Bulletproof fuel taxes?

GE Equipment Services (www.ge.com) has introduced to the trucking industry in Mexico its VeriWise Trucking asset tracking and monitoring system. To help launch VeriWise in Mexico, GE has brought its Mobile Solutions Center, a custom-built 53-foot drop-deck exhibition trailer that GE uses to demonstrate VeriWise’s monitoring capabilities.

Averitt Express is installing the Global Locating System (GLS) trailer-tracking technology from SkyBitz (www.skybitz.com) on more than 4,000 trailers.

StarTrak Systems (www.startrak.com) will supply its ReeferTrak monitoring and control system to PLM Trailer Leasing, one of the largest lessors of refrigerated equipment. Initial product deliveries are expected to exceed $1 million.

TransCore (www.transcore.com) said that its GlobalWave satellite-based trailer-tracking devices have received certification from Underwriters Laboratories that they can be used safely in proximity to ignitable concentrations of flammable gases, vapors or liquids. The certification means that the GlobalWave system is appropriate for monitoring hazardous materials shipments, TransCore says.

Nexiq Technologies (www.nexiq.com) introduced a new Pro-Link Application Card for Caterpillar engines with ACERT. The new card’s basic features allow viewing and clearing of fault codes, viewing engine data lists and viewing and resetting trip data. Advanced features include calibrations, diagnostic and special tests, and the display and changing of configurable parameters.

Networkcar (www.networkcar.com) will enhance GE Motor Club’s emergency roadside assistance services by providing GPS location tracking and telematics technology that GE Motor Club will integrate into its call centers for location and dispatch of emergency services.

Today’s technology was almost unimaginable when states began collecting fuel taxes from motor carriers through the International Fuel Tax Agreement in the 1980s. By today’s standards, paperwork and manual processes used to capture, audit and file fuel tax information seem woefully outdated.

But using technology to automate fuel taxes is not as easy or as foolproof as you might imagine. Although most fleets today use electronic purchasing systems that capture the number of gallons purchased in each state, those systems don’t capture total mileage in each state with total accuracy and automation, experts say.

The most basic method, still widely used today, is to require drivers to record their odometer readings at state lines. A more accurate and reliable system to calculate state-by-state mileages is to run dispatch information – origin, destination and stops – through a commercial mileage package from vendors such as ALK, ProMiles and Rand McNally.

Problem solved, right? Not exactly. Fleets typically find that total odometer miles are 6 to 8 percent above dispatch miles, and this discrepancy is what fuel tax auditors are seeking, says Tom Rushfeldt, senior vice president of regulatory compliance for Comdata.

“Auditors make the assumption going in that the documentation is poor and that there should be adjustments,” Rushfeldt says.

Asset tracking and mobile communications solutions help reconcile this gap in mileage by capturing a “breadcrumb trail” – a record of the position of vehicles throughout the day. Fleets can import positions into mileage software systems to calculate the actual mileages between each point.

“The key in tax reporting is making sure that the data you are using to track the movement of a truck is accurate and continuous,” says Al Uritas, president of OTS, a full-service tax provider. For accurate mileage calculations, fleets should receive position reports at 30-minute intervals or less, Uritas says.

But even with GPS tracking and dispatch and mileage software systems in place, fuel taxes still are no cakewalk. “At the end of the day, the most accurate reading is the odometer reading,” Uritas says. To survive an IFTA audit unscathed, fleets must show they have reconciled their total dispatch miles and total GPS miles with the total odometer miles.

Fleets have several software options to reconcile these mileages, and to efficiently prepare and file tax forms. For example, a single user license of ALK’s PC*Miler|FuelTax software starts at $1,445. The software combines the mapping and mileage backbone of the PC*Miler mileage solution with a full set of fuel tax reporting and tax preparation features. Clients can use the import wizard to import data from asset tracking systems, fuel purchase cards and other electronic files, such as an Excel spreadsheet with vehicle odometer readings.

Using a “fuel and trip conflict” report, the software will highlight areas where fuel calculations are skewed due to mileage gaps between PC*Miler mileages and odometer miles. For filing taxes, the software package has online tax forms that are exact replicas of the forms required for each jurisdiction, which are updated quarterly, says Craig Fiander, director of marketing for ALK Technologies.

Companies that provide fuel tax outsourcing services have developed software applications to import a full range of data from clients’ information systems to prepare bulletproof fuel tax reports. In addition to developing software specifically for fuel tax automation, these firms also have a deep understanding of fuel tax requirements and audit management.

“The whole objective to outsourcing fuel tax is to do it better, quicker and cheaper than you can do it internally,” says Uritas, who adds that OTS gets as much data as possible from its clients to minimize exposure.

Lee TranServices, an outsource provider of compliance and risk management services, recently released its next-generation paperless fuel tax solution. The solution captures, processes and audits data from GPS, dispatch software, fuel card data and other sources – both electronically and from paper. Clients access real-time fuel tax information and reports through the Web, says Jon Vosters, vice president of national sales for Lee TranServices.

The ability to have real-time fuel tax information for settlements with owner-operators has proven especially useful, Vosters says. Fleets can deduct fuel taxes from the contractor’s final settlement rather than estimate fuel taxes based on a previous quarter’s calculations. And they can view all document images online, including driver trip reports.

Comdata, which recently acquired fuel tax outsource provider Inter-Tax, processes fuel taxes for more than 150,000 tractors. One of the benefits of having a large client base is being able to gather industry statistics and metrics that help clients benchmark their performance in areas of risk for fuel tax audits, such as their percentage of out-of-route miles, Rushfeldt says.

For large trucking companies, Comdata’s Inter-Tax full service costs about $3 per truck per month; for smaller fleets, the full service costs less than $10 per truck per month. For half the price, the company offers a technology-only service called Inter-Tax Advantage, which automatically imports GPS, dispatch and fuel data from the client. Through a Web-based interface, clients do their own editing of data and printing of tax forms.

While automation appears to be a reality for fuel taxes, it is difficult to pull off without expertise. “To automate completely is a holy grail,” Rushfeldt says. “You can never put fuel taxes on autopilot.”

TMW Systems acquires TMT Software
TMW Systems (www.tmwsystems.com), a major supplier of enterprise management systems to the transportation industry in North America, acquired TMT Software, a provider of transportation fleet maintenance software. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

TMW says the acquisition of Durham, N.C.-based TMT further enhances its leadership position in the transportation industry by increasing the company’s size to more than 1,500 total customers and driving annual revenues in excess of $56 million. Together, TMW and TMT share more than 235 customers – 47 of which have been added in the past 12 months – and actively serve more of the largest 100 carriers than any other software provider in the North American market, the companies say.

The acquisition follows TMW’s strategic objective of simplifying operations for customers by continually providing greater integration of various business functions. The two companies have been integration partners since 1998.

“TMT Software has been a long-time business partner of TMW Systems, and this combination creates a unique opportunity for both TMT and TMW customers,” says David Wangler, president and chief executive officer of Cleveland-based TMW.

Current customers will be able to leverage a broad set of existing complementary products developed by both TMW and TMT, the companies say. The research and development staff of the two companies also will combine to incrementally introduce and replace pieces of software technology over time, making it seamless for customers. TMT Software will be renamed TMW Fleet Maintenance.

“There is a lot of common functionality that we can leverage,” Wangler said.