Mexico program extended

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Transportation Secretary Mary Peters on July 29 unveiled the Bush administration’s proposal to fight congestion through a reform of highway and transit programs. In addition to streamlining government programs, the plan encourages tolls and private highway investment. Many of the plan’s elements reflect recommendations included in a National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Commission report issued in January. For more information, visit www.fightgridlocknow.gov.

Nominations are due Sept. 19 for the second annual Mike Russell “Good stuff” Trucking Image Award. The American Trucking Associations award honors companies that creatively implement the “Good stuff. Trucks Bring It.” campaign in order to generate positive awareness of the trucking industry. For more information, go to www.trucksbringit.com.

American Trucking Associations last month said it supports a bipartisan comprehensive energy bill (H.R. 6709) that calls for offshore oil drilling and exploration of oil shale reserves; tax incentives for use of alternative fuels; and increased investment in developing energy conservation technologies. H.R. 6709 had 130 co-sponsors as of late August.

Freight Transportation Services Index rose 0.1 percent in June from its May level, rising for the second consecutive month, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported. For the first six months of 2008, the freight index advanced 2.9 percent.

Goodyear is accepting nominations through Nov. 30 for the 26th annual Goodyear North America Highway Hero Awards. For details on criteria and how to nominate a driver, go to www.goodyear.com/truck/news/hero.html.

Legislation (S. 3428) introduced in the Senate would provide tax credits for installation of advanced safety technologies – including collision avoidance, lane departure warning, stability control and brake stroke monitoring – on commercial vehicles. Similar legislation is pending in the House.

Americans drove 53.2 billion fewer highway miles during the eight months ended June 2008 than in the same period a year earlier, the U.S. Department of Transportation reported. Miles began dropping in November 2007 and were down 4.7 percent in June from June 2007.

American Transportation Research Institute and the Federal Highway Administration jointly received the Institute of Transportation Engineers Management and Operations Award for designing and developing a research tool that calculates changes in travel times and speeds on North American highways using wireless truck position data.

Environmental Protection Agency said it will award $3.4 million in grants to develop emerging technologies to reduce diesel emissions. Emerging technologies are devices or strategies that reduce emissions from diesel engines or equipment, but have not yet been verified or certified by EPA or the California Air Resources Board.

State of Texas failed in its request that the Environmental Protection Agency reduce the nationwide renewable fuels standard (RFS) of 9 billion gallons in 2008 and 11.1 billion gallons in 2009. “The RFS remains an important tool in our ongoing efforts to reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions and lessen our dependence on foreign oil, in aggressive yet practical ways,” EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said Aug. 7.

Thomas Madison will serve out the remaining months of the Bush presidency as administrator of the Federal Highway Administration. The Senate last month confirmed Madison, who previously served as the commissioner of the New York State Department of Transportation.

Navistar International Corp. and General Motors decided not to renew the memorandum of understanding for Navistar to purchase GM’s medium-duty truck business. The companies attributed the decision to “significant marketplace and economic changes.” GM says it will continue to run the medium-duty business but will continue to review strategic options, including continued discussions with Navistar.

Motor carriers authorized in the past year for operations between the United States and Mexico could operate another two years under a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration notice published in the Aug. 6 Federal Register. The program, which began Sept. 6, 2007, allows Mexican trucks to begin traveling beyond a 25-mile zone into the U.S. interior. U.S. carriers in the pilot program can operate into Mexico.

While FMCSA Administrator John Hill called the program a success, he said a number of potential companies have been unwilling to invest the time and resources necessary to participate due to uncertainties concerning the project’s longevity. “We intend this extension to reassure trucking companies that they will have sufficient time to realize a return on their investment, and we anticipate additional participation with this extra time,” Hill said.

“To date, the project has shown that U.S. and Mexican carriers can engage in cross-border trucking operations in compliance with applicable laws and with no compromise to public safety or security,” Hill said. “In fact, Mexican trucks and drivers have established compliance rates equal or better to those of U.S. trucks and drivers.”

FMCSA doesn’t have much data, however. As of July 14, 27 Mexican carriers operating 101 trucks and 10 U.S. carriers operating 52 trucks were approved for the crossborder program. Another 30 Mexican carriers have successfully passed a pre-authorization safety audit and could receive authorization if they file proof of financial responsibility, FMCSA says.

Opponents cry foul
FMCSA’s announcement came just after Congress adjourned for its usual August recess. On July 10, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a transportation appropriations bill (H.R. 3621) that would stop funding for the program in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. And several days before the August recess, the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure approved legislation (H.R. 6630) to terminate the pilot program at the end of the original one-year duration and require that DOT obtain express authorization from Congress to allow Mexican carriers to operate beyond the commercial zones after Sept. 6, 2008.

“All along, DOT has said this would be a one-year pilot, so I’m holding them to their word,” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the highways and transit subcommittee, had said before FMCSA’s announcement.

Last December, Congress banned funding to “establish” a program that allows U.S.-certified Mexican trucks to carry loads across the border and into the country. DOT interpreted “establish” as meaning a new program, not the one already in place.

On Feb. 14, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard arguments regarding whether the Bush administration can go ahead with the program despite congressional attempts to stop it. As of late August, the court has not ruled in the case.

Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the announcement of the program’s two-year extension being made on the first day of the congressional recess “is certainly no coincidence. When Congress reconvenes in September, I intend to move our bill as quickly as possible, and make certain that the voice of Congress is heard loud and clear at the Department of Transportation, and that this program is finally shut down.” Public Citizen, the Teamsters and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association all criticized FMCSA’s action. Like Oberstar, OOIDA faulted the agency’s timing.

For more information on the crossborder program, go to www.regulations.gov and search Docket No. FMCSA-2007-28055.


Tonnage up 1.3% in June
The American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index increased 1.3 percent in June, marking the second consecutive month-to-month gain. The index rose 0.5 percent in May. The seasonally adjusted tonnage index equaled 116.5 in June – the highest reading since February’s 117.2.

Compared to June 2007, the seasonally adjusted index was up 5.4 percent for the eighth consecutive year-over-year increase. This improvement was the largest year-over-year gain since January 2005, just surpassing the 5.3 percent jump in January 2008.

“It seems that truck tonnage is once again leading the U.S. economy,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello. “During the 2000-2001 cycle, trucking pulled out of a recession before the aggregate economy fell into one. Unfortunately, truck tonnage could slow later this year as the overall economy is expected to be quite weak in the fourth quarter and the first quarter of next year.”

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.


ATA sues to block port concessions
The American Trucking Associations and its Intermodal Motor Carriers Conference (IMCC) in late July challenged in a federal court in Los Angeles the port “concession plans” as approved by the Cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach and their harbor commissions. The concession provisions – part of the Clean Truck Program adopted by the two ports – will limit access to the ports to only those trucking companies that have entered into concession contracts approved by the port program administrator. The concession plans impose a broad range of operational requirements that create a regulatory environment similar to state intrastate economic regulation, ATA argues.

“We are particularly concerned with the Port of Los Angeles’ concession requirement that will lead to a complete ban of the use of independent contractor/owner-operator drivers in servicing that port’s operations within five years.” said ATA President Bill Graves. The requirement has nothing to do with cleaning the air and “threatens a well-established trucking industry operational practice that provides efficiencies and the flexibility needed for the trucking industry to effectively serve our customers,” Graves said.

ATA and IMCC argue that the concession programs violate the federal law prohibiting states and their political subdivisions from regulating motor carrier prices, routes or services. The filing points to various regulatory requirements – submission of truck-maintenance, safety and parking plans; equipment marking and tracking; financial oversight; routing mandates; and periodic reviews and audits – that will dramatically affect a motor carrier’s operations at the ports in terms of price, routes and services.

In their formal response, the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach argued that the federal preemption of regulation on carrier rates, rules and services does not apply to the special tidelands property on which the ports are located. The U.S. Supreme Court previously has decided that the tidelands were granted to California directly under the U.S. Constitution and subsequently granted to the cities, the ports said. Plus, the federal law ATA relies on doesn’t apply to port actions directed to the safety and security of the ports, they argued.

The federal court has scheduled a Sept. 8 hearing on ATA’s motion for preliminary injunction. The Clean Truck Program is scheduled to take effect on Oct. 1. ATA is not challenging the program’s prohibition on 1988 and older trucks from entering the ports on and after Oct. 1.

Meanwhile, the ATA litigation has not stopped some carriers from seeking concessions. On Aug. 21, the Port of Los Angeles announced that Swift Transportation and Knight Transportation – along with about 20 other licensed motor carriers – had submitted applications.


CCJ Hotspots: Illinois makes it six
Illinois made its sixth consecutive appearance as a CCJ Hotspot in June, while California joined the ranks for the second consecutive month. The third CCJ Hotspot was Alabama. 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.


Carrier News
YRC Worldwide said YRC Logistics acquired Shanghai Jiayu Logistics, one of China’s largest providers of truckload and less-than-truckload services.

C.H. Robinson Worldwide acquired certain operating subsidiaries of Transera International Holdings Ltd., a project forwarding company headquartered in Calgary, Canada.

FT Silfies Inc., a mid-Atlantic dry bulk aggregate carrier, launched Silfies Bulk Transport for hauling various liquid commodities.