Industry New Briefs, Courtesy of PMTA
Tax deal could help fleets
Hidden in Congress's end of year deal to avoid the economic fiscal cliff is a provision that could help the trucking industry. Under the legislation, fleets will be permitted to write off half of the cost of equipment purchases on their 2013 tax returns. The existing tax relief program expired on Dec. 31, the same day the Senate passed the new bill. The House approved it the next day, Jan. 1. President Obama signed the new tax measure on Jan. 3, the same day the 113th Congress was sworn in, officially making Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) the new chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee for the session that will end in January 2015. Keeping the 50% write-off for equipment purchases should help spur truck sales this year.
The legislation, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, raises taxes on the wealthiest Americans while keeping tax cuts for most households. It also renewed the $1-a-gallon tax credit for biodiesel producers.
ATRI releases survey on restart rule
The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) released a second survey to collect data on the impacts that may accrue from changes to the 34-hour restart rule. This survey seeks the input of commercial drivers on potential operational impacts from the changes .Under the new Hours-of-Service rules that are scheduled to take effect this summer, changes to the 34-hour restart will include 1) a requirement that a restart include two periods between 1 a.m. – 5 a..m., and 2) a limitation of one restart per 7-day time period. This survey, in addition to the recently completed motor carrier survey, is part of a larger ATRI study quantifying real-world operational impacts on the trucking industry that may result from these revisions.
Commercial drivers are encouraged to provide confidential input on the HOS changes through ATRI's survey, available online at http://www.atri-online.org. The aggregated and anonymized results of both surveys as well as ATRI's full HOS study will be released later this year.
Appeals court to hear HOS arguments
In March, an appeals court will hear two arguments urging it to overturn portions of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's latest hours-of-service rule. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said a three-judge panel will hear arguments from the American Trucking Associations and Public Citizen. FMCSA's latest version of the rule maintained the 11-hour daily driving limit and 70-hour maximum a week. It also limited the 34-hour restart provision to once in a seven-day period and required that time frame to include two periods between 1 and 5 a.m. It is scheduled to take effect in July.
ATA's argument is that the rule is too restrictive, saying the rule relied on misrepresentations of the role driver fatigue has played in truck-related crashes and deaths. Advocacy group Public Citizen wants FMCSA to do more to stop fatigue by eliminating the 11th hour of driving and the 34-houre restart.
Trucking adds 4,200 jobs
U.S. unemployment rate did not change in December, staying at 7.8%. But trucking added 4,200 jobs, the Labor Department reported. Employers added 155,000 jobs in December, topping analysts' median forecast of 152,000, Bloomberg reported. The 7.8% rate is the lowest since December 2008. November's jobs increase was revised up to 161,000 from an originally reported 146,000. Revisions to prior reports added 14,000 jobs in the past two months.
Gov. Corbett vows to work on funding plan
Gov. Tom Corbett called a new all-electronic interchange on the Pennsylvania Turnpike a step in the state's "journey to prosperity.” He attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Dec. 11 for the exit and entrance ramps that connect the turnpike with Route 29 in Malvern, east of the Downingtown interchange and west of Valley Forge. Corbett touted its ability to attract businesses to the region. He also said he wants to work with lawmakers on a long-term funding plan for transportation infrastructure.
Diesel-gasoline price spread at four-year high
The Department of Energy said the price differential between diesel and gasoline remains near historically high levels. U.S. retain diesel prices declined 2.7 cents a gallon over the final two weeks of 2012, to reach $3.918. The gasoline average rose 4.4 cents to $3.298 over the same span. While the spread of 62 cents on Dec. 31 was below the 69.1-cent differential two weeks earlier, it was far above the 19.6-cent gap on June 18. According to DOE data, the Dec. 17 price spread of 69.1 cents was the highest since December 2008. Diesel has consistently been more expensive than gasoline since August 2009.
An economist for DOE's Energy Information Administration said growing global demand for U.S. diesel exports has been driving the diesel-gasoline divide.
SMC names 2012 Driver of the Year
Albert Montgomery, a driver with Giant Food Stores, LLC, is Safety Management Council’s 2012 Driver of the Year. He has more than 3.5 million accident-free driving miles and has been a professional driver for 42 years. An active volunteer in the community, Montgomery has taken supplies to hurricane victims on several occasions. See the January issue of Penntrux for a complete article with photos. PMTA congratulates Montgomery for this achievement of safety and professionalism.
FMCSA to survey trucking on EOBR
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration plans to survey trucking on the EOBR harassment issue. The agency said in a Federal Register notice published Dec. 14 that it wants to explore the relevant issues from the point of view of both drivers and carriers toward the use of EOBRs. “The survey results will inform FMCSA in its ongoing rulemaking on EOBRs, including potential countermeasures or best practices that will ensure that EOBRs are not used to harass or coerce commercial motor vehicle drivers,” the notice said.
The White House Office of Management and Budget must approve the proposed survey before it can be conducted. Under the transportation law passed earlier this year, FMCSA must issue a final EOBR mandate by October 2013. A federal court told FMCSA that a previous EOBR rule didn’t go far enough to protect drivers against potential harassment from supervisors using EOBRs. In October this year, FMCSA said it would release a new proposal for the mandate by March 20.
Trucking honors veterans in Wreaths Across America event
Mark Kready, a driver for Jagtrux, Inc., was part of a convoy of trucks that delivered 34 loads of wreaths to national cemeteries, schools and churches on Wreaths Across America Day, Dec. 15. Kready delivered 5,576 wreaths to Fort Indiantown Gap. The convoy drove from Harrington, Maine, where the wreaths are donated. About 110,000 wreaths, 20,000 more than last year, were delivered. Rita Germak-Swisher of Jagtrux spoke at the Fort Indiantown Gap wreath laying ceremony. She is a volunteer for the event, and also placed a wreath on the grave of one of Jagtrux’s drivers who passed away last February. The Truckload Carriers Association organized the Wreaths Across America event.
Freight levels improve in November
Recent carrier and analyst reports show that freight levels strengthened during November, showing improvement after Hurricane Sandy temporarily depressed shipment volumes. In October, when Sandy hit the East Coast, truck tonnage recorded the first year-over-year decline in 34 months, falling 2.1%, according to American Trucking Associations. ATA has not released its November truck tonnage index yet, but the Cass Freight Index, composed primarily of truck freight, shows an increase of 3.5% in November from a year earlier. Several carriers reported that November freight levels through Thanksgiving had improved over October.
NY Thruway Authority backs away from proposed toll increase
The New York State Thruway Authority will not increase tolls on large trucks by 45% after all. The authority first announced the toll increase in May, part of an effort to paint a brighter financial picture of the Thruway in anticipation of bond sales that will be needed to help pay for construction of a replacement for the existing Tappan Zee Bridge.
The plan would have meant the toll for a five-axle truck running the length of the highway would have gone from $68.95 to $99.98. The state's trucking industry organized the opposition to the toll, creating a coalition of 22 business groups, managed by the New York State Motor Truck Association.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the Thruway will initiate cost cutting and efficiency moves, including shifting the cost of the State Police that patrol the Thruway to the state budget.
ATA continues push for safety measures
American Trucking Associations is renewing its campaign for a 65 mph national speed limit. On Jan. 8, ATA issued a progress report of its 2009 safety agenda of major issues for which ATA pledged to lobby. The push for a national speed limit is one of ATA's proposals to increase trucking and highway safety. ATA also proposed a study on possible graduated licensing for commercial driver licenses.
ATA President Bill Graves praised government action on safety measure but said there is still a lot of work to be done. Successes include the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners. According to the regulation finalized last April, all medical examiners will have to be trained and tested on FMCSA regulations regarding medical qualifications for commercial drivers. Starting in May 2014, all drivers will need to have their biennial physical exams conducted by certified examiners. The pre-employment screening for drivers is another success.
ATA has pushed for the 65 mph speed limit in regulatory comments and testimony on Capitol Hill and will continue to do that and to work with individual states to reduce speed limits. ATA will also advocate for legislation to study graduated CDLs for drivers ages 18 to 25.
No gas tax in Virginia?
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R ) made a ground-breaking proposal to remove the state's gasoline tax. McDonnell said the flat gas tax of 17.5 cents a gallon doesn't fluctuate with inflation, and cars are getting better mileage, reducing overall revenue. To make up for the lost revenue, he proposed boosting the state's sales tax to 5.8% from the current 5% to help fund transportation projects. That would raise more than $3 billion for transportation over five years and would boost the amount of money going to transportation form sales taxes from the current 05. cents to 0.75 cents in that time.
The state's diesel tax—17.5 cents per gallon—would remain in place. McConnell also proposed a $100 annual surcharge on alternative-fuel vehicles, including those that run on natural gas.
Natural-gas vehicle sales to increase
A new report by Pike Research said analysts expect about a million natural-gas trucks and buses to be sold by 2019. Sales of natural-gas trucks are expected to grow at an annual rate of 14% through 2019. Bus sales are forecast to grow 19% during the same period. Currently about 75% of natural-gas trucks and buses are being sold in the Asia Pacific region, and Pike expects that to continue to be the strongest area for growth. In Europe and North America, the high cost of diesel fuel and continued emissions restrictions will boost sales of natural gas-fueled heavy-duty vehicles.
FMCSA moving forward on mandates
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration head Anne Ferro said progress on an electronic logging mandate was "moving along at a strong pace.” She also said a national drug and alcohol clearinghouse rulemaking is right around the corner. FMSCA is working on specialized knowledge testing for entrants in individual segments of the trucking industry, Ferro said. In addition, FMCSA is involved in new driver compensation and detention time studies.
For more information on PMTA (Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association), go to www.pmta.org