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Transportation News Bulletins - LTL and TL

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Technology May Help Solve Congestion for Trucking
Monday, 04 January 2010 00:00

A recent study by one of the world’s largest makers of Global Positioning System navigation devices has concluded that Seattle is the most traffic-clogged city in the United States.

But that study by the Dutch manufacturing firm TomTom followed another, published in March by the American Transportation Research Institute, that said Chicago has the worst congestion.

Federal researchers previously said Los Angeles was the queen of traffic mean, and many truckers say New York City is so bad, they won’t even go there.

So, where is the worst congestion? Science and technology may be closing in on the answer.

Thanks to GPS technology and data from electronic onboard recorders in trucks, researchers have tools that can prioritize the worst congestion, helping policymakers decide where to spend precious transportation dollars to alleviate growing congestion.

Until the GPS and EOBR revolution, information on congestion was anecdotal, said Larry Pursley, executive vice president of Washington Trucking Associations.

“We knew where the problems were, but we didn’t know how bad they were or what the delays were throughout the day,” he said.

The new data are so specific and can encompass so many variables that ATRI researchers plan to unveil a methodology at the annual Transportation Research Board conference this month in Washington to determine how much a particular traffic bottleneck costs the trucking industry each year.

With information gleaned from EOBRs in trucks running across the country, ATRI also is expanding the list of 30 bottlenecks it published in its March study to as many as 250, said Jeffrey Short, ATRI’s senior research associate on freight mobility.

Transportation officials “will be able to understand and quantify the severity of bottleneck locations,” Short said.

Meanwhile, WTA now can prove what are the worst trouble spots, tracking Seattle freight mobility in a study with the Washington State Department of Transportation and the University of Washington.

In the Seattle area, researchers have put GPS devices in trucks, producing a steady stream of digital data. Because money to fix road problems is limited, “we’ve got to be concerned with how we move freight and how do you identify those congestion points where you can invest some money and improve freight mobility,” Pursley said.

The ATRI and Washington state studies track only trucks, but the TomTom study relied on information from GPS devices used by both car and truck drivers, said spokesman Kevin Carter.

“What we get from millions of TomTom device users across the country is anonymous historical data about speed profiles of any given road in the country,” Carter said.

“So, what we can actually see is when not just one car slows down, but we also see that same pattern . . . repeated over and over again, sometimes thousands of times,” he said.

TomTom collected the data for its study between September 2007 and September 2009. The data are “remarkably granular,” Carter said, meaning more than a trillion readings were collected that specify time, location and speeds on highways and tertiary roads. George Billows, executive director of the Illinois Trucking Association, did not dispute Chicago’s second-place ranking when compared with the congestion in Seattle.

“Having been in Seattle several times, it’s horrific,” Billows said. “You’re better off to take a bike.”

But in all the congestion studies, Billows said, the same five or six cities show up, and that is of deep concern to the trucking industry.

How to address the problems is where policymakers are most likely to differ. One of the most productive solutions for Illinois truckers are enhanced truck routes, Billows said.

“In some cases, we have trucks driving five or six miles to make a delivery half a mile away because of the viaducts,” Billows said of those low structures.

David Vander Pol, co-owner of Oak Harbor Freight Lines Inc. in Auburn, Wash., said Seattle failed to expand traffic capacity.

“They haven’t added any general capacity lanes on the [Interstate] I-5 corridor in Seattle,” he said, “and there’s a lot more people on those roads and then, they ask themselves, ‘I wonder why we’re having this congestion.’ ”

But Pursley said that the freight mobility study in Seattle is yielding more specific information about causes of congestion.

“We found that, in many cases, it’s on- and offramps. Either the run-outs aren’t long enough, or the rise of the turn is too great and they’re backing traffic up onto the freeways, or there’s a stoplight at the end of an offramp that backs traffic up,” Pursley said.

Louis Campion, Maryland Motor Truck Association president, attributes worsening congestion to poor land planning for businesses such as big-box retailers.

“You commonly find these [businesses] recruited to the region, and they haven’t planned for the increased truck traffic,” Billows explained.

As local trucking officials look for local solutions, Steve Van Kirk, vice president for intermodal commercial management at Schneider National Inc., looks at a big picture.

Rail intermodal, Van Kirk said, “gives us the opportunity for a large number of the miles that would be taking place on a normal truckload movement to move it on the railroads and not have it on the highways.”

Billows took issue, though, with the notion that moving truck freight to rail would alleviate congestion in Chicago.

Thousands of extra containers ultimately destined for Wisconsin, Kansas City, St. Louis or Indianapolis may be unloaded from trains to trucks in Chicago, Billows said.

“It may be overall one of the cheapest ways to ship, but it congests Chicago,” he said.

Transport Topics, 1/4/2010

 
Kerry Introduces Legislation to Reclassify Contractors
Monday, 04 January 2010 00:00

The on-again, off-again fight to toughen classification standards for independent contractors is on again.

This time, the effort is being led by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who in December introduced a bill trucking industry officials said would erode the protections afforded employers against attempts by the Internal Revenue Service to reclassify independent contractors as employees.

So far, a similar House bill introduced in July by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), has been dormant—and past efforts in recent years have failed. In 2007, President Obama introduced similar legislation while still a senator.

Kerry’s bill specifically targets Section 530 of the Revenue Act of 1978, known as the “safe harbor” provision, which allows employers to classify workers as contractors for employment tax purposes.

Kerry said his bill, which is supported by the Teamsters union, would stop employers from misclassifying some workers as independent contractors, denying them such rights as overtime, minimum wage, unemployment insurance and workers compensation.

“This is about leveling the playing field and ensuring that America’s workers receive the protections and pay they deserve,” Kerry said in a statement. “We cannot continue to reward businesses who refuse to play by the rules.”

The legislation is not being welcomed by the trucking industry, which employs an estimated 500,000 or more independent contractors.

“It is very important to the trucking industry—and many other industries as well—to preserve Section 530, and the Kerry legislation would remove the protections granted independent contractor status,” said Clayton Boyce, a spokesman for American Trucking Associations.

“Independent contractors are broadly involved in the trucking industry and their status is mutually beneficial for both trucking companies and owner-operators.”

For motor carriers, owner-operators provide a number of advantages, enabling them to save on equipment and capital costs, ATA said.

“Independent contractor status is a business model for many industries, not just trucking,” said Tim Lynch, an ATA senior vice president. “But there are special circumstances in trucking because freight flows vary from day to day, week to week, month to month. The use of independent contractors allows us to meet the surges in peak demand on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.”

According to an August report from the Government Accountability Office, about 10.3 million workers, or 7.4% of the employed workforce, were classified as independent contractors in the United States in 2005. In fiscal 2007, states uncovered at least 150,000 workers who may not have received protections and benefits to which they were entitled because their employers misclassified them as independent contractors when they should have been classified as employees, GAO said.

Kerry’s bill—the Taxpayer Responsibility, Accountability and Consistency Act of 2009—would require companies to file reports with the IRS on each corporate provider of property and service to whom they pay more than $600 a year. It would also make changes to Section 530 to “reduce abuses.”

“Misclassification hurts responsible employers who pay their taxes, provide health insurance and respect their workers’ right to join a union,” Teamsters General President James Hoffa said in a statement. “It lets unscrupulous employers cheat workers out of benefits they’re entitled to.”

But Robert Digges, ATA vice president and deputy chief counsel, said the trucking industry’s independent contractor status has been well accepted for decades and confirmed by countless courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Without Section 530, small employers would have no choice but to abandon the use of independent contractors because they could not afford the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to fight the IRS over the issue,” Digges said. “Section 530 allows employers to defend worker status without bankrupting themselves.”

Transport Topics, 1/4/2010

 
Fleet Execs Wary of CSA 2010
Monday, 04 January 2010 00:00
System to Assign Safety Ratings

Some freight executives say they are concerned that the Department of Transportation’s new Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 program—which is intended to boost carrier and driver safety— could be undermined by inaccurate data, flawed methodology and unintended commercial consequences when it begins in July.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has been working on the program, commonly referred to as CSA 2010, for several years. It is designed to replace FMCSA’s existing safety rating and data collection system known as SafeStat, which includes violations information from state and federal inspectors.

FMCSA will use CSA 2010 to assign safety ratings to all carriers based on their highway performance, rather than infrequent compliance reviews that are currently done by agency inspectors and included in SafeStat.

In addition, CSA 2010 will rate the nation’s more than 3 million drivers for the first time, also using a performance-based formula. No date has yet been set for active enforcement efforts based on driver ratings.

Freight executives, all of whom said they supported the program’s goals, used words like “flawed,” “a challenge,” “huge impact” and “terrible” to illustrate their concern about the effect of the new rating procedure, which incorporates questionable SafeStat data.

Data Issues

“Everything I have heard about CSA 2010 in general pleases me,” said Jeff Tucker, president of Tucker Cos., a third-party logistics company in Cherry Hill, N.J. His comments were echoed by all officials interviewed for this article.

“There are certain adjustments that have to be made,” he said. “The general understanding by anyone looking at the data is that it is flawed, and most likely incomplete. It’s better than nothing, but we need states to regularly and promptly update their data. Certain states are notoriously poor at that.”

“There is a wide variability of data today,” said Don Osterberg, senior vice president of Schneider National, Green Bay, Wis. “Over time, FMCSA will have to work hard to ensure timely and accurate reporting. Will CSA 2010 make that issue worse? Definitely not.”

SafeStat has been criticized since 1999 for inaccurate and incomplete data in government reports, including one in October by DOT’s inspector general.

A 2006 study commissioned by FMCSA found that just half of accidents that occurred in nine surveyed states were actually reported. Today’s SafeStat’s Web site contains a disclaimer saying the data “may produce unintended results and not be suitable for certain uses.”

FMCSA acknowledged when launching CSA 2010 that only about 2% of fleets per year get a safety rating through those compliance reviews that include on-site inspections of carriers.

FMCSA did not respond to requests for comment on the companies’ concerns, though officials in charge of implementing the program said during two webinars last month that data is becoming more accurate and the methodology will be effective.

Driver training and education will be a key focus as implementation approaches; pilot tests of the program are drawing mixed reviews, and American Trucking Associations has raised many questions about the program.

During the second half of 2010, FMCSA will begin training law enforcement officers and issuing warning letters to carriers, as well as using the new data system. Driver ratings will begin at an unspecified future date.

“The data reporting is a challenge—this is not something the states can wave along and fix quickly,” said Dave Osiecki, vice president for safety, security and operations at American Trucking Associations.

Osiecki said he’s concerned about data accuracy because it is so uneven. For example, he said, state police typically are better trained in accident investigation and reporting techniques than are local police departments, and submit more and better quality information.

ATA, which supports the CSA 2010 concept, also is concerned about the formula used to create the new carrier ratings.

Data from SafeStat will be turned into a new three-tiered rating system, using a formula based on severity of violations, with the worst violations rated 10 and the mildest rated 1.

The new ratings will be “continue to operate,” “marginal” and “unfit,” supplanting the current “satisfactory,” “conditionally satisfactory” and “unsatisfactory” rankings.

That formula essentially will count the number and severity of infractions and divide by the number of trucks a fleet operates.

Methodology

Using the number of trucks as a basis for safety ratings is wrong, Osiecki said, because safety performance is measured by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and throughout the trucking industry on the basis of vehicle miles traveled.

Using fleets’ truck count for safety ratings “is a terrible decision,” Schneider’s Osterberg said. “It is not an effective relative measure of carrier safety.”

In addition, Osiecki said, the number of trucks listed on a form that must be filed every two years isn’t likely to match the number of trucks a fleet actually has in service.

Severity ratings also are an issue.

Osterberg highlighted inconsistency in rating tire defects, such as exposed ply belts that are an 8, whether the flawed tire is on a tractor’s steer axle, which is critical to safety, or on a trailer, where that defect is unlikely to cause a crash.

On the other hand, potentially serious problems such as cracked wheel rims are a 2, while driving without a commercial license is a 3, he said.

Commercial Effects

“This is going to have a huge impact on the industry,” said Harry Kimball, vice president of risk management for Freymiller Inc., an Oklahoma City, trucking company.

“There will be driver loss,” he said. “When the smoke clears, however, the drivers left will reap the rewards” because it probably will lead to a smaller driver pool.

Stephen Renshaw, director of safety for broker and carrier Megatrux Inc., Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., said carriers could be taken off the road because a failure to carry proof of preventive maintenance is a 10. That score can put a cash-squeezed owner operator in a tight spot.

“To the extent CSA 2010 identifies unsafe drivers, it may tighten capacity, but it will improve safety,” said Osterberg. “If it serves to elevate the standards of commercial drivers, that will be a good outcome.”

A spokeswoman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association said she feared a different outcome from increased driver scrutiny.

“We are concerned about drivers not being provided with documentation of good inspection results that could help with having a good overall score,” said Norita Taylor, an OOIDA spokeswoman. “In other words, only the ‘bad’ things are reported and never the ‘good’ things.”

Taylor cited other fairness issues—the lack of recourse to challenge violations and the fact that crashes that aren’t the driver’s fault still will count against his score.

Osterberg agreed.

“If a drunk driver crosses the median and is killed in an accident with a truck, the truck driver will be hit with the full effect” under CSA 2010, Osterberg said. “The onus should be on law enforcement to say who is at fault. FMCSA has to try to come up with a solution to that.”

CSA 2010 also will affect competition.

“The vast majority of the carrier industry is made up of small businesses,” said Mark Walker, senior vice president of C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc. “We feel strongly that FMCSA needs to ensure that CSA2010 does not unfairly cause safe, good operators to inadvertently become uncompetitive.”

He said carriers without a rating today will need to be especially concerned about how CSA 2010 affects them.

“FMCSA should clearly articulate to the public if they feel that ‘marginal’ carriers pose a greater safety risk to the public than those in the ‘continue to operate’ category,” Walker said.

Tucker said that as carriers, brokers and shippers increase use of CSA 2010, they probably will choose not to use carriers with poor ratings and those choices eventually will drive unsafe carriers out of business.

Transport Topics, 1/4/2010

 
Mixed results on inspection blitz
Thursday, 31 December 2009 00:00

The results of this year’s Operation Safe Driver campaign indicated an increase in moving traffic warnings and citations for all drivers, but a lower rate of out-of-service violations and citations for drivers and vehicles.

The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration created the annual campaign in 2007 to target unsafe driving.

This year’s event, Oct. 18-24, included 5,231 law enforcement personnel at 1,177 locations in the United States and Canada.

Of the commercial motor vehicle roadside inspections, more than 5.4 percent resulted in the driver being placed out of service and slightly more than 26 percent of the Level I Inspections resulted in the vehicles being placed out of service. Last year’s driver out-of-service rate was 5.3 percent.

For drivers, violations and out-of-service violations per roadside inspection was up a little, but there were .04 citations per roadside inspection compared to .08 in 2008.

For vehicles, there were 1.12 violations per roadside inspection, compared to 0.74 in 2008; .19 out-ofservice violations per roadside inspection, compared to .38 in 2008 and .05 citations per roadside inspection, contrasted with .11 in 2008.

The campaign also conducted 102 targeted compliance reviews on truck and motorcoach operations that employ the “worst of the worst” drivers. Eighteen carriers received a conditional safety rating and nine carriers received an unsatisfactory safety rating.

More information on the campaign is available at http://www.cvsa.org.

eTrucker.com, 12/31/2009

 
November Truck Tonnage Shows 2.7% Monthly Gain
Wednesday, 30 December 2009 00:00

U.S. truck tonnage fell 3.5% in November from a year ago but showed a 2.7% month-to-month gain from October, American Trucking Associations said.

The increase from October boosted ATA’s seasonally adjusted tonnage index to a reading of 106.4, its highest level in a year, with the year 2000 as a base year with a 100 reading.

The November year-to-year decline of 3.5% was the best year-over-year showing in twelve months, ATA said late Tuesday. The October index had declined 5.2% year-over-year.

ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said that tonnage readings were moving in the right direction.

“Slowly, but surely, truck freight has started the recovery process and November’s solid increase is a very positive sign,” he noted, adding that November tonnage was pushed higher by improved economic activity and by an inventory correction that is near completion.

“Truck freight had been hurt by both slow economic output and bloated inventories; however, we now have evidence that the inventories are in much better shape, which will not be such a drag on truck freight volumes.” Costello said.

He did signal a note of caution, however.

“While the economy and trucking is improving, the industry should not get overly excited about the sizeable increase in November. I continue to believe that both the economy and truck tonnage will exhibit starts and stops in the months ahead, but the general trend should be for moderate growth,” Costello said.

ATA calculates the tonnage each month based on reports by its member trucking companies.

Transport Topics, 12/30/2009

 
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