ATA seeks limit on truck speed

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Annette Sandberg, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, has resigned effective March 1. Sandberg has been FMCSA administrator since August 2003, taking office four months after the agency published its revised hours-of-service rule.

Freight Transportation Services Index rose 1.7 percent in November to 113.2 from the October level of 111.3, rising to a record high with the biggest one-month gain since February 2004 after two consecutive monthly declines, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The November 2005 level was 1.4 percent higher than the November 2004 level of 111.7.

Patrick Quinn – chairman of the American Trucking Associations and president and co-chairman of Chattanooga, Tenn.-based U.S. Xpress – has been appointed to the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, which will conduct a comprehensive study of the current condition and future needs of the nation’s surface transportation system and funding alternatives to meet those needs.

Trucks idled for more than 243 million hours on bottlenecked U.S. highways in 2004, costing trucking companies $7.8 billion, according to a study prepared for the Federal Highway Administration. The study estimates a cost of $32.15 per hour of delay based on four major types of bottlenecks along freight corridors: interchanges, intersections with signals, steep grades and lane reductions. The study is available at this site.

Truckload Carriers Association is warning motor carriers about faxes on bogus, reproduced Department of Transportation letterhead requesting carrier financial information in order to qualify as a DOT contractor for procurements issued by DOT. TCA warns carriers that the letter is falsified and has been sent by those requesting the financial information of the company for their own use. This issue currently is being investigated.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is moving forward on a demonstration project known as SmartPark that would alert truckers electronically of available parking. The agency is reviewing proposals that would provide reliable parking data in all weather conditions, parking history and parking reservations.

National Transportation Safety Board has adopted a final report of a runaway truck accident in Pennsylvania that demonstrates the consequences of improper maintenance on automatic slack adjusters for air brake systems. NTSB issued 11 safety recommendations aimed at improving training for drivers and mechanics. A summary of the report, released Feb. 7, may be found at this site under Publications, Highway.

Much more freight moves on the nation’s transportation system than previously reported, according to “Freight in America,” a report from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. BTS estimates that 25 percent more value measured by dollars and 23 percent more weight measured by tons moves on the transportation system than it previously estimated. The report is available at this site.

James Hebe, former president of Freightliner Trucks, has returned to the trucking industry as an International Truck dealer in Vancouver, British Columbia. Hebe rose to prominence in the 1990s as head of Freightliner, helping the company become the market share leader for Class 8 trucks. He resigned in 2001 during a downturn in the industry.

Michelin Americas Truck Tires has joined Mack Trucks and Chevron Delo as a sponsor of the American Trucking Associations’ Share the Road highway safety program.

The American Trucking Associations wants new Class 7 and 8 trucks governed at 68 mph when they leave the factory, the group announced at its annual winter meeting. “There has been a growing sense within the trucking industry for the need to slow down the large truck population as well as all traffic,” says Bill Graves, ATA president and chief executive officer. “With speeding as a factor in one third of all fatal highway crashes, it makes all the sense in the world to work to reduce this number.”

The effort to govern speeds at 68 mph came after ATA members and safety experts studied the issue. ATA’s speed management working group found 75 percent of the trucks it evaluated had speed governors, and most of those were set at 70 mph or lower. The group recommended that the ATA call for factory-set governors at 68 mph. ATA said it will work with OEMs and government regulators to determine the best way to implement factory-set governors and to ensure those devices are not reconfigured after trucks leave the factory. Buyers could ask that governors be set lower than 68 mph, ATA said.

The trucking industry has been flirting with a speed policy for several years. Former ATA President Bill Canary had highlighted the need for all highway users to slow down, and frequently used the slogan, “Safe speed saves lives.”

Not surprisingly, the industry’s largest owner-operator group, which has filed a lawsuit over a similar governmental initiative in Ontario, Canada, opposes the new ATA policy. “We think this is public relations,” says Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “This is not about safety at all. Most accidents that involve trucks don’t take place on roads that have high speed limits. They take place in city congestion where speed is not a factor.”
Sean Kelley


Court blocks certain J.B. Hunt recruiting tactics
In a decision that could ultimately dampen some of the industry’s most aggressive driver recruiting tactics, a federal judge in Oklahoma has issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting J.B. Hunt from recruiting and hiring drivers known to be within the primary term of their employment contract with CRST Van Expedited.

Judge Stephen Friot of the Western District of Oklahoma said that based on the record in the litigation between the carriers, J.B. Hunt will continue to recruit CRST contract drivers unless it’s blocked from doing so. The injunction only covers recruiting of drivers under contract. “Injunctive relief should not tread on the freedom of Hunt to make and implement business decisions except as is clearly necessary to prevent Hunt’s ongoing tortious conduct,” Friot said in the Feb. 14 order.

CRST trains most of its drivers at its own school. Because it was losing many of its newly trained drivers to other carriers, the company several years ago asked that drivers undergoing commercial driver’s license and finishing training at CRST’s expense sign employment agreements of up to one year. In an Oct. 20, 2003 letter, CRST notified J.B. Hunt of the employment contracts, saying that Hunt had solicited first-year CRST drivers in an attempt to avoid significant training costs. The letter warned Hunt that an attempt to hire drivers under contract would be deemed interference with the contractual relationship and that CRST would seek reimbursement of its training costs.

In addition to the general notice, CRST also sent similar notices when Hunt requested records from CRST on individual drivers that still were working under employment contracts. The letter acknowledged that federal regulations bound CRST to provide the information, but CRST also warned Hunt that it planned to pursue legal remedies if Hunt hired the driver during the contract term. The record in the litigation includes 148 of those letters from 2004 and 2005.

In his 39-page order, Friot outlined some of the tactics J.B. Hunt used to recruit CRST drivers. A CRST driver trainer testified about a Hunt recruiter aggressively trying to recruit a trainee at a truck stop once learning of his status as a student. Hunt also tried to recruit CRST by cold-calling the pay telephone in CRST’s driver trainee lounges, according to the record in the case. Alfred Harper, J.B. Hunt’s chief operating officer, admitted in the litigation that the carrier had chosen not to inform its recruiters of CRST’s objections to the recruiting of first-year drivers.

Between January and November 2005, J.B. Hunt hired more than 200 drivers who were still in the primary term of their employment contract with CRST, and the vast majority of them started with Hunt in the month they left CRST or the month after. “These numbers standing alone do not, of course, prove the cause of the departure of each individual driver, but, in the aggregate, they provide persuasive evidence of the success of Hunt’s efforts to recruit CRST drivers without regard to the status of their contracts with CRST,” Friot said.

Friot granted CRST’s request for an injunction primarily on the grounds of a likelihood of success on the merits and irreparable harm to CRST. But he also took into account the larger issues affecting the trucking industry. “Moreover, at a time of serious and chronic driver shortages, there is a social interest in protecting the lawful means by which industry competitors, such as CRST, have implemented driver development and training programs which enlarge the pool of available drivers and make attractive training and employment opportunities available to individuals who could not otherwise afford to pay the cost of entry into the pool of available long-haul drivers.”

In the litigation, J.B. Hunt’s Harper contended that the employment agreement is a relationship between CRST and the driver. “What we are after is being sure that every driver in America knows that they have an opportunity to come to work for what many would say is the safest truckload carrier in the United States of America and can provide a living for their family and not accept lesser wages,” Harper testified.
Avery Vise


Tonnage index down 3.0 percent in December
The American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted for-hire Truck Tonnage Index dropped 3.0 percent in December as automakers trimmed production. December’s reduction, which followed a 2.3 percent gain in November, marks the first tonnage decline since August and represents the largest monthly contraction of 2005. On a seasonally adjusted basis, the index fell to 113.3 from 116.9 in November. On a not-seasonally adjusted basis, the index contracted by 8.1 percent from November to 106.2. Despite the monthly decline, the December index stands 0.6 percent higher than a year earlier. For all of 2005, the index increased 2.0 percent compared with 2004.

ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello says weakness in the automotive sector likely impacted December’s tonnage reading. He also noted that while total manufacturing output was solid late last year, manufacturing output – when recalculated based on its importance to truck tonnage rather than value – was not quite as strong. In December, the truck tonnage-weighted manufacturing index contracted 0.4 percent from November 2005. December’s figure grew just 0.6 percent from a year earlier, well below the 4.1 percent gain in the Fed-reported index. “The magnitude of December’s reduction came as a surprise,” Costello says. “However, I continue to believe that tonnage will grow in 2006 and that the latest reading should not cause people in the industry to panic. The tonnage index gained 2.0 percent in 2005, which is good considering capacity growth was very limited all year.”

ATA calculates the tonnage index based on surveys from its membership and has been doing so since the 1970s. The baseline year is 2000.


ATA asks EPA to reject California reefer rule
At a public hearing in late January, the American Trucking Associations urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency not to allow the California Air Resources Board to implement a strict reefer emissions rule. The California reefer rule, which would take effect in 2008, sets particulate matter standards higher than required by federal law. Reefer engines more than seven years old at the time would have to be retrofitted to meet the new emissions levels or replaced before Dec. 31, 2008. CARB supports the creation of California-only reefer fleets. However, ATA says the rule will affect as many as 342,000 out-of-state reefer engines and create a de facto national standard more stringent than the federal government’s mandate. ATA, which says the rule exceeds the authority afforded California under the federal Clean Air Act, also charges that CARB’s math is seriously flawed, understating the rule’s cost by $1.25 billion.


EPA seeks nominees for SmartWay awards
The Environmental Protection Agency is accepting nominations through June 30 for the first SmartWay excellence awards, which will recognize companies and organizations that have made significant contributions to protecting the environment through their participation in the SmartWay Transport Partnership. All SmartWay partners are eligible for consideration. The SmartWay Transport Partnership is a national voluntary program developed by EPA and freight industry representatives to reduce greenhouse gases and air pollution, and promote cleaner, more efficient ground freight transportation.

Presentation of the awards will occur in late October at the American Trucking Associations annual conference in Dallas, and the National Association of Environmental Managers forum in Savannah, Ga. For more information, go to this site.


ATRI: Anti-idling spending on the rise
The American Transportation Research Institute, the trucking industry’s not-for-profit research organization, released the results of a national survey on Feb. 13 characterizing the extent of idling and use of idle reduction technologies among trucking companies. In the report, “Idle Reduction Technology Fleet Preferences Survey,” trucking company views on several idling-related topics were explored.

According to the report, trucking companies appear to be investing more in idle reduction technologies. Users in general seem to be satisfied with the performance of these technologies, although costs appear to be higher than most are willing to pay. Nonetheless, the use of idle reduction technologies is expected to expand. When growth projections associated with the U.S. trucking industry are considered, a 70 percent increase in the volume of goods moved from 1998 to 2020, the demand for idle reduction technologies should continue to increase well into the future.

Topics addressed in the survey included impacts of idling regulations and current and future planned use of idle reduction technologies. The survey provided data on more than 55,000 trucks. The results were unveiled at the 2005 Winter Leadership Meeting of the American Trucking Associations.

Participants have spent more than $8.8 million equipping sleeper cabs with onboard idle reduction technologies; throughout the next five years, they are expected to spend an additional $56 million. The report is available at www.atri-online.org.


U.S. extends deadline for foreign hazmat checks
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration granted a six-month extension for background checks of foreign drivers of hazardous materials. The original deadline of Feb. 10 was extended to Aug. 10. The requirement is being phased in for U.S. hazmat drivers, who must pass a background security check before obtaining or renewing their hazardous materials endorsements on their commercial drivers’ licenses. A similar endorsement for Canadian hazmat truck drivers has proven more problematic: Unlike U.S. hazmat drivers, Canadian drivers are not required to have a hazmat endorsement on their CDLs.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance has proposed the Free And Secure Trade (FAST) driver card as a means to allow foreign driver compliance. FAST applicants also must be fingerprinted and have background checks performed and approved by the United States and Canada, according to CTA; a system to process FAST cards already is in place, and more than 50,000 have been issued.


Mack’s Vikner: Boom/bust cycle better this time
Truck production this year will be the “biggest in history,” Mack President and CEO Paul Vikner told CCJ during the Technology & Maintenance Council annual meeting in Tampa, Fla., last month. If that happens, it will be no small feat: Last year the industry sold a record 329,000 trucks in North America, with 341,000 units built. “Dealers are literally screaming for more product,” Vikner said. “And when mom-and-pop operations and small fleets start to realize the cost implications of the ’07 engines, demand will only increase.”

Mack sent a letter to its on-highway fleet customers alerting them to a price increase in the “$7,000 range” for daycabs and tractors equipped with the new ’07 engines, which will continue to rely on exhaust gas recirculation and employ a diesel particulate filter to meet stringent emissions standards. During the TMC meeting, sister company Volvo announced a $7,500 premium for trucks powered by ’07 Volvo or Cummins engines.

Order boards already are filling fast, Vikner said. “By May, customers will have to make a decision: Invest in ’07 technology or not have the equipment needed to meet the growing economic demand predicted for 2007.”

The only clouds on the horizon are high fuel prices and the unstable situation in Iran, a major oil-supplying nation. “If the economy starts to take a dip, a fear is how much water’s in the back log,” he said, referring to the practice by some customers of placing orders with several truck makers to see which comes through first.

Looking ahead to ’07 truck sales, “we are planning for the worst,” Vikner said, but added, “I think next year will be better than most people pessimistically think.” The difference between the current situation and the pre-buy leading up to the introduction of the ’02 lower emissions engines is that OEMs and component suppliers have “overwhelmingly been more responsible in how we’re managing this boom period. We don’t see people adding capacity and hiring to meet demand.”

A robust economy should drive strong used truck sales in the first quarter of ’07, Vikner said. Lower mileage trucks with pre-’07 technology “should be hot commodities.” However, the volume of used trucks coming into the market as trade-ins from fleets pre-buying new ’06 models could soften used truck prices, he said.

Truck makers’ investment in new engine technology continues to drive vertical integration, he said. However, “we’re not going to develop proprietary specs in a vacuum and find some axle in Russia for half price and force it on our customers,” he said.

In years past, “engineers would put a mirror on backwards if a customer requested it,” he said. “That’s going to change.” But while spec’ing will be more restrictive, choices will be much broader than most people predict. As an example, options on the Mack Vision currently include nearly 30,000 paint codes, 43 gauge clusters and 13 air dryers, he said. “If customers could live with only maybe 25 different gauge clusters, we could still provide the right truck for their applications, no matter what they might be.”
-Linda Longton


CCJ Equipment Demand Index: Texas three-step

VANS
April ’05 ’04 ’03
Texas 1 1 1
Tennessee 2 5 3
Ohio 3 3 5
Illinois 4 2 2
Georgia 5 4 4
Indiana 6 6 9
North Carolina 7 7 8
California 8 8 6
South Carolina 9 10 13
Montana 10 9 7
Alabama 11 11 10
Kentucky 12 13 16
Wisconsin 13 12 11
Michigan 14 15 17
New York 15 19 19
FLATS
April ’05 ’04 ’03
Texas 1 1 4
Ohio 2 3 2
Illinois 3 6 1
Alabama 4 2 5
Georgia 5 4 6
Arkansas 6 5 3
Indiana 7 8 7
North Carolina 8 9 9
South Carolina 9 10 10
Tennessee 10 7 8
Kentucky 11 12 12
Virginia 12 17 16
Louisiana 13 15 15
West Virginia 14 19 19
Missouri 15 11 11
REEFERS
April ’05 ’04 ’03
Texas 1 1 3
Florida 2 2 1
Georgia 3 4 4
California 4 3 2
Illinois 5 6 8
Ohio 6 8 10
Oregon 7 14 11
Arkansas 8 5 6
Montana 9 9 9
North Carolina 10 11 18
Washington 11 25 7
Mississippi 12 12 17
Wisconsin 13 7 13
New York 14 10 19
Indiana 15 19 22

If history is any guide, there should be ample spot-market freight in April for empty equipment in Texas, regardless of equipment type, according to the CCJ Equipment Demand Index. Texas led all states in searches in April 2005 for flatbed equipment, and it shared top billing with one or more states in van and reefer searches.

In flatbed, Ohio and Illinois tied for second with 4 percent fewer searches than Texas. For dry vans, Texas, Tennessee and Ohio shared the spotlight, with Illinois and Georgia close behind at 1 percent and 2 percent fewer searches, respectively. And Florida joined Texas in the lead in reefer searches, each comprising 16 percent of all searches.

The index, based on equipment searches performed by TransCore customers, shows the top 15 states in terms of demand for trucks in the spot market in the three most common equipment types: dry vans, flatbeds and refrigerated units. The index is intended to help fleet operators identify the most promising opportunities for backhaul and other spot-market freight in the month after its publication.