions improvements.

[Related: FET repeal may hinge on truck safety, high ZEV cost and supply chain issues]

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