ATA asks DOT to seek hours stay

user-gravatar

White House Office of Management and Budget is reviewing proposed regulations to mandate behind-the-wheel training as part of the commercial driver’s license requirements for entry-level commercial motor vehicle drivers. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in December 2005 that the current Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulation for minimum entry-level driver training is inadequate because it doesn’t require any on-road training.

Federal Highway Administration has issued a new rule that would expedite the construction of roads and bridges by allowing states to pursue various contracting methods ranging from basic design-build contracts to long-term public-private concession agreements while simultaneously pursuing federal environmental approvals. For more information, visit http://dms.dot.gov/search and search Docket No. 22477.

Legislation (H.R. 3098) introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives would define commercial motor vehicles as beginning at 26,001 pounds gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) rather than the current 10,001 pounds GVWR and would exempt intrastate drivers of vehicles carrying agricultural products from compliance with certain federal regulations. The bill is sponsored by Reps. David Boren (D-Okla.), Mary Fallin (R-Okla.) and Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.).

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposed legislation to require a 20 percent biodiesel blend – known as B20 – by 2015. Beginning in September 2005, Minnesota required all diesel sold in the state to be 2 percent biodiesel, or B2. Under Pawlenty’s plan, mandatory biodiesel content would be B5 in 2008, B10 by 2011 and B15 by 2013.

Freight Transportation Services Index fell 0.7 percent in June from its May level, falling to its lowest level since February after a one-month rise, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported. The Freight TSI is down 3.7 percent from its peak of 113.1 achieved in November 2005. For the first six months of 2007, the Freight TSI was virtually unchanged.

Trucking Association Executives’ Council elected Arizona Trucking Association President Karen Rasmussen as its national chairman for 2007-2008. Other national officers elected are Vice Chairman Kenneth Cragen, president of the Indiana Motor Truck Association; Secretary/
Treasurer Bob Farrell, executive director of the National Automobile Carriers Conference; and Recording Secretary Elisabeth Barna, vice president of strategic planning and outreach of the American Trucking Associations.

The American Trucking Associations is calling on Transportation Secretary Mary Peters to push for a stay of a federal appeals court ruling on hours-of-service regulations and to encourage the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to conduct an expedited rulemaking to address the court’s concerns. An alternative to a stay is for the court to remand the rules, meaning that FMCSA would have to reconsider the two provisions the court objects to while those provisions still remain in place, ATA says.

“While ATA is disappointed with the decision, we are encouraged by the fact that the shortcomings identified by the Court are procedural in nature and can be readily addressed by FMCSA,” ATA President Bill Graves said in a July 31 letter to Peters.

Citing procedural flaws in the rulemaking, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on July 24 vacated the 11-hour driving time provision and the 34-hour weekly restart provision of the HOS regulations. With a 45-day period for FMCSA to seek reconsideration and another week for the ruling to take effect, the current regulations would remain in place at least until mid-September.

“There is no compelling safety reason for these two elements of the rule to be vacated,” Graves told Peters. “Just a week ago, your Department issued its final truck-involved fatality figures for 2006 – the first full year of the industry operating under these new HOS rules – and fatalities declined by 4.7 percent, the largest drop in 14 years.”

In its reference to the “first full year,” ATA is talking about the rule as modified in August 2005. That modification sharply limited use of the sleeper berth for splitting rest. However, truck-involved fatalities in 2004 and 2005 – both full years operating under the first rewrite of the HOS rules – were higher than they were in 2003.

Graves told Peters that if the 11 hours of driving and the 34-hour restart are vacated in mid-September, “there will be disruptions in the supply chain, our economy will suffer, and the highway safety implications become an unreasoned variable.”

In asking for an expedited rulemaking on just those two provisions, Graves said that FMCSA’s policy decisions were sound and that FMCSA’s methodology just “needs to be better explained.”
At an Aug. 1 news conference, Graves said that ATA would be filing its own motion for a stay but that the support of the Department of Transportation and FMCSA will be critical. To prepare for its upcoming pleadings in the case, ATA asked carriers to provide data by the end of August on the potential safety impact from a loss of the 11-hour driving and 34-hour restart provisions.
– Avery Vise


NYC to get money to launch congestion plan
The U.S. Department of Transportation said last month that it would provide $354 million to New York City to help it launch Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to reduce traffic by charging tolls for driving into the busiest parts of Manhattan. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said that the New York money is contingent on the state Legislature approving congestion pricing within 90 days after it reconvenes. “I share the mayor’s confidence that the support will be there,” Peters said. “Drivers are paying today in time delays and unreliability.”

New York’s congestion pricing plan would be the first such toll program in the United States; similar programs already exist in London and Singapore. Bloomberg’s plan would charge trucks $21 and cars $8 to enter Manhattan south of 86th Street on weekdays between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Bloomberg has touted the toll plan to reduce gridlock and pollution, but federal support was jeopardized by weeks of haggling among New York state leaders, who finally struck a compromise agreement. Under that agreement, a commission will be formed to examine the overall concept of reducing traffic. After hearings and reviews, the group is to make a recommendation to the state Legislature by the end of January.

Peters also announced that Miami, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Seattle were selected, along with New York City, to participate in the new federal initiative to fight traffic gridlock. The announcement followed an eight-month nationwide competition to select a handful of communities from among the 26 who applied to join the Department’s Urban Partnership program, aimed at reducing traffic congestion using approaches such as congestion pricing, mass transit, tolling and teleworking.
– Dean Smallwood


LTL carriers sued over surcharges
In late July, an irrigation and farm equipment supplier and its subsidiary filed a class-action lawsuit in federal district court in Southern California charging that the nation’s leading less-than-truckload carriers have conspired over the last four years or more to fix fuel surcharges on LTL shipments. Defendants in the litigation are Arkansas Best Corp., Averitt Express, Con-way, FedEx Corp., Jevic, Sun Capital Partners, New England Motor Freight, R+L Carriers, Saia, UPS and YRC Worldwide.

Farm Water Technological Services, doing business as Water Tech, and its subsidiary CBJT, doing business as Agricultural Supply, contend that “beginning in 2003, defendants, facing drastically increased fuel costs and the likelihood of lower profits, have evaded this basic economic law by collusively imposing on their customers what are claimed to be ‘fuel surcharges,’ but which in fact bear little relation to the increase in their fuel costs.” The plaintiffs charge that the carriers agreed to impose “identical or nearly identical” surcharges by linking them to diesel fuel prices published by the U.S. Department of Energy and by listing surcharges on their websites to communicate pricing.

The plaintiffs and carriers agreed to set Oct. 31 as the date for the carriers’ response to the complaint.


FMCSA moves closer on Mexican truck plan
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced in the Aug. 17 Federal Register that it has reviewed all the public comments on its proposed demonstration project to allow expanded Mexican carrier operations and will move forward with the program once the final legislated hurdles are cleared.

Under legislation adopted by Congress in May, the pilot project cannot begin until the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General completes its report to Congress, which is expected soon. FMCSA then would have to implement any follow-up actions that the OIG identifies as necessary to ensure public safety.

FMCSA said that the vast majority of comments – about 2,330 of 2,359 submitted – “were submissions by individuals that were no more than a few sentences and consisted of conclusory statements indicating that Mexico-domiciled carriers are unsafe and that the demonstration project should be abandoned.” Those comments, most submitted electronically, did not include information concerning specific safety oversight procedures or processes, legal aspects of the demonstration project or economic issues, FMCSA said.

A provision adopted in the House version of the transportation funding bill would deny funding for the pilot program for the coming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The Bush administration likely will fight adoption of that measure in the final bill, which itself might not be adopted for a couple of months.

For more information, visit http://dms.dot.gov/search and search Docket No. 28055.


ATA seeks national drug testing clearinghouse
The American Trucking Associations last month urged Congress to authorize and fund a centralized clearinghouse for positive drug and alcohol testing results of commercial motor vehicle drivers to ensure that motor carrier employers are aware of previous positive test results during the hiring process. Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., ATA President Bill Graves said such a clearinghouse would improve the industry’s ability to keep alcohol and drug abusers off the road and improve safety on the nation’s roadways.

The federal government required drug and alcohol testing of commercial truck drivers in 1995. As measured by a percentage of positive test results, drug abuse in the trucking industry is less than half of that found in the general work force, ATA says. But with between 2 percent and 2.5 percent of the truck driver population testing positive, that’s perhaps 68,000 drivers with some type of substance abuse problem, Graves noted. This number is unacceptable to ATA and the trucking industry, he said.

A centralized clearinghouse would eliminate a significant loophole in the current drug and alcohol testing regulations, Graves said. Currently, employers must maintain records of positive tests for three years and provide the information to future prospective employers upon request. But if a driver who tested positive at that employer applies for a job at another carrier and leaves that employer off its job application, the prospective employer may not be aware of the positive drug test. If all results were reported to a central database, however, this blind spot would be eliminated. “It’s something we think is just good common sense,” Graves said at the news conference.

ATA has lobbied for a national clearinghouse of positive test results since the 1990s. In 2004, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reported to Congress on the merits of reporting positive test results to states. Currently, five states have instituted a drug and alcohol clearinghouse; for example, a positive drug test must be entered onto the driver’s employment driving record in Oregon.

“ATA and its members believe that state-based reporting efforts are a good first step, but the optimal solution is a national clearinghouse,” Graves said. “The trucking industry is a national industry. State-by-state action will result in a patchwork quilt of differing reporting requirements by different people, with different commercial driver licensing actions or outcomes for truck drivers depending upon which state issued their license. A national solution is the optimal approach to addressing this issue.”

ATA is circulating draft model legislation to the appropriate committees in the House and Senate, said Graves. Under the proposed legislation, drivers would have the right to view information on them that resides in the database and would have an opportunity to appeal that data.

David Osiecki, ATA vice president of safety, security and operations, noted that the clearinghouse could dovetail with FMCSA’s Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 initiative to improve its oversight of motor carriers and drivers through more efficient use of data and technology. A national clearinghouse on drug and alcohol test results could be part of a broader effort – which ATA supports – to gather, analyze and use much more information on the safety performance of specific drivers. Ultimately, ATA would like to see a central clearinghouse for a range of driver-performance data and disclosures that prospective employers would want to consider.

For now, ATA is pushing just the drug testing clearinghouse. “Politics is the art of what’s possible,” Graves said at the news conference. “We’ll take what we can get with this proposal and work on what’s possible at a later date.”
– Avery Vise


Tonnage index dips slightly in June
The American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index decreased 0.1 percent in June from the May level of 110.6. On a seasonally adjusted basis, the tonnage index declined to a seven-month low of 110.5 (2000 = 100) in June. Compared with a year earlier, the tonnage index was down 3.4 percent in June.

ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said that while the government reported the economy grew at a 3.4 percent annualized rate in the second quarter, that strength did not filter into the transport sector. The ATA index fell 1.8 percent during the second quarter from the first quarter and was 3.2 percent lower than the same quarter in 2006.

Costello attributed this difference to several trends. First, the “goods” economy – GDP excluding services but adding imports of goods – grew at a slower 2.6 percent annualized rate in the second quarter than overall GDP. Second, the housing sector is still a bigger drag on motor carriers than on the economy at large, Costello says. Residential investment fell 9.3 percent during the second quarter, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Third, manufacturing production adjusted for the weight of goods rather than value continues to contract on a year-over-year basis.

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


House energy bill favors rail
Shortly before adjourning for its August recess, the U.S. House of Representatives passed energy-related legislation (H.R. 3221) by a vote of 241 to 172, setting up a possible negotiation with senators on a final energy bill. H.R. 3221 includes several measures of direct interest to the trucking industry. For example, the bill takes several steps related to biodiesel, including a rulemaking to establish a biodiesel standard unless the American Society for Testing and Materials has adopted a standard for diesel fuel containing 20 percent biodiesel within a year.

The House bill also includes a revolving loan program for qualified electric transportation projects, including truck-stop electrification, electric truck refrigeration units, battery-powered auxiliary power units for trucks and others.

For the trucking industry, the most troublesome piece of H.R. 3221 might be a new Center for Climate Change and Environment that would be established within the Department of Transportation. Part of the center’s mandate would be to examine fuel efficiency savings and clean air impacts of major transportation projects, and to identify low-cost solutions to reduce congestion and transportation-related energy use and mitigate the effects of climate change. But the center also would be tasked with studying ways “to alleviate such problems as railroad pricing that may force freight off the more fuel-efficient railroads and onto less fuel-efficient trucks.”

H.R. 3221 supplements an energy bill (H.R. 6) that the House passed early this year during its so-called “First 100 Hours” legislative frenzy. The U.S. Senate passed its own version of H.R. 6 in June that would require a rulemaking on fuel economy improvements in medium- and heavy-duty trucks.
– Avery Vise


South Carolina to use tolls for I-73
South Carolina now can move forward with plans to build Interstate 73, thanks to a new program that allows tolling to pay for new interstate highways, U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters announced Aug. 16.

“The I-73 project is a great example of leaders at the state and local level using tolling as a solution to traffic problems,” Peters said. “Local drivers and tourists will benefit from the speed, safety and reliability that a less congested road will bring.”

Peters said I-73 in South Carolina is the first project to have a slot reserved under the department’s new Interstate System Construction Toll Pilot Program, which also would allow other states to expand I-73.

Participation in the program will allow South Carolina to use certain types of federal-aid highway funds along with other public and private revenue to construct, operate and maintain I-73. The program does not offer specific funding but gives states authority to raise revenue through tolling.

South Carolina plans to build an 80-mile stretch of new interstate highway connecting I-73/I-74 south of Rockingham, N.C., to the Myrtle Beach area on the coast, linking the two states to support economic growth and tourism in the region, as well as emergency evacuation.

“States looking for funding solutions now have more options to consider when building vital transportation projects,” Federal Highway Administrator Richard Capka said.


CCJ Hotspots: Spot rates high to Southern states
The highest rates from the hottest spot-market states – Alabama, Arkansas and California – generally were into states in the South during July, according to the latest CCJ Hotspots data. The Deep South states from Louisiana through South Carolina all were among the best rates in dry van, refrigerated and flatbed loads. Border states Kentucky and Missouri also saw strong spot-market rates from the CCJ Hotspot states.

In cooperation with freight-matching leader TransCore, we highlight the nation’s three hottest states – those where the outbound load-to-truck imbalance is most in favor of the carrier. We then pair these states with market rate data to identify the three best outbound paying lanes by each of the three most popular equipment types – van, reefer and flatbed. And like the three origin states, all of these destination states have positive load-to-truck ratios. Load-to-truck ratio and market rate data are courtesy of TransCore. The goal is to highlight not only the best states for spot-market freight but also the best outbound opportunities from those states.

California (Outbound)
Destination State Avg Rate Min Rate Max Rate Avg Fuel Surcharge Avg Accessorial
Van
GA 1.3118 1.1699 1.4536 0.24 630.12
MS 1.3036 1.1513 1.456 0.17 388.08
LA 1.2431 0.937 1.5492 0.25 531.48
Reefer
AL 1.6382 1.402 1.8745 0.12 351.3
LA 1.6123 1.4326 1.792 0.33 722.29
MS 1.5233 1.2657 1.7808 0.23 462.26
Flatbed
MS 1.2062 1.0179 1.3945 0.23 440.24
MO 1.1953 0.9813 1.4093 0.14 523.8
GA 1.1755 1.0845 1.2665 0.24 140.6
Arkansas (Outbound)
Destination State Avg Rate Min Rate Max Rate Avg Fuel Surcharge Avg Accessorial
Van
GA 1.5325 1.3033 1.7617 0.24 150.98
SC 1.4942 1.3355 1.653 0.26 219.21
IN 1.3956 1.2387 1.5525 0.19 170.29
Reefer
AL 2.4669 2.1338 2.8 0.28 217.36
GA 1.8532 1.6716 2.0348 0.25 165.29
SC 1.7828 1.6255 1.9401 0.23 274.9
Flatbed
CA 1.8222 1.6067 2.0377 0.19 786.32
GA 1.6938 1.4131 1.9744 0.14 109.08
AL 1.6798 1.4639 1.8958 0.26 115.93
Alabama (Outbound)
Destination State Avg Rate Min Rate Max Rate Avg Fuel Surcharge Avg Accessorial
Van
KY 1.6 1.2596 1.9403 0.15 84.82
SC 1.4826 1.2914 1.6738 0.14 94.68
AR 1.4278 1.1088 1.7467 0.2 114.69
Reefer
KY 1.5503 1.2435 1.9496 0.2 238.71
SC 1.5267 1.4513 1.6021 0.14 127.37
MO 1.352 1.2093 1.4948 0.15 204.21
Flatbed
KY 1.8203 1.5325 2.108 0.18 83.28
SC 1.784 1.5254 2.0425 0.2 100.43
MO 1.6623 1.4565 1.868 0.25 191.26

New law calls for audit
Homeland security legislation signed by President Bush on Aug. 3 includes a provision that requires the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to issue an audit-type report on Highway Watch for fiscal years 2004 and 2005. That report is due to Congress in three months.

Within a year, the inspector general must complete a second report that analyzes the performance, efficiency and effectiveness of the federal trucking industry security grant program, including the need for the program, by using all years of available data. The report also must make program recommendations.

“I think it’s a broad-based effort by Democrats to get a handle on homeland security,” said John Willard, ATA spokesman for the Highway Watch program.

Highway Watch, begun as an ATA safety initiative in 1998, attained a new focus, a new prominence and millions of federal dollars in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. Highway Watch received $12 million in federal funds for fiscal year 2007 and a total of $57.3 million since fiscal year 2004.
– Jill Dunn


Carrier News
Con-way Inc. announced Aug. 23 that it had completed its $750 million acquisition of Joplin, Mo.-based Contract Freighters Inc. Con-way’s existing truckload operation will be consolidated with CFI and managed out of Joplin.

UPS has named Jack Holmes president of its UPS Freight unit, replacing the retiring Gordon Mackenzie. Holmes, a 28-year UPS veteran who began as a part-time employee, has served as senior vice president of operations at UPS Freight for the past year.

USA Truck Inc. named Cliff Beckham president and chief executive officer and elected him to the board of directors. Beckham, who previously served as chief financial officer, succeeds Jerry Orler, who was expected to retire when he turned 65 on Aug. 29.

USF Glen Moore, an operating unit of YRC Regional Transportation, a subsidiary of YRC Worldwide Inc., named Phil Nelms vice president of operations.