Highway Funding Alternative

An Oregon congressman has conceived a proposal to change the way Americans pay for transportation projects, but members of Capitol Hill, including another member from the Oregon congressional delegation, say there’s not enough time.

Oregon Democratic Rep. Peter Defazio, a senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has introduced HR 4848, “The Repeal and Rebuild Act.” The bill would be a long-term solution to America’s infrastructure problems, would create American jobs, and would “break the transportation funding impasse that has plagued Congress for years,” according to Defazio’s web site.

Oregon Democratic Rep. Peter Defazio (left) and Oregon Republican Senator and Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (right)

Oregon Democratic Rep. Peter Defazio (left) and Oregon Republican Senator and Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (right)

Defazio’s bill, which has been sent to the House Ways and Means Committee, would repeal the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon (it would not repeal the 24.4 cent per gallon diesel tax), increase the tax on a barrel of oil that is processed into gasoline to $6.75 and index it to construction cost inflation and fleet fuel economy, index the diesel tax to construction cost inflation and fleet fuel economy, allow the new revenue to backfill the current shortfall in the trust fund and reauthorize transportation spending at $324 billion for six years.

“I’m going to repeal the retail gas tax, at the pump, which is put directly on consumers, and we’re going to move the tax upstream to the oil companies and say, ‘You pay the tax and let’s rebuilt America,’” Defazio said June 11 at a Rally for Roads event in Washington, D.C. “It’s time to get the job done. No more hesitation around here. The trust fund runs out in August.”

The per-barrel oil tax would apply only to gasoline. Oil used for aviation, rail or home heating fuel would not be taxed at the same rate. In the first year, the tax would generate less than the current 18.4 cent tax at the pump. It would, however, be indexed to the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Construction Cost Index and to CAFÉ standards to account for less fuel consumption attributed to those standards.

Diesel tax would increase to approximately 26 cents per gallon in the first year with the potential to reach more than 47 cents per gallon after 10 years.

While the rally cry went out to challenge legislators, other members in key leadership positions said there is not enough time, nor the will to tackle a major bill ahead of the Sept. 30 expiration of MAP-21.

“In a three-week period, to responsibly walk though all the different approaches, I think senators are saying that’s a bit much,” Oregon Republican Senator and Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden told Politico last week. “It’s had to make the case that you can put all that together in three weeks.”

Defazio dismissed a plan to trim services offered by the U.S. Postal Service, saying the move would be a six-month patch to funding and would devastate the Postal Service in the long run.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx agreed.

“We’ve got to get past the gimmicks in transportation and really get serious about trying to get a long-term strategy done,” Foxx said.

Author: Larry Hurrle, IT Magazine Editor

[UPDATE] Insurance Increase

House votes to halt insurance increase

The U.S. House of Representatives narrowly approved an amendment June 9 to its version of the Department of Transportation funding bill which would stop the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration from increasing the minimum amount of liability insurance carriers must have.

The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT) and would block an increase to the current $750,000 minimum. The amendment passed by a margin of 214-212. The overall DOT appropriations bill (H.R. 4745) passed the House on a mostly partisan vote of 229-192.

The House’s action comes just days after the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee passed an amendment sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) to suspend last year’s Hours of Service restart changes for Fiscal Year 2015, pending completion of a study of the safety effects of those changes. While the amendment was approved by the committee, the full Senate has yet to take up its version of the DOT appropriations bill (S. 2438) and it is unclear when the Senate will take up the matter.

It is important to note that neither amendment has any legal effect until it is approved by Congress and signed into law. Because it deals with FY 2014, it would not go into effect until Oct. 1. That means FMCSA is free to continue working on its rulemaking to raise the insurance minimum.

In a report issued earlier this year, FMCSA said the $750,000 minimum liability requirement had not kept pace with the core consumer price index. If it had, FMCSA said the increase with inflate would not be at $1.62 million, while if it had kept pace with the medical consumer price index, the minimum would be at $3.18 million. Even though FMCSA has not set a minimum for an insurance increase, raising the minimum to the core consumer price index of $1.62 million would be a 116 percent increase, while raising the minimum insurance to the medical consumer price index would be an increase of 324 percent.

The American Trucking Associations and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association both dispute the claim that insurance minimums need to be increased. Both cite studies that show just 1 percent of all crashes involving a truck and that are the fault of the truck exceed the $750,000 mark.

Author: Larry Hurrle, IT Magazine Editor

Crash jumbles safety considerations

Tracy Morgan Accident

Wal-Mart truck after the crash.

The timing couldn’t have been worse for the trucking industry.

On June 5, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 21-9 to study the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s 34-hour restart rule, as part of the Hours of Service Rule before it would approve the fiscal 2015 transportation spending bill.

ennair0607grab-fullwidth

The vehicle Tracy Morgan was riding in.

Three days later, the driver of a Wal-Mart truck, who had reportedly not slept for more than 24 hours, crashed into several cars in New Jersey, killing one person and critically injuring three others — including renowned comedian Tracy Morgan.

Let the controversy begin.

FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro has continually claimed the 34-hour restart rule has been instrumental in enhancing safety on the highway. In fact, in a June 3 blog on the Department of Transportation’s website, Ferro wrote “suspending the current hours-of-service safety rules will expose families and drivers to greater risk every time they’re on the road.”

According to the FMCSA HOS rules, drivers are allowed to work a maximum of 14 hours per day, with only 11 of those hours behind the wheel of the big rig and a maximum of 70 hours per week. Along with that, drivers must take one 30-minute break within the first eight hours of their shift and must have a 34-hour restart — meaning they are not working during those hours. The restart must include two consecutive periods of 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.

In the crash involving Morgan, the driver is accused of being awake for more than 24 hours, but according to an NBC News report, David Tovar, Wal-Mart vice president of communications, said Wal-Mart believes their drivers was operating within the federal hours of service regulations. That simply means that the driver, while he may have been awake for more than 24 hours, was not driving the entire time.

NBC News also cited several statistics in its story that showed accidents involving big rigs in 2012. According to DOT figures, it stated there was an average of 868 crashes involving trucks per day, leading to an average of 11 fatalities and 200 injury accidents each day of the year.

According to Marissa Padilla, director of communications with FMCSA, “Driver fatigue is a leading factor in large truck crashes.” She cited a 2006 study that said 13 percent of commercial motor vehicle drivers were considered to have been fatigued at the time of a serious crash.

While the statistics showed a 4 percent rise in fatalities involving large trucks between 2011 and 2012, it did not point out who was at fault in the crashes. Other statistics have shown that serious accidents involving big rigs are often the fault of passenger vehicles.

Regardless, the accident involving a fatigued driver that caused one fatality and left three others injures is fuel to the fire for FMCSA. Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, meanwhile, has stated that regulations are so strict that a driver cannot stop or take a break because of deadlines, which has made the highways less safe.

Author: Larry Hurrle, IT Magazine Editor

The “Stupid Barrier”

Our inspired ideas never stop growing. The only thing standing in the way is artificial barriers, with the most prevalent one being the “stupid barrier.”

I have seen the “stupid” barrier appear over and over again, whether it is in the boardrooms, the meeting rooms or even the informal brainstorming sessions that are so ubiquitous throughout the corporate world. Nobody wants to look stupid, especially in the eyes of their subordinates, colleagues and superiors. When someone offers an “unconventional idea,” the judging begins immediately. “That will never work,” “We can’t afford that,” “That’s not practical,” “They’ll never go for that,” “What were you thinking!?”

Now let’s just suppose that you were the one that just offered what you thought was a groundbreaking idea. The problem started when as soon as you offered this game-changing thought, it was quickly shot down in flames. How are you feeling right now? How likely are you to offer another idea? How likely are you even to speak up again in this meeting? Now let’s say that there are a few others that just observed your Sopwith Camel of an idea being shot down by the Red Barons in the room (apologies to Peanuts and Snoopy [The World Famous World War I Flying Ace]). How likely is it that these observers will offer any idea that isn’t already conforming to the conventional norms? Will they likely risk being shot down as well? Will they likely look stupid for even offering an idea that is outside the expected thought processes?

Yet at the same time, many companies struggle with generating ideas and innovations in process and/or product. Some of these same companies pay lip-service to the notion of thinking differently and rewarding risk takers but when someone actually takes them up on the offer, the reaction is both swift and adverse.

I recall an internal consulting position I took in the early 2000s with an established third-party logistics company (name withheld to protect the guilty). At my orientation, I was handed a copy of Gary Hamel’s outstanding book, “Leading the Revolution,” (Harvard Business School Press, 2000) and was informed that I would be responsible (with others) for innovating business processes. I celebrated at the notion of experimenting with different ideas and methods in the normally staid logistics arena.

It wasn’t long before I had an opportunity to put that to test. We were asked by a large international paper producer to analyze and suggest ways to improve their supply chain. After the analysis was complete, I was asked to give a client presentation with both the findings and suggestions. The struggle began immediately when putting together the Power Point slides for the presentation and the suggested course of action. I was informed that the slides had to be in a certain format with no omissions and that the suggested course of action had to be what senior management (of the logistics company) had pre-ordained (taking advantage of empty space in their existing warehouse locations), analysis and client needs be damned.

At first, I attempted to persuade and convince my higher-ups that we didn’t need 15 slides on the history of our company and all the services that we offered. I further attempted to use the innovation card to allow for my different slide format than what was in the established slide deck. All of this was unsuccessful. Finally, I stated that since I was the lead person for the project, that I would present the analysis and suggestions in a format of my choosing. If they didn’t like it, they could remove me from the project and then present whatever they wanted. While this bordered on insubordination, I felt that my mission was to lead innovation and that I needed to push resisters to go along.

At the client presentation, I impressed the client executives with not only the bold, clean format of the slides but with the suggested actions as well. My suggestions were the best for the client company, even if it meant that they wouldn’t be using our pre-packaged solutions. The suggestions offered an annual savings of $10 million and the opportunity for us to be the lead consultants in its implementation. At the presentation’s conclusion, I was asked to come back again and give a more detailed implementation presentation.

Sadly, I never had the chance. Upon my return to the office, I was reprimanded for not using the official company slide deck and for not suggesting the pre-ordained (in the box) solution. It made no difference that the presentation was enthusiastically received and that we had the real opportunity for significant consulting revenue. I strayed from the “box” and for that I needed to be flogged. After exhausting my efforts to persuade anyone in senior management, a mutual parting of ways soon followed. I was particularly perturbed about being misled regarding “leading the revolution” and/or innovation initiatives. Are you simply giving lip service to innovative change or do you actively support change initiatives?

The logistics company struggled and stagnated for nearly 10 years afterwards before finally becoming better proponents of change, primarily due to competitive forces. In the interim, few people were willing to actually offer up new ideas. They saw what happened to me (and others who dared to think differently) and were afraid of the consequences of repeating my “audacious” attempt to innovate. How many great and forward thinking initiatives were never realized because of the enforced silence? How would we ever even know?

The lesson: If you intend to be innovative and creative don’t just say that’s what you want. You must be willing to accept that the innovation and creativeness will change established processes and that the ultimate result will be rewarding. You must be willing to encourage and listen for these ideas without adverse reaction and/or consequence. You must be willing to accept limited initiative failures as learning opportunities and continue to encourage experimentation.

Author: Moe Glenner

[Update] Rule for insurance minimums

Rule for insurance minimums could be published in November

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is moving forward in its effort to increase liability insurance minimums and hopes to have a rule published in November.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Transportation released an official timeline for FMCSA to increase the liability insurance minimum from $750,000 to an undetermined higher figure. FMCSA released a report in April stating it found the current minimum for liability insurance was inadequate and it planned to make the increase a high priority. The DOT and FMCSA hope to send the insurance minimum rule proposal to the Office of the Secretary by June 30 and to the White House Office of Management and Budget by Aug. 1. The timeline says a proposed rule could be published Nov. 12.

FMCSA said the $750,000 minimum liability insurance, which is required to be held by carriers, is too low. The insurance minimum has not increased since 1985. Neither DOT’s May report or FMCSA’s April report ventured to say how much of an increase carriers could expect. In its April report, FMCSA did say that if minimum insurance had kept pace with the core consumer index that the increase could be $1.62 million and if the minimum had keep up with the medical consumer price index, the minimum would be at $3.18 million.

Both the American Trucking Associations and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association have disputed that the insurance minimum need to be changed, citing studies that show just 1 percent of all creases exceed the $750,000 mark in claims.

Author: Larry Hurrle, IT Magazine Editor

5 Ways to Stay Safe Memorial Day Weekend

With Memorial Day weekend just a few days away, many people are getting excited for their long weekend plans. Most four-wheel drivers don’t think about the added stress it puts on truck drivers. The extra drivers anxious to make it to the perfect camping spot or traveling to see family members, start to drive recklessly on the roads.

Statistics from the National Safety Council show that during this holiday weekend (6 p.m. Friday to 11:59 p.m. Monday) between 350 to 461 traffic deaths will occur. This is an average of 13 percent of all fatalities in May. There are many people on the road, but if a semi-truck is involved, we know who gets the blame.

Here are five ways that truckers can help keep the roads safe this Memorial Weekend:

  1. Perform your pre-trip check — this is a must for all trucks on the road, but double check all cables, tires, wipers, tail lights and blinkers.
  2. Be cautious of your blindspots — four-wheel drivers don’t understand your blindspots. They will sit in the cool shade of your trailer all day if you let them. Check your mirrors vigilantly and use blinkers.
  3. Pay attention — truck drivers have a great view for what is ahead. Keeping your head forward during the high peak times of travel for the tourists will help save lives.
  4. Allow plenty of safety cushion — having to stop on a dime in a big rig is dang near impossible, don’t try new tricks when there is heavy traffic. Even though the four-wheel drivers will cut straight in front of you doesn’t mean you can’t go a little slower to prevent a collision.
  5. Slow down — speed limits vary in each state, but going a little slower has proven to save lives (and increase mileage). You are on a tight deadline, but nothing is more important than a life.

Being a truck driver can be tough enough, but add in a few hundred extra drivers on the road and it becomes an obstacle course. If you’re out on the road this weekend, please remember to be patient, slow down and stay safe.

Author: Kari Massoth, ITS Digital Media Specialist

Will the real acronym please stand up

Which one are you using? Since the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration released its proposed mandate for the use of electronic equipment to measure hours of service and other logging information on trucks, many drivers and fleets have begun the process of installing the new devices in their trucks. But specifically, what are you installing?

When talk began about electronic equipment being used in trucks, they were called Electronic Onboard Recorders or Electronic Onboard Recording, both pared down to the acronym EOBR. However, the official FMCSA rule 395.16 that used EOBR in its language was vacated and the new Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP21) legislation used the terminology of Electronic Logging Device, or ELD. Now, the current FMCSA rule 395.15 is using the term Automatic On-Board Recording Device, making the acronym AOBRD the legally compliant technology today.

But wait! A new term has just surfaced for the technology, calling them Electron Hours-of-Service Recorders, or EHSR.

The truth is, the terms are interchangeable throughout the industry. They all perform the same function, basically. If you check on the FMCSA website (www.fmcsa.dot.gov) you will find more than 320 references to Electronic Onboard Recorders or Electronic Onboard Recording (EOBR). Electronic Logging Device (ELD) is mentioned 153 times, while the Automatic On-Board Recording Device (AOBRD) now has 25 references. Electronic Hours-of-Service Recorders (EHSR) isn’t mentioned on the FMCSA website, but is listed eight times in a recent press release.

So, which one is the correct term? Well, if you judge by official language, the current FMCSA regulation for hours of service compliance is FMCSA 395.15, which uses the term Automatic On-Board Recording Device, so actually AOBRD is the correct acronym. ELD came along after the EOBR and it is widely believed the use of ELD was easier than EOBR, which is why it gained popularity. ELD is still easier than AOBRD and the new EHSR is just difficult to say.

What is right and what is wrong? There is no correct answer. All of the acronyms mean the same thing. FMCSA’s use of the different acronyms is somewhat confusing, but the bottom line is that the electronics used to determine hours of service and other information within the truck must be compliant with current regulations, regardless of what they are called.

Author: Larry Hurrle, IT Magazine Editor

Another 30 Days, ELD comment period extended

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association will extend the comment period on the proposed rule on electronic logging devices and supporting documents for hours of service compliance another 30 days to June 26. In a notice to be published May 16 in the Federal Register, FMCSA agreed with a request from the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance to extend the comment period. CVSA cited a number of issues, including the technology options for data transmissions at the roadside, in its request for the extension.

CVSA Executive Director Stephen Keppler, in a letter to the FMCSA, said addition time was needed to fully understand the technology options put forth in the rule and to gather input from states on their functional capabilities. He said states needed more time to vet the proposal fully and evaluate effects on enforcement in the field.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) filled comments May 12 supporting CVSA’s request, but asked the comment period be extended 60 days, rather than 30 days, stating there was a great deal of confusion within the enforcement community about the potential technology standards and who will have responsibility to provide each component of the equipment needed for the data transfer process.

OOIDA also said its members have told the group for several years that carriers who are known to have installed electronic logging devices are often allowed to pass through inspection locations because local authorities are not prepared to deal with the electronics and data transfer. OOIDA said the problem will only get worse if the rule goes into effect before all state enforcement personnel are prepared to read and understand electronic readings and make enforcement decisions.

More than 900 comments have been filed on the notice of rulemaking. Those comments can be seen, or comments can be made, at www.regulations.com and search for FMCSA-2010-0167.

Is there a close to clearinghouse rule?

Seven groups have asked the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to include a Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rule-making for its proposed drug and alcohol clearinghouse rule, closing what those groups are calling a “loophole.”

The American Trucking Associations, along with the American Bus Association, Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, National Private Truck Council, National Tank Truck Carriers, Truckload Carriers Association and the United Motorcoach Association have asked the agency to issue an amendment adding a requirement that “employers report all instances of actual knowledge of misuse, including direct observations of misuse and acknowledgements of misuse to the proposed clearinghouse.”

The request was made May 5, during the comment period of the proposed rule, which runs through May 21. In its request, the groups said, “there is a longstanding loophole in the current regulations which allows drivers who violate the regulations to escape the consequences of their actions by applying for employment elsewhere and withholding the accurate identities and contact information of previous employers. This loophole has existed since the current drug and alcohol testing regulations were first promulgated in 1995.”

The groups said they have long supported and advocated for the creation of the clearinghouse, but are concerned the agency does not propose to require reporting of all drug and alcohol violations to the clearinghouse. Specifically, they said, employers would not be called upon to report their direct observations of drug or alcohol misuse or employee admissions of misuse.

“Failing to capture these two types of violations undermines the purpose of the clearinghouse, to prevent drivers who violate the drug and alcohol prohibitions in Part 382, Subpart B, from escaping the consequences of their actions,” the request said.

The comment period was extended from April 21 to May 21 in response to an Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association Request.  OOIDA cited the seven groups’ push for the requested expansion of the rule as one of its reasons. While OOIDA says its current stance is that “only positive test results should be documented,” it said it is still reviewing the request from the seven groups. OOIDA said a driver’s permanent record should not be tainted by unverifiable accusations or assertions.

ATA and the other six groups said in its letter that when Congress mandated that FMCSA conduct a rule-making the creating a clearinghouse, it did not suggest that only certain violations be captured. Instead, it said, the law states that the clearinghouse “shall function as a repository for records relating to the positive test results and test refusals of commercial motor vehicle operations and violations by such operators of prohibitions set forth in subpart B of part 382 of title 49.”

Comments to the clearinghouse rule are available for public viewing at regulations.gov and use the docket number FMCSA-2011-0031. Comments will be taken through May 21.

Author: Larry Hurrle, IT Magazine Editor

Technology in Trucking

Somewhere around 2002, I was driving a new Peterbilt tractor and had an injector go bad.  I went into a dealership and they hooked a laptop computer into my truck and started talking to it in plain English.  I could read the questions they asked the truck and the answers the truck gave back.  I about passed out.  I had no idea this truck I was driving was capable of that trick.  I learned about several other modern technological advantages my truck had that day.  That is nothing compared to the tricks that today’s trucks are capable of doing and the future is an open door to some pretty imaginative advancements in transportation technology.

I recently read a blog where folks were sharing, complaining, and griping about how the everyday car or pickup truck were cutting off big rigs, not letting them merge, passing and hitting the break right in front of them of trying to pass on the inside while a big rig swings wide to make a turn. All those actions lead to accidents whereas the transportation industry is held liable immediately and the general public is the victim.  Most of the recommended changes had to do with educating the public — more public awareness of what it is like to drive a big rig.  Some folks wanted to get the government involved with more public transportation and/or more regulations.

I think this country is going through a change kind of like entering puberty and there is nothing we can do but wait.  Wait for technology to change our driving environment.  No vehicle is truly autonomous yet, but several companies are within three to five years of actually accomplishing this miraculous feat and fully autonomous big rigs are only about 10 years out as I am writing this story. The unequivocal advantage of truly autonomous vehicles is obvious:  less traffic related deaths, less traffic congestion, improved fuel efficiency, and more time for passengers to spend relaxing or working verses driving.

Elements of advanced driver assistance systems are slowly taking over the truck driver’s decision-making duties. Automated braking systems, speed control systems, lane departure warning systems are all setting the stage for what will ultimately become the autonomous, or self-driven, commercial vehicle. This change will bring enormous social and economic challenges with resistance from unions and industrial associations.

The first truckers of this era were pioneers using the science of “oxteamology,” which consisted of little more than walking along the left side of the oxen with a whip, prod, or goad, urging them on and guiding them.  The truck itself was a springless and high-centered wagon with wooden wheels. If those hard working pioneers were standing alongside a freeway today, they would not believe their eyes.  Seventy years from now, we may all feel the same way.  We need to embrace technology and make it a priority to work and meet the challenges of our industry.

Author: Pat Dickard, ITS Corporate Trainer