Down, Under, and Through

Have you ever heard the saying that “there’s nowhere to go but up?”  Well, with highway construction that is not always the case.  In fact, sometimes down is the best direction – down and under, that is. 

North End of Massey Tunnel
Midday Traffic, Massey Tunnel

In the September 2013 edition of Woodward Publishing‘s Western Trucking News, I wrote about the George Massey Tunnel project in British Columbia and the Washington State Route 99 through (err, under) Seattle.  Both quite interesting.

Read the story by Clicking Here (pdf).

HOS – Guest OpEd

The Revised Hours-Of Service is coming!!  By Chett Winchell 

How have times changed! Used to be we all knew that dispatch was going to ask you two questions, how long were you on today and how many hours do you have for tomorrow? Times changed and the 34-hour reset came into being and changed that thought process. It was almost like a circus…Step right up folks, get your time off and get a new 70! What a deal, what a deal! The driver actually trying to stay legit just went out the window. So much for home time, seeing the family or friends…reset on the road – another two + weeks out…

If drivers keep their logs correct, the 34-hour reset is not a blank necessity. When I drove, I knew the hours available all the time. If companies would go back to requiring a recap, and notification to dispatch about hours available, there would (Oh No) be communication between dispatch and driver and none of the “I can’t do that talk.”

Sometimes change is good, but I believe that some of the old school mentality is a great baseline in understanding how to correctly log, knowing the hours available and where you stand in general as far as HOS goes.

Unfortunately, I believe that this new legislation coming 1 July is going to absolutely put the hurt on team drivers. The truck is going to sit about four hours a day. Old school of 5 on, 5 off, you could run forever!

We are going to have continual depletion in the HOS arena and it is past time to wise up and get the proverbial act together. What I would like to see is actual input from lawmakers and groups that really have knowledge in the HOS area, instead of micro-management from groups that really don’t have a clue in the real world of trucking about what is going on, their demands and the long term effects of enacted legislation.

Guess I need a drug test…

 

 

 

This article was originally published on the CW Enterprise Facebook page on May 29, 2013.  Learn more about Chett Winchell and CW Enterprises at www.YourComplianceCenter.com

CW Enterprises, LLC is here to serve your needs. They are current in the HOS arena and can train your drivers to the new rules effective 1 July, 2013!

 

Hours of Service Questions

It’s fascinating how the new US Hours of Service rules are impacting drivers across North America.  Quite frankly, there is significant concern about the financial impact to drivers of the new rule.  And, that concern is not just relegated to American drivers.  Interestingly, that’s the topic of my latest column in Canada’s Western Trucking News, where I try to get some clarification.

US DOT
US DOT Headquarters

Read the column, which includes commentary from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and an expert in DOT rules, Chett Winchell of Your Compliance Center.

 

 

 

 


Long Term Highway Funding, Step 1

Congressman Tom Petri

The first step toward authorizing a long term highway funding bill takes place Thursday, March 14.  The Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, under Chairman Tom Petri (R-WI) will hold a hearing on the implementation of reforms and requirements including in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21).

Petri told me this hearing will lay the foundation for a series of hearings over the next year or so that he hopes will lead to a “real highway program reauthorization before the Congress is over.”

When asked what he meant by “real highway authorization” Petri told me, “A 6 year one that is adequately funded.”  He suggested adequate long term funding is needed to ensure the country has a first rate infrastructure.

Click Here To Listen to my brief conversation with Congressman Petri.

MAP-21 is the current surface transportation law, which was enacted last July and expires at the end of Fiscal Year 2014 (September 30, 2014).

“Ensuring that the Department of Transportation is making progress in implementing MAP-21 provisions, and preparing for the next surface transportation reauthorization are both priorities for the Committee and Subcommittee this Congress,” Petri said in a prepared statement.  “I look forward to hearing from the Department on its efforts to implement major reforms, such as project delivery and program consolidation required by MAP-21.”

Scheduled to appear are:

  • Victor M. Mendez, Administrator, Federal Highway Administration
  • Peter M. Rogoff, Administrator, Federal Transit Administration
  • Anne S. Ferro, Administrator, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
  • David L. Strickland, Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Additional information, testimony, and live webcast link will be posted here as it becomes available.

Diesel Price Outlook

My latest article in Canada’s Western Trucking News (March 2013) addresses the outlook for diesel prices.




The good news – barring any major global events affecting oil supply, diesel prices should remain fairly steady with only moderate increases over time.  There are some indications diesel fuel prices could even decrease in the short term (though I would not hold my breath for that to happen).

Read the column by clicking here.

 

 

Transportation Infrastructure / Amtrak #Fail

  As the country approaches yet another fiscal cliff (though this time it is called a sequester), the President’s 2013 State of the Union Address outlined an aggressive program to address America’s deteriorating transportation infrastructure.

  The President said, “America’s energy sector is just one part of an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair. Ask any CEO where they’d rather locate and hire: a country with deteriorating roads and bridges, or one with high-speed rail and internet; high-tech schools and self-healing power grids. The CEO of Siemens America – a company that brought hundreds of new jobs to North Carolina – has said that if we upgrade our infrastructure, they’ll bring even more jobs.”

  Specifically, the President proposed “a “Fix-It-First” program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country.”

  Although it is difficult to disagree with the call to improve America’s infrastructure, it’s also unfortunate that no specific plan was proposed to pay for these improvements. The fact that the country is likely to experience a sequestor whereby $85 billion from the budget will be slashed, resulting in a loss of 750,000 jobs (according to the Congressional Budget Office) and a lower economic growth rate, it’s unlikely any meaningful infrastructure improvement funding will occur.

Amtrak  Fortunately, there is still hope for the President’s call for high speed rail, right? At least that segment of the transportation industry will see a benefit, right? Well, perhaps not. A recent column by Daniel Hanson, and economist with the American Enterprise Institute, calls for an end to Amtrak. One might wonder why when Amtrak posted its best year in 2012 since 1975- it only lost $361 million.

  Yes, it ONLY LOST $361 Million in 2012 – it’s best year since 1975. Given the relative success, or lack thereof, of the Amtrak system, why would high speed rail be a priority? Will it suddenly become profitable (or at least break even)?

  At minimum, I agree with Hanson in that Amtrak should be required to submit a legitimate business plan to Congress showing how it will be in the black – even with federal funding.

Listen to my interview with Daniel Hanson discussing Amtrak and its financial comparison to the Interstate system. (From my local radio program)

  The President’s call to action on infrastructure improvements with no specific funding mechanism, the upcoming sequestor with no solution in sight, and the failed Amtrak program, highlights the need for the American citizenry to demand real leadership both in Congress and in the White House.

Marijuana Legal – Not for Drivers!

USDOT Reminds Drivers Marijuana is Still Illegal

It’s my hope that professional truck drivers really did not need a reminder that marijuana use is not permitted, but with Colorado and Washington voters making recreational use legal it was probably a good idea for the US Department of Transportation to remind drivers of just that.

So, because the November 2012 elections not only elected a President of the United States but also legalized recreational use of marijuana in two states the US DOT issued a clarifying statement about marijuana.

In that statement, issued January 24, 2013, the US DOT says, “We want to make it perfectly clear that the state initiatives will have no bearing on the Department of Transportation’s regulated drug testing program.”  In other words, marijuana – recreational or medical use – remains illegal.  The drug is still illegal on the federal level after all.

Read the text of the full notice here.

While Colorado and Washington were the first two states to legalize recreational use of marijuana, despite the fact that the drug is still illegal at the federal level, other states and local governments are likely to follow suit.  This could be the beginning of a change in how the nation views marijuana, or it could be setting up quite the battle between governments (hang on to your hat federalism).

Regardless, truck drivers should make certain they understand the implications the new laws.

Learn more about FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Programs by clicking here.


Too Much Regulation?

My January 2013 ”Driving Through DC” Column in Challenge Magazine focuses the relief efforts that followed Hurricane Sandy.  Specifically, the federal government stepped in to help, in part, by waiving certain regulations that limited efficiency.  Though I applaud the federal government for recognizing the inefficiencies created by over-regulation, it also makes me wonder….

In the column I ask, “While it would be silly for anyone to argue the government should not be involved in an emergency relief effort, it does seem reasonable to question whether the regulations that were waived are perhaps too stringent as is. If they must be waived to create greater efficiency, why is it that efficiency is only important after a storm?”  Read the full article here.


2012 Election – Now What

By Michael Howe

The 2012 election is over, the results – for the most part – are in, so now the question becomes “what does this all mean for the trucking industry?”

The one thing we knew for certain prior to the results being announced was that we would have a new Secretary of Transportation.  Current Secretary Ray LaHood had already made his intentions clear that he plans to step down at the end of President Obama’s first term.  When that will happen exactly is somewhat unclear, but certainly within the first few months 2013.  Will policies change much at the DOT?  Probably not.  There will continue to be an emphasis on stronger safety regulations for the trucking industry, concerns about infrastructure and more.  What will matter with the new Secretary is the level of emphasis placed on each area.

With the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) I would be surprised if current Administrator Ferro did not continue in that role for at least another year or two, unless the President decides to elevate her to Secretary (which I also doubt).  Under Ferro’s Administration the FMCSA has not been shy about shutting down high risk truck and bus companies.  In addition, FMCSA continues to work on EOBR mandates, Distracted Driving regulations, and of course the cross border program.  They also continue to research the Hours of Service regulations.

Outside of the bureaucracy, President Obama’s economic and tax policies create some concern for trucking companies.  This goes back to the old adage of the only thing you can count on are death and taxes.  Well, it’s the taxes part – specifically increasing taxes – that are most worrisome to the trucking industry.


In a second term Presidents don’t have to worry about re-election, so there is a tendency early in the term to be a little more aggressive.  The first 2-3 years might be the time when President Obama makes a big move on climate change issues.  Any such legislation from Congress or regulation from the EPA such as a carbon tax, stricter emissions regulations, or other climate related regulations would undoubtedly result in increased cost pressures on the trucking industry.

Fuel prices will continue to be a concern, though they would be a concern with whoever was in office.  The real issue here is what is our nation’s energy policy?  The Keystone Pipeline likely won’t easily become a reality – ok, it likely won’t become a reality at all.  You can also expect the administration to look more at fracking and perhaps work to impose regulations on that.  We’re not going to see a significant increase in domestic drilling and offshore drilling permits, so the largely unnecessary dependence on foreign oil will continue.  Expect prices to continue rising, fluctuating for seasonal demands, but rising overall.

Congress really didn’t change much either.

In the US Senate the Democrats were able to pick up 2 seats, though they are still far shy of the 60 seats needed to stop a filibuster.  This is interesting because with a filibuster the Republicans will still be able to prevent legislation of force a compromise.   Something to watch, however, will be an early attempt by Democrats to force a vote on limiting filibusters.

In the US House, Republicans retained control.  Rep. John Mica, Chair of the Transportation Infrastructure Committee (and friend of trucking) was re-elected, as was another friend of trucking Rep. Tom Graves.  Obviously there are other “friends of trucking,” but these are just two who I found to be of interest based on my interviews with them.

So, the end result – not much has changedWe have the same people in charge that were in charge before the election.  This is the same group of leaders that negotiated themselves into the corner that is the looming “fiscal cliff.”  This is the same group of leaders that has been largely unable to pass any meaningful long term highway bill (and no, the recent one was not long term in my opinion). 


Major issues facing the trucking industry in the next 6-12 months:

  • Fiscal Cliff
  • Electronic On Board Recorders (EOBRs)
  • Hours of Service (possibly)
  • Cross Border Trucking with Mexico
  • Who is the new Secretary of Transportation?
  • New Environmental Regulations
  • Additional Distracted Driving Regulations
  • Tax increases?
  • Infrastructure Funding
  • Fuel Prices / Energy Policy

And how will the trucking industry fare with any or all of those issues?

With Congress we have and will continue to have gridlock.

With the President, we have an administration not afraid to impose costly regulations on the trucking industry, and because Congress is in a perpetual state of gridlock there is little hope they can effectively legislate a way out of the costly regulations.  With the President, we have an administration not afraid to propose tax increases, and because Congress is in a perpetual state of gridlock they are almost always in a situation where a forced “compromise” is necessary to get anything done, thus opening the door for less than industry friendly proposals.

In essence, buckle up…….we may need to steer around a pot hole or two.


Related articles of interest:
Rough Road Ahead (Fiscal Cliff), Challenge Magazine October 2012
FMCSA’s Safety Resolve, Challenge Magazine November 2012
Talking Safety with Anne Ferro, Challenge Magazine June 2012
A Conversation with Ray LaHood, Challenge Magazine March 2012


EOBRs and the American Dream

There have been several news stories in a variety of publications talking about how Electronic On Board Recorders are dividing the industry between the large carriers and the small independents. Based on my recent observations (and I am posting this later than I wanted to, but hey, things happen), this is so very true.

Last week the FMCSA held the second “listening session” on driver harassment and Electronic On Board Recorders (EOBRs). The session was lightly attended, primarily by a few already at the CVSA conference, and it was broadcast over the web (though that seemed to have minimal attendance as well). My kudos though to the FMCSA for making it available on the web – that was a nice way to reach out.

During the session (which I also live Tweeted about @TruckingDC), there were a few things that struck me:

  • It’s obvious there is a divide between large carriers and the smaller independent carriers / owner operators (recent news stories have also reported on this, including this one in the Journal of Commerce).
  • FMCSA appeared, from my perspective anyway, to be more accepting of supportive comments and wanted to delve further into the unsupportive comments, almost debating the issue right there and wanting to change minds instead of “listening” or asking more probative questions.

  • FMCSA will move forward with EOBR mandates regardless. Don’t be surprised when FMCSA concludes EOBRs will not create new harassment issues.
    Much of the session was not about harassment.
  • Questions about EOBRs remain: If a carrier operates primarily intrastate, but has a few trucks that run interstate, will all trucks require an EOBR? What if the EOBR stops working – will drivers be required to maintain a paper log book anyway? How will EOBRs be mandated for buses? How can we assure the data from an EOBR won’t be manipulated?
  • I think the questions that remain (other than the bus question) will be addressed after the rule is implemented to see if they are even an issue.

There’s little doubt an EOBR mandate is coming. This, like so many government mandates will be an unfunded mandate. Independent owner operators will be required to reach deep into their already thinned out pockets to plop down around $1000 to be in compliance. It will simply be a cost of doing business. Unlike the larger carriers who can absorb the cost or pass it on to their customers, the independent will have a more difficult time doing this as they work to remain competitive or accept the rates dictated by larger carriers.

New unfunded mandates are not the solution for improved safety. Unfortunately though, we tend to regulate/manage to the lowest common denominator (thus punishing those who are proven safe) instead of rewarding and incentivizing desired behavior. In the end, its small business – the American Dream – that becomes just a tad more of a challenge to succeed with.

See the Tweets form the April 26 Listening Session at www.twitter.com/TruckingDC