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Transportation News Bulletins - LTL and TL

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Trade Deficit Narrows as Trade Grows in October
Friday, 11 December 2009 00:00
Exports, imports increase across wide range of goods

The goods and services deficit shrunk 8 percent to $32.9 billion from September to October, the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, through the Department of Commerce, announced Friday.

Exports and imports grew across a wide range of goods, including capital goods; consumer goods; automotive vehicles, parts, and engines; and foods, feeds, and beverages, as the economy climbed toward recovery from a deep recession. However, imports of industrial supplies and materials; and other goods decreased.

Total October exports of $136.8 billion were up $3.5 billion from September. Imports of $169.8 billion were $700 million more than September imports. The goods deficit decreased $2.6 billion from September to $44.8 billion, and the services surplus increased $200 million to $11.9 billion.

Exports of goods increased $3.2 billion to $93.5 billion, and imports of goods increased $700 million to $138.4 billion.

Compared with 2008, the totals for exports and imports were significantly lower and so was the amount of the deficit. Exports were down $12.9 billion, or 8.6 percent, and imports were down $39.3 billion, or 18.8 percent. The goods and services deficit decreased $26.5 billion from October 2008.

Journal of Commerce Online, 12/11/2009

An advanced look at CSA 2010: it shouldn’t be a mystery
Friday, 11 December 2009 00:00

Don’t worry, be happy? There’s nothing to fear but fear itself? Take two aspirin and call me in the morning?

I wish I knew what to say to carriers anxious about the way the federal government is about to start grading them—and I’m a little puzzled as to why there’s the whiff of fear in the air.

As we’ve covered in The Trucker for a couple of years, the soon-to-be-here Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 Initiative (CSA 2010) is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s new system to collect, process and utilize carrier safety data, and it’s designed to pick up where the current SafeStat system seems to have come up short.

Namely, the industry regulator wants to keep up with everyone a little bit better, rather than just coming down hard on the small fraction of carriers that really get their attention.

CSA 2010 is currently being tested in a handful of pilot states, and FMCSA has regularly held informational sessions around the country to get truckers’ input and answer questions.

Simply, the new system shouldn’t be a mystery.

But as I learned at a recent meeting of carrier managers from around the country, there’s still a lot of uncertainty out there—and these were serious, informed folks who traveled to a national convention.

So I have no doubt that when that first CSA 2010 report card hits the desk, more than a few truckers with their own DOT authority are going to wonder when the government started taking “the little things,” or non-out-of-service violations, so seriously.

And drivers, you need to be aware as well.

Your carrier will get a rating on your performance, and the safety rating of a fleet’s drivers goes into the FMCSA computer that spits out the monthly grades: “continue to operate,” “marginal,” or “unfit.” And there’s only one grade that safety managers—and the big bosses—are going to want to see. (If you want the finer details, they’re on the FMCSA Web site—or read our coverage as the system rolls out in the coming months.)

Many truckers, I suspect, are worried because they just don’t know what to expect: folks are generally afraid of change. For those carriers whose SafeStat scores are on the wrong side of the safety deficiency mark, FMCSA will likely be getting in touch with some suggestions. It may be a letter, or a phone call, but you’ll have some explaining to do about the particular problems CSA 2010 has identified.

But what if you’re a carrier that runs safe, and has the SafeStat rating to show for it—or at least has never had a regulator show up for a compliance audit? Well, congratulations and thank you. But you’ll be getting regular grades, too.

Here’s the thing many truckers seem confused about: the safety rules and regs aren’t changing, though the way the data is evaluated will be different. All a carrier has to do is look at his data right now and do the CSA 2010 math.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. Which is why I liked the look of a new report offered by a company called Vigillo. I don’t want this to be a commercial, but I do find their CSA 2010 Preview Scorecard noteworthy—and since their preview is the first I’ve seen, and since they willingly answered my questions, they get their name in paper.

Vigillo founder and CEO Steve Bryan said the software company was established in 2007 when he discovered trucking to be just the niche he was looking for: a highly regulated industry for which his team could develop compliance management software.

And, after a year of working with truckers, Bryan said he’s discovered that “what keeps people up at night” is safety.

“There are mountains and mountains of data that is collected about fleets, from FMCSA to Qualcomm, to back-office applications, just a multitude of sources,” he said, and Vigillo’s product puts it all together in organized, easy-to-understand performance reports. “Fleets wanted to know, ‘how can we understand where our problems are, what are the things that are causing us pain, that we can’t see because we don’t analyze our data well?’”

The company, which contracts with carriers based on the number of drivers, now has a client headcount of nearly a quarter-million.

So it was a logical step to take the FMCSA data and “re-present it” in the new CSA 2010 format, Bryan explained.

“Give us your DOT number and we’ll pull down your data. Bingo, here’s what you will look like under CSA 2010 when the switch gets thrown,” he said. “It will give you six or eight months out front to start to address problems, so that you’re not stunned and surprised.”

The value is in the “preview” aspect of the CSA 2010 scorecard, according to the company—since FMCSA eventually will be presenting the data itself—and, uniquely, in the “actionable” presentation, a format that offers at-a-glance rankings for drivers and vehicles, as well as the CSA 2010 safety improvement categories.

“We frequently hear that our customers struggle [with all the data] because they have a thousand drivers,” Bryan said. “But it’s rare that they have a thousand-driver problem. What they probably have is a 10- driver problem that drags the score down and creates most of the risk.”

It’s one thing to rank a company’s own rigs or drivers, but a big part of CSA 2010 is comparing carriers to one another—and Vigillo doesn’t have the full body of data that FMCSA will employ. So how does their scorecard come up with the critical percentile rankings?

In addition to having “an ongoing dialogue” with FMCSA and receiving some aggregate data, Bryan said the company has clients who are based in CSA 2010 pilot states, meaning they already receive the official reports.

“We’re doing some reverse-engineering: we’re software guys and that’s what we do best,” Bryan said. “So we run our pilot-state customer numbers and hold them up to the known numbers, and we’re awfully close on our estimates.”

Fair enough. So Vigillo offers one option for carriers wanting to get a peek at how FMCSA will see them when CSA 2010 rolls out in the next year or so.

Still, any image in the statistical mirror shouldn’t come as a surprise. As carriers and drivers you should know from what you see in your own mirrors every day, whether you run safely. And as long as you do, CSA 2010 won’t be an issue. If you don’t, CSA 2010 is designed to help—before it’s too late., 12/11/2009

Freight Shipping Slips for Second Month
Thursday, 10 December 2009 00:00

Freight shipments declined for the second consecutive month in October, as measured by a 1.2 percent drop in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s closely watched Freight Transportation Services Index.

The slide brought the index to 94.5, down 10.5 percent from last October for the largest October-to- October decline in the 20 years for which the TSI is calculated, said DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The latest TSI is the lowest for October since 1996 when it was 88.8.

The two months of falling shipments follow a brighter picture in the summer, when the TSI increased for three months after a flat May at 93.5, which was the lowest point in more than a decade since June 1997.

The Freight TSI declined in 11 of the past 15 months and in six of 10 months in 2009 despite the three consecutive monthly increases that began in June. It had increased 2.8 percent in between May and August. After October’s decline, it is now 16.3 percent below its historic peak of 112.9 reached in May 2006, said BTS.

The 5.8 percent decline in the first 10 months of 2009 was the largest for the January-to-October period since a 6 percent decline for the first 10 months of 2000.

The freight index is down 14.2 percent in the five years from October 2004. The index is down 9.3 percent in the 10 years from October 1999.

The Freight TSI measures the month-to-month changes in freight shipments in ton-miles, which are then combined into one index. The index measures the output of the for-hire freight transportation industry and consists of data from for-hire trucking, rail, inland waterways, pipelines and air freight. It is a seasonally adjusted index that measures changes from the monthly average of the base year of 2000. It includes historic data from 1990 to the present., 12/10/2009

Maryland reduces operating hours at many rest areas to save money
Thursday, 10 December 2009 00:00

In an effort to save money during these “challenging economic times,” the state of Maryland has recently enacted a new policy that reduces the amount of operating hours at many of its rest areas.

David Buck, spokesman for the State Highway Administration in Maryland, said “budgetary issues” are behind the recent decision to modify service hours at many of the state’s rest areas.

He said the move is expected to save the state more than $567,000 in operating costs, which include lighting, water, staffing and supplies. Buck added that the state’s Department of Tourism is responsible for staffing at the sites.

“The budgetary issues are leading us to do a lot of things we have never had to do before,” Buck told Land Line on Thursday, Dec. 10. “I know other states are in the same situation we are.”

One OOIDA member, Bob McMain, of Quakertown, PA, found out the hard way about Maryland’s new service-hour policy on Thursday, Dec. 9, when he was alerted by an electronic sign that the rest area he has stopped at in the past on U.S. 301 will only be open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“I understand that times are tough and states are struggling to come up with money. But it is also tough on truck drivers who find out these rest areas we depend on to stop are going to be closed so we can’t stop and rest,” he told Land Line. “It’s disappointing because that’s a quiet one, nobody bothers you, and it’s clean.”

Buck said he realizes the new policy may inconvenience some out-of-area drivers who may not be aware of the new operating hours at these rest areas when planning their routes. However, he added that when the facilities are closed, gates will block off the rest areas at night so no one will be able to park on the lots because of “safety concerns.”

“We are not going to open up a parking lot without any lights, without any maintenance, and without any mowing—and still let people park there. That’s unsafe,” Buck said. “The only way we can save money by doing this is to be able to reduce those hours.”

Land Line Magazine, 12/10/2009

CARB to redo ‘stained’ report, mulls truck/bus delay
Thursday, 10 December 2009 00:00

The California Air Resources Board will take a mulligan on its tainted research behind its mammoth Truck and Bus Rule, and may extend some of the rule’s enforcement options.

CARB directed staff to re-research and write a report on diesel truck emissions and particulate matter. The report has been criticized by several board members after the report’s main researcher and statistician was proven to have lied about his education.

Written under the authority of Assembly Bill 32—the 2006 law that addresses global warming—the truck and bus rule requires trucking fleets to acquire diesel particulate matter filters and upgrade their truck engines beginning in 2012. Most small trucking businesses, including fleets of one to three trucks, will be exempt until 2014.

CARB staff will also look for any way the agency can be flexible on enforcement.

Several top CARB officials, including CARB Chairman Mary Nichols, knew a year ago that Hien Tran, the team leader and researcher on diesel pollution fatalities, was a fraud and hadn’t earned the Ph.D. he claimed on his resume.

On Wednesday, Nichols characterized Tran’s actions as a “stain” on the research he produced for the Truck and Bus Rule. The board agreed to withdraw and redo Tran’s report, as well as come up with a new provision to the Truck and Bus Rule to provide “truck fleets more flexibility in cleaning up” diesel emissions.

Tran reportedly confessed on Dec. 10, one day before CARB’s December 2008 board meeting began and two days before the board approved its most expensive truck rule to date. The Truck and Bus Rule requires commercial trucks and buses to use diesel particulate filters and new engines on California roads and highways.

Joe Rajkovacz, OOIDA director of regulatory affairs, watched Wednesday’s monthly CARB meeting.

Rajkovacz noted the difference between Nichols’ description of Tran as one of several collaborators on CARB research and Board Member John Telles description of Tran as writing the majority of CARB’s report.

“It is the height of arrogance to try and claim that Tran was some sort of bit player,” Rajkovacz said. “They used self-righteousness over real science to approve this rulemaking. That’s dangerous.”

As a result, Rajkovacz said the Truck and Bus Rule will “likely kill many small businesses.”

“They essentially used the rule to throw a bunch of truckers out of their jobs,” Rajkovacz said. “Implementing this rule in a depressed economy is the ultimate death of reason and logic.”

Telles motioned that the board repeal the Truck and Bus Rule because of Tran’s misconduct and the lack of shared information from Nichols and other officials on the matter.

The motion was not seconded.

Before Wednesday’s board meeting, CARB staff said dozens of individuals had signed up to give testimony on the Truck and Bus Rule. Witnesses included many trucking business owners and truck vendors who pleaded for an extension of the rule.

Among other reasons, truck owners mentioned the worsening economy and the Truck and Bus Rule’s deflating of motor carrier’s main assets—their own used trucks—as reasons why CARB should delay enforcement of the rule.

Banks aren’t willing to loan money necessary to replace entire fleets, they said.

“We bought and built these trucks under your standards,” said William Minor Junior, who owns a tow company in California. “Now you’re telling us ‘they don’t meet our standards anymore’? What are we doing shooting ourselves in the foot here? Work with us.” Jay McKeeman of the California Independent Oil Marketers Association said CARB should examine any potential other options for meeting air quality standards under the federal Clean Air Act.

“It may be that the state has to look at the federal government in the eye and say, ‘We cannot do this. The people that are obligated to do this cannot afford this regulation,’ ” McKeeman said. If that’s the case, I hope the state is the one that’s looking the federal government in the eye. If it’s not the state, the truckers will look the federal government in the eye and there will be civil disobedience. I guarantee that.”

Nichols refuted claims of some witnesses, and eventually asked the packed audience to refrain from cheering in favor of raising their arms in a silent show of support.

“We’ve heard rumors that there would be demonstrations, people making threats, attacking staff and attacking others,” Nichols said. “I’d appreciate it if you don’t do that.”

The background

According to e-mails posted here, a CARB board member unearthed the scandal that top agency officials had managed to keep quiet for more than a year by asking Nichols and other CARB board members about the research and qualifications of agency employee Hien T. Tran.

In e-mails sent between CARB board members, Nichols and a head of the California EPA, Tran was revealed to not have a degree. The agency and state officials defended him even though he was later disciplined internally.

CARB’s Truck and Bus rule was approved partly because of Tran’s research in the report, “Methodology for Estimating Premature Death Associated with Long-Term Exposure to Find Airborne Particulate matter in California.” In the report, Tran falsely claimed that he had a Ph.D. in statistics from The University of California at Davis.

Nichols and CARB staff acknowledged mandatory emissions threshold California must meet under the Clean Air Act. CARB had calculated the truck and bus rule’s hard line in 2014 as one way the state would meet the requirements.

Nichols said any potential delay for enforcement of the Truck and Bus rule beyond 2014 would need intervention from U.S. Congress. Several audience members called on CARB to request an amendment to the Clean Air Act in order to provide trucking companies with more time to upgrade equipment.

CARB’s estimates have placed the rule’s cost impact on the transportation industry at between $6 billion and $10 billion.

Land Line Magazine, 12/10/2009

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