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Transportation News Bulletins - LTL and TL

Our current transportation LTL and TL news bulletins are powered by SMC3

Traffic Fatalities Reach Record Low, DOT Says
Thursday, 11 March 2010 00:00

The Department of Transportation said Thursday that the number of overall traffic fatalities reported at the end of 2009 reached the lowest level since 1954, declining for the 15th consecutive quarter.

According to early DOT projections, the fatality rate, which takes into account the number of miles traveled, reached the lowest level ever recorded, DOT said in a statement.

DOT estimated the highway death count at 33,963, a drop of 8.9% from the 37,261 reported in 2008.

The fatality rate for 2009 declined to the lowest on record, to 1.16 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, down from 1.25 fatalities per 100 million VMT in 2008, DOT said.

The data did not show the fatality rate related to trucks.

Earlier this year, American Trucking Associations’ analysis of DOT data showed the rate of fatalities in accidents involving trucks fell 12.3% in 2008 from the previous year—the largest year-to-year drop on record

Transport Topics, 3/11/2010

TSI Freight Index Rose 0.4 Percent in January
Wednesday, 10 March 2010 00:00
Modest recovery follows long, steep decline

Freight transportation services, as measured by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s TSI index, increased 0.4 percent from December to January.

The growth brings the index to 96.6, a 3.3 percent gain over the last eight months, starting in June, despite a steep 2.2 percent slide in October and a flat December, said DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

During the full year of 2009, the index fell 4.1 percent, and it has fallen 12.4 percent in the two years since January 2008, reflecting the depth of the recession, which brought the index to its lowest point since June 1997 in May of last year.

The Freight TSI measures the month-to-month changes in freight shipments in ton-miles and then combines them 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.

Journal of Commerce Online, 3/10/2010

Trucking Companies Fear Driver Shortage
Tuesday, 09 March 2010 00:00
Spot shortages appearing as freight volume increases, says ATA

A spike in cargo volume could produce a driver shortage and would expose bottlenecks on key freight corridors, the chairman of the American Trucking Associations warns.

Hundreds of drivers left the industry during the lengthy trucking recession that started in mid-2007, Tommy Hodges said Monday in an address to the annual convention of the International Warehouse Logistics Association in Coronado, Calif.

"They left with a bad taste in their mouth," Hodges said, and many of those drivers will not come back to trucking even though U.S. unemployment remains high. He indicated that spot shortages are beginning to appear, citing the case of a North Carolina fleet operator who can't find enough drivers.

Motor carrier executives today, however, are more worried about the 4,493 trucking company failures and 174,000 trucks that were taken off the road during the recession. The industry is still facing an overcapacity problem and an economic environment in which it has little pricing leverage.

Nevertheless, volume is starting to pick up, and despite attempts in Washington to encourage a shift of freight from highways to intermodal rail, freight volume is projected to increase at least 30 percent in the coming decade. It is possible that a driver shortage could become the industry's biggest problem, Hodges said.

Aging infrastructure could further reduce trucking capacity by causing excessive delays on freight corridors. Hodges said planners have identified 57 critical bottlenecks across the country which, if not corrected, will affect goods movement.

ATA supports additional funding for freight infrastructure. Hodges noted that the federal gasoline tax that is used for highway repairs and expansion has not been increased since 1993. Compared to 1993, a dollar generated today by the gas tax will buy only 40 cents in infrastructure development.

U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, continues to press for a highway authorization bill that would raise $550 billion. The highway authorization bill that expired last year raised $256 billion. Oberstar's bill is ready, but it has reached a stalemate in Congress, Hodges said.

Journal of Commerce Online, 3/9/2010

TCP: Capacity Crunch, Improved Rates Are in the Cards
Monday, 08 March 2010 00:00

Truckload carriers nationwide have greater confidence that business will improve in the year ahead, with 70 percent expecting volumes to increase in the next year and just over 50 percent predicting improvements in rates in the next year. The data is part of Transport Capital Partners' recent Business Expectations Survey, which was presented by TCP Managing Partner Lana Batts during a conference call hosted by Stifel Nicolaus Friday.

During the call, Batts provided listeners with a positive outlook for the trucking industry in the year ahead. "The capacity crunch has already started," she said. In her conversations with carrier executives at the Truckload Carriers Association's annual meeting, she found that fleets are already overbooked and did very well in February, despite it historically being a low month.

Batts told listeners to expect rates to start going up around May of this year. "I think May will come on like gangbusters."

According to TCP's survey, about 55 percent of large and small carriers said their rates have stabilized in the last three months. Meanwhile, the number of fleets who have seen rates decrease in the last three months was down to about 35 percent.

Adding Capacity

Batts also presented some of the uncertainties still facing the industry, including when fleets will add capacity. While there was a slight boost in the number of fleets adding capacity from the September 2009 survey, there are more fleets indicating that they will not only wait until the economy improves to add capacity, but they are also waiting on rates to improve and the fleet to be fully utilized, Batts said.

"It makes absolutely zero sense to buy new trucks. The economics is just not there."

And fleets are not buying new trucks, especially with 2010 vehicles averaging $117,000, Batts said. In 2009, there were only 95,000 units Class 8 units sold, the lowest since 1982.

If carriers aren't adding new trucks, how will capacity be added? Batts said almost 30 percent of fleets surveyed will rely on independent contractors for capacity. "Where will the contractors come from?" Batts asked. "It's not immaculate conception, and you can't will them." She stressed that if the fleets themselves cannot buy trucks, these independent contractors are going to have an even harder time.

Limiting Truck Speed

One way fleets can reduce rolling capacity, Batts said, is by reducing speed, an issue that is going to become much more significant in the year ahead. These days, carriers are driving slower or at least considering it, especially because it's going to be the number one issue facing fleets with the Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010, or CSA 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's new stringent safety program.

According to Batts, a 5 mph reduction in speed can save half a gallon of fuel. Going from 68 mph to 63 mph can produce a 2 to 3 percent reduction in rolling capacity, she added. The survey found that 75.4 percent of fleets are improving fuel economy by limiting truck speeds in their effort to improve profitability.

Small Carrier Woes

While things seem to be looking up for larger carriers, smaller carriers were less optimistic in TCP's survey. About 18.5 percent of small carriers (under $25 million) indicated that rates had increased over the last three months. Batts attributes this to the fact that more are using brokers.

In addition, more smaller fleets are facing liquidation, with almost 25 percent of small carriers considering exiting the transportation industry if tonnage doesn't pick back up in the next six months. About 35 percent of the smaller carriers are interested in selling their company in the next 18 months, compared to about 25 percent of larger fleets (over $25 million).

"It has been a tough, tough climb," Batts said., 3/8/2010

DOT allows states to collect UCRA fees under '09 rules
Monday, 08 March 2010 00:00

WASHINGTON—The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has published a notice of "regulatory guidance" allowing states to collect fees for 2010 under the Unified Carrier Registration Agreement program if they choose to do so.

Even though the agency has yet to finalize the fee structure for 2010, states can "assess and collect fees" under the 2009 rate structure.

However, according to a communiqué by the American Trucking Association and distributed by the Canadian Trucking Alliance, the notice may be a non-starter because "FMCSA is involved in a regular federal rulemaking to set new fees for 2010, which was needed because of the amendment to the underlying law that removed trailers from the UCRA."

FMCSA shares authority to administer the UCRA with the UCRA Board, which has not formally discussed the issue, and may not favor it.

The Board’s chair and vice chair have asked the states not to act on the FMCSA notice until after the Board can consider it.

Finally, there could be some legal issues with the substance of FMCSA’s notice that make it unclear whether states can actually do what FMCSA insists they are permitted to.

Despite what FMCSA believes, it's possible that if a carrier were somehow to pay UCRA fees under the current fee schedule, it could not be assessed any additional fees when the new 2010 fees are finally set later this year.

Proposals have the 2010 fee more than doubling for virtually all companies, regardless of size—much to the chagrin of motor carriers.

For some large carriers, the change would push the annual levy from $37,500 to $83,412., 3./8/2010

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