FMCSA to tighten CDL rules

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Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration extended until May 23 the public comment period on its notice of proposed rulemaking regarding the minimum training requirements for entry-level commercial motor vehicle operators. For more information, visit www.regulations.gov and search Docket No. FMCSA-2007-27748.

The national average retail price for a gallon of on-highway diesel fuel crossed the $4 threshold for the first time during the week ended April 14. The average price rose 10.4 cents from the previous week to $4.059. Regionally, average prices ranged from $4.00 in Gulf Coast states to $4.266 in the Central Atlantic. Nationwide, the average price was $1.182 higher than a year earlier.

Arkansas’ U.S. House delegation called for congressional hearings into how record-high diesel prices are having a negative impact on the nation’s economy. The letter to House leadership signed by the state’s four representatives follows a call for hearings by the Arkansas Trucking Association.

Marmon Highway Technologies said that its companies – Fontaine, Webb, Leland, Perfection, Triangle, Fleetline, Nuline and Hogebuilt – will increase prices immediately to deal with skyrocketing global metals costs. According to MHT, scrap prices alone increased $243 per ton or 88 percent in the first quarter.

American Trucking Associations signed a recruiting partnership agreement with the U.S. Army Reserve aimed at providing experienced truck drivers for the military as well as careers to truck drivers leaving the military.

Renewable Energy Group adopted product specifications for pure biodiesel (B100) that exceed ASTM D 6751 biodiesel specifications regardless of feedstock.

Freight Transportation Services Index was unchanged in February from January, following a 2.4 percent monthly increase in January, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported. At 111.5, the Freight TSI is down 1.5 percent from its peak of 113.1 achieved in November 2005, but up 3.2 percent in the five months since its recent low of 108.0 in September 2007.

American Trucking Associations signed a recruiting partnership agreement with the U.S. Army Reserve aimed at providing experienced truck drivers for the military as well as careers to truck drivers leaving the military.

Renewable Energy Group adopted product specifications for pure biodiesel (B100) that exceed ASTM D 6751 biodiesel specifications regardless of feedstock.

Freight Transportation Services Index was unchanged in February from January, following a 2.4 percent monthly increase in January, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported. At 111.5, the Freight TSI is down 1.5 percent from its peak of 113.1 achieved in November 2005, but up 3.2 percent in the five months since its recent low of 108.0 in September 2007.

U.S. Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration issued a Request for Information to private industry, state and local governments, and others seeking input on potential business models for the financing and operation of a nationwide communications network between vehicles and the roadway infrastructure.

Truck Writers of North America presented its Lifetime Achievement Award to D. Mike Pennington, ArvinMeritor senior director of global marketing communications and industry relations for commercial vehicle systems. Pennington’s career spans four decades and includes both editorial and marketing positions. Prior to joining Rockwell Automotive – ArvinMeritor’s predecessor – in 1985, Pennington had served as editor of Southern Motor Cargo, where he worked for 15 years.

James Hebe, former chairman and chief executive officer of Freightliner, rejoined Navistar International Corp.’s truck group, where he began his career in 1971. Most recently dealer principal of Co-Van/Cascadia International LLC, Hebe has been named Navistar’s senior vice president of North American sales operations, with responsibility for sales, dealer operations and sales administration.

Applicants for commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) and commercial learner’s permits (CLPs) would be required to provide more documentation of their legal presence in the United States under a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) published by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The NPRM also would require that CDL applicants first obtain a CLP, and would mandate additional background checks of CDL applicants by state issuers. Many of the proposal’s elements respond to provisions of recent highway and security legislations. The most recent legislation addressed in FMCSA’s proposal was the Security and Accountability For Every Port Act of 2006 (SAFE Port Act), which required the Department of Transportation to issue regulations implementing the recommendations of the DOT Office of Inspector General concerning the verification of the legal status of commercial drivers. The SAFE Port Act also required DOT, in cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security, to issue a regulation implementing OIG’s February 2006 recommendations on steps to improve anti-fraud measures in the CDL program.

To tighten the rules on legal presence, state driver’s license agencies would be required to verify the applicant’s Social Security Number with the Social Security Administration. Many of the program areas and issues addressed in the NPRM also are covered by the Department of Homeland Security’s final rule implementing the REAL ID Act. FMCSA said it has coordinated its efforts with DHS to avoid overlapping or conflicting requirements, but that there may be a need to further harmonize its rule with the REAL ID rule before it is finalized. To reduce the potential for fraud, FMCSA proposes to ban the use of foreign language interpreters in the administration of the knowledge and skills tests.

One issue that has been a problem for employers is the failure of some states to recognize driver training in different states. The NPRM would require states to recognize CLPs issued by other states for training purposes. It also would limit the initial and renewal periods for both CLPs and CDLs and clarify under what circumstances an applicant must surrender those licenses or permits.

Comments on FMCSA’s proposal are due June 9. For a copy of the NPRM, visit www.regulations.gov and search Docket No. FMCSA-2007-27659.


Funds offered for clean diesel
EPA offers almost $50 million in retrofit, anti-idle grants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last month announced the availability of $49.2 million in grant funding to establish clean diesel projects aimed at reducing emissions from the nation’s existing fleet of diesel engines. The grants, authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and funded by Congress for the first time this fiscal year, will be administered by EPA’s National Clean Diesel Campaign and its network of seven collaboratives, which consist of EPA regional offices and public and private sector partners.

Grants will go to state, local and regional governments with jurisdiction over transportation or air quality, as well as nonprofits and institutions with transportation, educational services and air quality responsibilities. School districts, federally recognized Indian tribes, municipalities, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), cities and counties are all eligible entities under this program.

At least half the funds will be for the benefit of public fleets, which also include private fleets contracted or leased for public purpose, such as private school buses, refuse haulers or equipment at public ports. In those situations, however, only eligible entities can apply directly to EPA for funding; for example, a school district would apply and administer a project on behalf of a private school bus contractor.

The EPA program isn’t limited to trucks and buses; marine engines, locomotives and nonroad engines also are eligible. Grants are limited to engine retrofits or idle-reduction technologies that have been verified by either EPA or the California Air Resources Board.

The seven regional collaboratives have issued requests for proposals with deadlines ranging from May 30 through July, with most proposals due in mid-June. For more information, including links to each of the seven collaboratives and a list of eligible technologies, visit www.epa.gov/cleandiesel.


NYC congestion fee plan fails
New York state lawmakers last month failed to approve a proposal to charge motorists entering Manhattan an extra fee under a plan advocates said would reduce traffic and curb pollution by forcing more commuters onto mass transit. The decision – if it stands – means the city will forfeit $354 million in federal funding for trying to kick-start the plan.

The concept would have charged most drivers $8 to drive below 60th Street between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday; truckers would have paid $21. The New York State Legislature failed to act on New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal, which already was endorsed by the City Council, New York Gov. David Paterson and the state Senate. But many lawmakers representing outer boroughs and New York City suburbs had argued that the congestion fee would target commuters unfairly.

The American Trucking Associations applauded the news. “Like many areas of the United States, New York’s transportation networks are strained, and the city is searching for a solution to its problem,” said Bill Graves, ATA president and chief executive officer. “But congestion pricing schemes are unfair, ineffective and ignore our real transportation needs. While there is a need to heavily invest in infrastructure, congestion pricing does little to relieve congestion and is merely a revenue raiser.”

New York City was one of five cities selected last August to receive a share of $1.1 billion in federal funds to help address traffic congestion. The money would have been allocated as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Urban Partnership Program. The other cities selected were Seattle, San Francisco, Miami and Minneapolis.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters expressed disappointment in the state’s decision. “New York’s mounting traffic and environmental woes point to congestion pricing as an inevitable solution, even if not in the next few months or with the assistance of federal Urban Partnership dollars,” Peters said.


Tonnage index flat in February
The American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index remained flat in February, after rising 2.4 percent in January. The not-seasonally adjusted index decreased 3.9 percent from January to 109.1.

The seasonally adjusted tonnage index remained at 117.2 in February, its highest level in more than two years. Tonnage increased 3.5 percent compared with February 2007, and marked the fourth consecutive year-over-year increase in the index.

ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said February’s reading was encouraging. “The fact that truck tonnage did not lose any of January’s robust 2.4-percent gain is quite positive,” Costello said.

Costello continues to forecast a mild recession for the overall economy during the first half of 2008. He noted, however, that truck tonnage typically leads general economic activity. Truck tonnage rebounded in 2001, for example, just as the aggregate economy was slipping into a recession.

“Perhaps we are seeing a repeat of the last recovery,” Costello said. “But it is still too early to make that call, especially with energy prices at historic levels. There are just too many downside risks at the moment to say definitively that trucking is leading an economic recovery.”

ATA calculates the tonnage index based on surveys from its membership and has been doing so since the 1970s. The report includes month-to-month and year-over-year results, relevant economic comparisons and key financial indicators. The baseline year is 2000.