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Transportation News Bulletins - LTL and TL

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Heists Targeting Truckers On Rise
Sunday, 31 January 2010 00:00
Robberies Are "Wreaking Havoc" on U.S. Highways, Endangering Consumers.

Thieves are swiping tractor-trailers filled with goods, triggering a spike in cargo theft on the nation's highways.

Over five days last month, an 18-wheeler carrying 710 cartons of consumer electronics was stolen from a Pennsylvania rest stop, a 53-foot-long rig packed with 43,000 pounds of paper was ripped off in Ottawa, Ill., and a 40-foot-long truck filled with reclining armchairs went missing in Atlanta.

Truckloads containing $487 million of goods were stolen in the U.S. in 2009, a 67% increase over the $290 million worth of products swiped a year earlier. Thieves stole 859 truckloads in 2009, up from 767 loads in 2008 and 672 in 2007, according to FreightWatch International, an Austin, Texas-based supplychain security firm that maintains a database of thefts that several government agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, look to for trends.

"In the past two months, we've just seen such an increase that it's to the point where criminals are just wreaking havoc," said Sandor Lengyel, a detective sergeant and squad leader in New Jersey State Police's cargo-theft unit. "They'll pretty much steal anything." Cargo thieves ripped off $28 million in goods in New Jersey in 2009, an 87% spike from the $15 million stolen in 2008, he said.

Law-enforcement authorities in Illinois, California and Pennsylvania are among several agencies and industry groups also reporting a spike.

Chubb Corp., a major insurer based in Warren, N.J., said that its own insurance claims and data from other sources show 725 cargo thefts in 2009, up 6.6% from 680 in 2008, and up 23% from 592 cargo thefts recorded for 2007. Chubb estimates the 2009 thefts amounted to $435 million of products.

The latest wave of thefts is different from a run of tractor-trailer hijackings that occurred in the 1960s, when organized-crime rings forced drivers out at gunpoint and took their trucks. According to industry officials and police, the current thefts are generally nonviolent and typically happen at rest stops when the driver is away from the truck and eating or showering.

While organized-crime rings may be involved, "we are seeing a lot more amateurs get into this," said Sgt. Sid Belk, of the California Highway Patrol. Cargo bandits made off with $29 million of goods in 2009 in Southern California, up 67% from $17.4 million in 2008, according to the highway patrol.

Thieves "sit and wait and watch, and when the driver goes in to take a shower, that's when they steal the trucks," said Special Agent John Cannon, head of the Georgia's Bureau of Investigation's cargo-theft squad, which was launched in 2009. He believes that thefts of consumer goods in particular are "directly related to the economy; people are stealing things that they can get rid of quickly, and consumers are looking for a deal."

Thieves often know what cargo a truck is hauling because they will follow trucks from a plant, according to police.

Thieves drive the whole tractor-trailer away or hitch up to an unattended trailer, as truckers sometimes leave a trailer in a drop lot and drive off in just the tractor for an errand. Typically when stolen, the tractor portion is found close to the site of the theft. The empty trailer is usually found miles away, abandoned, and often repainted or reworked in an effort to disguise the stolen truck.

Cargo theft represents a big concern and cost for trucking and other freight haulers, says J.J. Coughlin, chairman of the SouthWest Transportation Security Council, a nonprofit industry group that represents more than 200 freight-shipping companies. The council estimates that the average loss in each theft is $350,000—and that is just the load inside the truck. "Sometimes you lose that too," he said of the tractortrailer. Typically, though, the tractor-trailer is found miles away. "We find that thieves target the loads," he said.

Mr. Coughlin said that in an effort to combat the problem, freight shippers have been meeting more with police departments. The shippers have also been pushing owners of truck stops and drop lots to provide better security. "That is easier said than done," he said.

Also, in the past two years, the freight shippers have banded together to try to come up with solutions, such as sharing information about what kinds of loads are most stolen so that when those goods are shipped, everyone in the supply chain can be alerted to pay extra attention.

California, Florida, Texas, Georgia, Illinois and New Jersey are the top states for number of cargo thefts, according to FreightWatch. The crooks are targeting such things as electronics, food and beverages, clothing, pharmaceuticals and cigarettes.

The thefts can also threaten consumer safety. In February 2009, an unattended refrigerated truck loaded with $11 million of insulin made by Danish drug concern Novo Nordisk A/S was ripped off in Conover, N.C., while the driver was in a truck stop, according to Sgt. Shane Moore, of the Conover police department.

After the theft, the Food and Drug Administration and Novo Nordisk put out a news release, alerted the health-care industry, and advised pharmacies to inspect inventories, said Sean Clements, a company spokesman. Still, some of the stolen vials wound up in the hands of diabetics, several of whom showed up at medical centers in Kentucky and Texas over the summer sickened because the insulin was inactive, said Karen Riley, an FDA spokeswoman.

The FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations is looking into how the drugs were given to patients. Mr. Clements said the stolen insulin did not get to patients through Novo Nordisk's normal distribution. He said the "safety of our patients is of paramount concern," and that the company is working with investigators, and has taken steps to improve security.

Electronics were the target of a thief who struck near midnight on Jan. 13 at a minimart in Hazleton, Pa., two hours north of Philadelphia. A trucker hauling $500,000 of electronics to an Inc. distribution center left his trailer parked there while he made another delivery elsewhere, said Trooper Charles Everdale III, of the Pennsylvania's State Police auto-theft task force. When the trucker returned the trailer was gone, the trooper said. He said the partially empty trailer turned up in recent days in Palm Beach, Fla. Amazon declined to comment. 

In the pharmaceutical industry, "most everyone has had some type of cargo theft" with a spike in "highvalue loads" stolen over the last two years, said Chuck Forsaith, the director of supply-chain security for a unit of Purdue Pharma LP, a privately held pharmaceutical company in Stamford, Conn., and also director of the Pharma Cargo Security Coalition, an industry group.

Wall Street Journal, 1/31/2010

OOIDA, drivers say HOS needs flexibility
Friday, 29 January 2010 00:00

Citing the need for breaks during the day, for a reduction in stress, and for maximizing quality driving time, truckers say flexibility is the key to improving the hours-of-service regulations.

The fourth listening session held by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on the hours-ofservice regulation drew a standing-room-only crowd with more than 120 people attending the Davenport, IA, session.

Conveniently located next door to the Flying J in Davenport, the crowd was largely truck drivers ready to submit their comments on the hours-of-service regulations. Phone lines were flooded with drivers, numbering more than 40 callers waiting to comment at times.

The message delivered time and time again was the need for flexibility. The rigid nature of the 14-hour on-duty clock and the current split sleeper-berth exemption were repeatedly challenged as actually causing stress and fatigue on drivers.

“The majority of drivers out there are interested in flexibility,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer told the panel in Davenport. “Flexibility in the sleeper berth. Flexibility to be able to take a break in the middle of the day. 

Spencer highlighted how science alone cannot dictate when a driver really needs to rest.

“Circadian cycles are real. But sometimes in the afternoon, you just get sleepy,” he said. “You don’t need eight hours of sleep, but you do need a catnap. You can push through that need for a nap, but is that in the interest of safety?”

Beyond flexibility, Spencer encouraged the agency to look at making the industry better. He pushed for economic incentives and disincentives on shippers and receivers.

“Some people might gasp and say that will add to the cost of goods. Not if shippers and receivers schedule drivers better and get them in and out,” he said.

“Right now, a driver’s time is not his own,” he said.

Another way to give drivers more control over their time would be for company drivers to be paid by the hour rather than by the mile. He underscored that point by saying if company drivers were under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which mandates overtime pay, less driver time would be squandered by motor carriers, shippers and receivers.

A number of drivers also beat the flexibility drum, sharing stories of coercion, stress and wasted time and the fact that drivers, ultimately, are the ones who pay.

“Everything is coming down to a stranglehold on the drivers out here,” Bob Kinsey, an OOIDA member told the panel when he called in. “I’m a professional driver, but I'm not treated like it out here ... unless I do something wrong.”

Repeatedly, drivers talked about if they only had the flexibility to take a nap or break during the day— perhaps while delayed at docks—they would not lose their productive driving time because of the 14-hour clock. And they would be driving more refreshed.

OOIDA Member Tom Bower of Nicholasville, KY, who is a small fleet owner and driver, drove that point home very simply.

“Waiting makes you tired,” he called in and told the panel.

OOIDA Life Member Harold Babbitt, Fremont, NE, may have very well put the exclamation point on Bower’s statement when he recounted his waiting time at one shipper’s facility.

“You talk about fatigue. Dominex forces me to sit on a bench 4-5 hours while getting unloaded when I could be in sleeper,” Babbitt told the panel during his comments.

Many drivers continued to push for shippers and receivers to be subject to some accountability under the hours-of-service regulations.

That point, one that OOIDA representatives and member have made at all four of the listening session started drawing follow-up comments from the FMCSA panelists.

The panel repeatedly heard stories from drivers, and even from one company logbook clerk, that the 34- hour restart is almost invaluable. Drivers routinely use the full scope of the 34-hour restart, many times at home, and even take upward of 48 hours.

Outside the scope of tweaking the current hours-of-service regulations, early on in the session, at least one different way of approaching the rule was suggested. One caller tossed out the idea of tying driving time to sleeper berth time. If you’re in the sleeper berth four hours, you could drive four hours.

As of press time, the panel was still listening to commenters and scheduled to take phone calls until 9 p.m. Central.

Anyone who was unable to attend a listening session or to call in comments, can still comment on the docket.

Land Line Magazine, 1/29/2010

Study: texting ban hasn't resulted in fewer accidents
Friday, 29 January 2010 00:00

WASHINGTON—A new study from the insurance industry finds that state laws banning wireless calling or texting while driving have not resulted in fewer vehicle crashes.

The study, conducted by the Highway Loss Data Institute and released Friday, examined insurance claims from crashes before and after such bans took effect in California, New York, Connecticut and Washington, D.C.

The organization finds that claims rates have not gone down after the laws were enacted. It also finds no change in patterns compared with other states without such bans.

The Highway Loss Data Institute, an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, says its findings "don't match what we already know about the risk of phoning and texting while driving" and says it is gathering data to "figure out this mismatch."

The Department of Transportation has in recent week placed an emphasis on stopping motorists from texting while driving.

The latest effort was an announcement this week that the DOT has made it illegal for drivers of commercial vehicles and buses to texting while driving., 1/29/2010

Mich. Lawmakers Propose 40% Diesel Tax Increase
Wednesday, 27 January 2010 00:00

Michigan lawmakers have proposed a 6-cent increase in the state’s diesel tax to help pay for road improvements, the Associated Press reported.

Under the bills introduced Tuesday, the state’s 15-cent per gallon diesel tax would rise to 21 cents this year, a 40% increase. It would rise to 27 cents in 2013, AP said.

The revenue would give the state more money for roads, and it would stop the state from losing federal matching funds.

The 19-cent per gallon gas tax would increase to 23 cents this year under the proposal, and then 27 cents in 2013, AP said. The taxes would raise an additional $480 million per year once fully implemented.

Transport Topics, 1/27/2010

Trucking Executives Cautious About 2010
Monday, 25 January 2010 00:00

LAS VEGAS—Top executives from large trucking, truck-making and component manufacturing firms said they all see signs of a good business climate to come, but predicted 2010 will not be a boom year, and they are moving forward with very conservative business plans.

Speaking at the Heavy Duty Dialogue on Jan. 18 and the trade show that followed here, the officials agreed that surviving 2009 had been a notable accomplishment, and that they all expected this year to be better, but they weren’t sure just how much better.

One example of this split came from Jerry Moyes, chairman and CEO of Swift Transportation Co. He told attendees about what he saw as his company’s substantial opportunities in North American truckload transportation, plus international shipping from West Coast ports.

However, Moyes then said, “We’re done for this year” in terms of his truck-buying plans for 2010. “And next year, we’re taking a look at running our trucks longer.”

Moyes said for this year he’s buying only 15 to 20 tractors with 2010 engines so his staff can test them. Swift has a fleet of 14,000 tractors, and his Central Refrigerated Service unit has another 2,000 Class 8 trucks.

While large fleets have generally run their trucks for around three years, it appears that at least some are planning to extend their duty cycles by as much as two years.

Truckload carrier U.S. Xpress Enterprises won’t buy new trucks until the second half of 2010, and not many then. In the meantime, its managers are looking into the used truck market for the first time, said Patrick Quinn, the fleet’s co-chairman and president.

Moyes and Quinn were on a fleet panel during Heavy Duty Dialogue.

To kick off the day’s panels, Dennis Michels, chairman of the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association, which sponsors the dialogue, said he saw a Detroit newspaper headline announcing, “The buzz is back,” with respect to the automobile industry.

“I think that applies to our industry as well, but are things better?” Michels asked.

“We’ve learned to be very lean and operate at the bottom of cycles,” said Dennis Slagle, CEO of Volvo AB’s two North American manufacturers, Volvo Trucks and Mack Trucks. “We’re hoping for a recovery, but planning for a continuation of 2009 and staying lean,” he said, adding that early 2010 truck sales will be dominated by selling off the inventory of 2007-generation truck engines in inventory.

Slagle said he has listened to fleet statements and talked to customers. Therefore, he was not surprised by Moyes’ and Quinn’s statements.

Diversified operations, either by geography or product line, were cited as survival techniques by others.

Parts maker ArvinMeritor Inc. survived a brutal 2009, posting a net loss of $1.21 billion for the 12 months ended Sept. 30, although $944 million of the loss was from noncash charges.

“We got through and made it to the other side,” said Chairman and CEO Charles “Chip” McClure. “And we didn’t need any government help and avoided bankruptcy court.”

In an interview with Transport Topics, McClure said recent experiences made him especially confident of decisions made to shed costs, sell off the company’s light vehicle lines and concentrate on on-highway and off-road commercial vehicles.

Among the places where ArvinMeritor operates, McClure said China currently is doing best, India and Brazil are tied for second and the United States and Europe are the most sluggish. Although the recession proved to be global in nature, the fact that it was not simultaneous among the continents was helpful. 

“India did not have the subprime mortgage problems we did. Their economy eventually dropped off, but it’s come back nicely,” he said.

“The Chinese government stimulus really hit our sweet spot last spring,” McClure said, funding programs that led to truck manufacturing. He also said Brazil has improved its economy considerably.

“Business is much better now than during the first half of 2009, when it was absolutely miserable,” said Joseph McAleese, CEO of Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems.

Interviewed at his company’s booth on the trade show floor, McAleese said that there is reason to be optimistic, but economic expansion has not yet gained traction.

“Since the last four or five months of last year there was an expansion in original equipment sales, and it’s continued into January, but I think after the inventory of 2007-generation engines is gone, then we could go backwards,” said the maker of brakes and stability systems.

“The aftermarket sales picked up around August, and they’ve been OK, but they’re not robust,” he said.

Transport Topics, 1/25/2010

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