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Transportation News Bulletins - LTL and TL

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FMCSA opens driver screening website
Thursday, 25 February 2010 00:00

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration yesterday, Feb. 24, opened a website where carriers can register to access a safety database that will be set up for screening applicants for driving jobs.

Although data probably won’t be available for a couple of months, carriers and third-party driver service providers can register for the Pre-Employment Screening Program FMCSA is developing at www.psp.fmcsa.dot.gov/Pages/default.aspx.

The program will give carriers access to five years of an applicant's accident history and three years of inspection history, with the driver's permission. The data will come from the Motor Carrier Management Information System and include the same information used by agency staff and state police for enforcement. Drivers also will have access to the information, and can include the report as part of their application.

There is a $10 fee for each driver’s history a carrier requests. An annual subscription fee of $100 also will apply. Carriers with fewer than 100 power units will qualify for a discounted annual fee of $25 per year. Individuals will be able to request a personal driving history for $10. No subscription is necessary for individual drivers.

FMCSA says the system will adhere to all federal security and privacy requirements to ensure the privacy and security of drivers’ personal information.

eTrucker.com, 2/25/2010

 
Truck Tonnage Shoots Up
Wednesday, 24 February 2010 00:00
Surge in January follows worst year for trucking volume since 1982

Trucking is "clearly in a recovery mode," with the American Trucking Associations' truck tonnage index showing its strongest increase since January 2005 last month.

That's good news for an industry that saw tonnage levels drop 8.7 percent for the entire year—the largest drop in freight shipments hauled by truck since 1982.

ATA's advance seasonally adjusted For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index jumped 3.1 percent in January from December, following a revised 1.3 percent increase in that month.

The index reached 110.4, its highest level since September 2008.

Compared with January 2009, truck tonnage surged 5.7 percent, the best year-over-year result since January 2005 and the second consecutive increase, ATA said.

That supports anecdotal reports from carriers and shippers that capacity in some sectors of trucking is beginning to get tighter, which may put upward pressure on rates.

"While I don't expect tonnage to continue growing as robustly as it did in January, the industry is finally moving in the right direction," said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello.

"Although there are still risks that could throw the rebound off track, the likelihood of that happening continues to diminish," Costello said.

Journal of Commerce Online, 2/24/2010

 
New Index Shows Improvement in Truck Freight During January
Monday, 22 February 2010 00:00
Monthly Measure Is Based on Diesel Purchases

Stronger readings in a new monthly freight index based on diesel purchases are adding to mounting evidence that truck freight in January continued the gradual improvement the industry has seen from the year-ago doldrums.

The January Pulse of Commerce Index, which includes data starting in 1999, rose for the first time since April 2008, Craig Manson, Ceridian Corp.’s senior vice president, told Transport Topics on Feb. 17.

Ceridian, owner of fuel-card vendor Comdata, and the University of California-Los Angeles created the index, which was published for the first time this month.

The three-month average, which is based on “swipes” by drivers using fuel cards issued by Comdata, climbed from 105.5 in December to 105.8 in January, equating to an annualized growth rate of about 3.3%, Manson said.

“The conclusions are pretty consistent; the Pulse of Commerce Index tracks industrial production very closely,” Manson said. He said he believes the index is a reliable economic indicator because it tracks freight moved with actual diesel purchases.

Comments from fleet executives at recent industry meetings also point to freight volume growth as 2010 unfolds.

“We certainly have a long way to go with shipping volumes, but we clearly have a better market in first quarter 2010 than we did in the first quarter 2009,” said John Steele, Werner Enterprises Inc.’s chief financial officer, in a presentation on Feb. 11.

Basing his comments on pre-booked loads, Steele said that the inventory drawdowns, or destocking, by customers that depressed first quarter 2009 volumes are not an issue now because inventories have been trimmed.

A Feb. 12 American Trucking Associations report highlighted the current level of inventory, which is at an 18-month low, as a promising sign for fleets that haul the freight needed to restock retailers and manufacturers.

Another positive indicator, ATA said, was the January rise in retail sales from December.

“Things are working in the right direction,” Landstar System CEO Henry Gerkens said Feb. 11, noting that load volume rose 17% in January.

“We’re starting to see some level of stabilization,” said Judy McReynolds, president of Arkansas Best Corp., noting that tonnage at the company’s ABF Freight System unit rose for the first time in three years on a month-by-month basis during December. That trend continued in January.

Another freight index and multiple other sources also signaled growing activity for freight markets.

The January Cass Information Systems Inc.’s Freight Index, which measures spending and shipments on freight bills paid by the banking company, showed freight spending rose 6% in January over the same month a year ago, and shipments increased 2%.

“Encouragingly, truck volumes are stable to improving in recent months, and this trend has continued year to date,” Robert W. Baird & Co. analyst Jon Langenfeld said in a Feb. 17 report.

Volume growth will be easiest to achieve early in the second quarter, Langenfeld said, because freight was so weak at that time last year.

Last April, ATA’s Truck Tonnage Index hit its lowest level since late 2001.

“The general consensus among the presenting carriers [at the BB&T Capital Markets Transportation Conference Feb. 10-11] is that rates have bottomed out and that demand is stronger than normally expected in the seasonal low months of January and February,” Richard Mikes, a managing partner at Transport Capital Partners, told TT.

A National Retail Federation report forecasting container shipping predicted a 25% increase, or 1.5 million standard container units, over the first half of 2009 at the 10 largest U.S. ports.

“Retailers are clearly expecting to move more merchandise this year,” NRF Vice President Jonathan Gold said. “Increases in import volumes don’t correspond directly with dollar volumes in sales, so caution has to be exercised when looking at these numbers.”

“There is still growth, but it is a little muted,” Manson said. “Things are getting better, but not enough for us to be confident that employment is going to turn around anytime soon.”

The Pulse of Commerce Index is seasonally adjusted, like economic data published by the Commerce Department, and is based on hundreds of millions of fuel-card swipes over an 11-year period at about 7,000 Comdata locations, Manson said.

It is adjusted to account for changes in the locations where the data are gathered and the companies that are buying the fuel, he explained.

The index doesn’t count transactions using other fuel cards and isn’t adjusted for changes in diesel engine fuel efficiency. Approximately, 100 gallons are pumped per transaction, Brett Rodewald, president of Comdata, told TT.

Transport Topics, 2/22/2010

 
Producer Groups Push to Open Mexican Border to Trucking
Monday, 22 February 2010 00:00

Trade groups representing products ranging from farm to factory are pressuring the Obama administration and Congress to reinstate a Mexican cross-border trucking program to end Mexico’s retaliatory tariffs that cost U.S. businesses millions of dollars in lost revenue.

“The only way to solve the tariff issue is to solve the trucking problem,” said a representative of the hardhit potato industry. “They are absolutely directly linked.”

There is little optimism, however, that the Mexican government will drop tariffs on 89 U.S. products when Mexican trade officials review the list. In fact, some U.S. producers said they fear the list may be expanded.

The tariffs were levied a year ago in March in retaliation after the Obama administration shut down a cross-border pilot program allowing Mexican trucks to travel to the U.S. interior.

The products hit by the 10% to 45% Mexican tariffs range from grapes, cherries, Christmas trees and potatoes to toilet paper, toothpaste, sunglasses and notebooks.

Earlier this month, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said the trade dispute between the United States and Mexico must be resolved soon and that he urged Congress to find a way to allow Mexican trucks to enter the United States beyond the currently permitted 25-mile border trade zone.

“President Obama made it plain that he would like to see this issue over the ability of Mexican trucks to move freely throughout the United States resolved as soon and as thoughtfully as possible,” Kirk said at a joint Mexico City news conference with Mexico’s Secretary of Economy Gerardo Ruiz Mateos.

Kirk said Obama has asked him to work with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke “to begin a dialogue with Congress” to come up with a “sensible program.”

Although Mexican trade officials have publicly threatened to keep the tariffs in place, Ruiz Mateos said he believes the two nations will find a solution sometime this year.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Transportation said the agency has “not yet floated any proposals with Mexico” but “looks forward to consulting with members of Congress.”

The Bush administration implemented the controversial cross-border trucking “demonstration” program in 2007, but Obama ended it in March 2009 after Congress blocked funding for the pilot project.

Kirk said that the Obama administration already has made progress by convincing Congress to remove certain “offending language” from the 2010 appropriations bill that again would have blocked funds from being spent on any cross-border trucking program.

The new language in the bill “does not impede in any way moving forward” with a new cross-border program, said Martin Rojas, executive director of safety, security and operations for American Trucking Associations.

“But we haven’t heard or seen anything from the administration as to what it is that they’re planning on doing,” Rojas said.

Meanwhile, the tariffs are hurting an array of U.S. businesses that send their goods to Mexico.

For example, in the first 10 months under the tariffs, the U.S. potato industry lost $34 million—more than half of its annual $60 million business with Mexico, said John Keeling, chief executive officer of the National Potato Council.

Potatoes—mostly frozen french fries—sent to Mexico by U.S. producers face 20% tariffs, Keeling said. The tariffs have shifted a large segment of potato production and distribution to Canada, Keeling told Transport Topics.

“This just can’t continue,” Keeling said. “Another year of this and we’ll be gone.”

Keeling said that jobs in the trucking industry hauling potatoes also are being turned over to Canadian truckers.

“In a time when we’re spending billions and billions of dollars to save U.S. jobs and stimulate the economy, it doesn’t make much sense that we would, at the same time, allow a trade dispute like this to negatively impact U.S. jobs,” Keeling said.

Even groups such as the National Pork Producers Council, although not subject to the current list of tariffs, are concerned that they could be next, said Dave Warner, a spokesman for the group.

“We were not on the list last year, but we have continued to be a leader in urging the administration to petition Congress to resolve this issue,” Warner said.

He said that a letter asking administration officials to resolve the conflict, written by Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.), and Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), is circulating in the House for additional signatures.

Despite the heightened interest in the issue, Mexican motor carriers that do business with Con-way Truckload say they have no interest in operating in the United States, many because of concerns that they would need to carry large liability insurance and comply with tough U.S. regulations, said Pete Montaño, a Con-way vice president of sales and 28-year-veteran of the Mexican market.

“We deal with 80-plus mostly large Mexican carriers up and down the border, and most of them don’t have an interest in operating in the U.S.,” Montaño said. “You’d be very hard-pressed to find a carrier that is pushing to come to the U.S. and, vice-versa, a U.S. company that is pushing to go into Mexico.”

“It’s more of a political bargaining chip,” Montaño said. “It’s not anything that the carrier community is wanting.”

Transport Topics, 2/22/2010

 
Requiring EOBRs, prohibiting unsafe commercial drivers, still on NTSB’s ‘most wanted’ list
Friday, 19 February 2010 00:00

Required use of EOBRs to monitor Hours of Service, weeding out trucks with mechanical problems and unqualified drivers, prohibiting cell phone use by truck and bus drivers and use of safety technology are some of the National Transportation Safety Board’s top highway ‘most wanted’ issues that have been carried over for 2010.

The NTSB included the above wish list items as part of its 2010 “Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements” Thursday, and added rail, aviation and marine issues to its safety roster.

“Every one of the hundreds of currently open safety recommendations address concerns that the Safety Board has uncovered in its accident investigations,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. “But the recommendations on the ‘Most Wanted’ list represent those improvements that can have the widest benefit.”

In addition to removing two areas on the list the NTSB reviewed the remaining 13 issues on the list and added two new ones. The issues are color-coded to designate the appropriate agencies’ lack of response and timeliness in responding with red meaning an unacceptable response and utter lack of progress; yellow denoting acceptable response but slow progress and green standing for acceptable response and timely progress.

Regarding EOBRs or electronic on-board recorders, the NTSB stated that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) “has proposed limited use of EOBRs” and therefore the color is kept at red.

Improving motor carrier safety, which includes preventing mechanically unsafe trucks from being operated and preventing unsafe commercial drivers from getting behind the wheel, was downgraded from yellow to red.

Preventing medically unqualified drivers from operating commercial vehicles was downgraded from red to yellow because two of eight recommendations in this area, dealing with FMCSA’s development of a comprehensive medical oversight program were closed by the board, NTSB stated.

Use of adaptive cruise control and collision warning technologies to improve highway safety remained at yellow, while prohibiting cell phone use by commercial drivers also was yellow, a reflection that some progress is being made by the Department of Transportation and FMCSA, the board said.

Added to the safety list was a call for improving transit railcar design and requiring the Coast Guard to mandate Safety Management Systems for all U.S. domestic vessels.

The NTSB also wants improvement on the oversight of aviation pilot proficiency and new standards to protect school bus passengers in the event of an accident.

TheTrucker.com, 2/19/2010

 
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