Hours of Service. New regulations on the number of hours that drivers can work without a break went into effect on July 1. The more restrictive rules are intended to reduce driver fatigue and increase highway safety, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. They're also likely to have a major impact on driver productivity, trucking company profits and freight rates.
The previous daily limits of 11 hours of driving and 14 hours of work remain in effect. However, drivers must take a 30-minute break within the first eight hours of work. And the maximum average work week is now 70 hours, down from the prior limit of 84 hours. Drivers must rest for 34 consecutive hours, including two nights, before they can "reset" their work week.
FMCSA estimates that the stricter hours of service will save 19 lives and prevent 1,400 crashes and 560 injuries per year. Those figures have been hotly disputed by the trucking industry. American Trucking Associations president and chief executive officer Bill Graves has charged that the agency "is using unjustified causal estimates to justify unnecessary changes." Others say that the new nighttime operating limitations will place additional trucks on the road during rush hour, causing more accidents.
Meanwhile, carriers and shippers will pay a heavy price. Overall truck capacity will shrink by 3 to 5 percent, and carrier productivity will decline by more than 10 percent with the removal of a full workday, according to Ken Kellaway, CEO of RoadOne Intermodal Logistics. "Carrier rates will increase and costs will have to be passed on to the customers," he said at the annual meeting of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition (AgTC) in San Francisco.
Heavier trucks. Shippers continue to push Congress to raise the weight limit on interstate highways, from 80,000 pounds to 97,000 pounds, as long as the trailer has a sixth axle. Forty-two states already permit heavier trucks on state and local roads, but those vehicles are barred from the interstate system.
Proponents of the change argue that the six-axle vehicles will result in higher productivity, fewer trucks on the road, lower emissions, less wear and tear on the roads, and fewer accidents. Kellaway cited estimated savings of $2.4bn a year.
The battle over truck weight has raged for years. Current proposals before Congress include H.R. 612, the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act (SETA), which GovTrack is giving a one-percent chance of getting past committee - and a zero-percent change of being enacted. There's also H.R. 1906, the Safe Highways and Infrastructure Preservation Act (SHIPA), which has a 3-percent chance of passage.
Opposition to heavier trucks is substantial, coming mostly from railroads (who fear the additional competition from over-the-road providers) and the Teamsters. They're even lobbying to extend current federal size and weight limits to the entire National Highway System, although AgTC believes they have little chance of success. So the status quo is likely to prevail, even though groups such as the Coalition for Transportation Productivity, made up of big shippers, motor carriers and trade associations, are doing everything they can to upset it.
Mexican truck pilot program. Ever since passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement 19 years ago, there's been hot debate over the provision that would allow Mexico-based motor carriers to operate in the U.S. (and vice versa). Once again, the biggest opposition has come from American labor unions, although their arguments have centered on safety more than lost jobs.
Now, after surviving multiple court challenges, FMCSA is implementing a pilot plan to allow Mexican carriers to operate throughout the U.S., with reciprocal rights for American truckers in Mexico, for three years. But Kellaway believes the program is likely to be launched with a whimper, not a bang.
"Why would they [Mexican truckers] want to come here?" he asked at the AgTC meeting. FMCSA's new Compliance, Safety and Accountability Program, known as CSA 2010, is tough enough for U.S. truckers to negotiate. The agency's "zero-tolerance" approach to safety is severely limiting the pool of qualified talent.
"We are releasing about 50 percent of the drivers applying to us today," Kellaway said. "They don't even make the first cut." More than 3.1 million inspections were carried out in 2012, he noted, with 20.8 percent of trucks and 4.9 percent of drivers put out of service. Add in tighter immigration measures for drivers crossing the border, and you have to wonder whether the Mexican pilot program will turn out to be a non-event.
New California air-quality rules. On January 1 of this year, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) put into effect new emissions regulations for commercial vehicles. Trucks with a gross weight of over 26,000 pounds and manufactured between 2000 and 2004 must be equipped with diesel soot filters.
Failure to comply with the new CARB standards will subject operators to fines starting at $1,000 per day and reaching $10,000 a day for repeat offenders. In addition, errant trucks could be prevented from registering with the California DMV, and could even be impounded.
According to Kellaway, it can cost between $12,000 and $14,000 to equip a truck with the required filter. "The CARB retrofitting process might be more expensive than the vehicle is worth," he says.
Trucking companies will have to step in and help. RoadOne has set up an initiative called GreenFleet Ventures, under which it buys new trucks and leases them to owner-operators. Many drivers, Kellaway said, are referred to as "30-percenters," because they have to put down that much of a deposit, then pay interest of up to 30 percent on their capital cost, because of low credit scores. "We want to help them become their own employers," he said.
Other issues abound - electronic on-board recorders, access to chassis, intensified competition from intermodal providers. It takes more than a cab and a trailer to keep this industry on the road.
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Keywords: supply chain, supply chain management, transportation management, transportation services, trucking issues, truck hours of service, Mexican trucks, logistics management, truck weight limits