Friday, May 29, 2009

Putting the highway back in Highway Hero

Jorge Orozco-Sanchez is an OOIDA member from Firestone, CO. You may recognize that name from the pages of our May issue. Jorge is the 2008 Goodyear Highway Hero.

Last fall, he was involved in a wreck in which an SUV veered into the path of his truck. The horrific head-on crash took the life of a 27-year-old mother, but Jorge was able to rescue the two children strapped in the car seats in back. Fire engulfed the SUV, and the flames destroyed Jorge’s truck and trailer, too. His heroic effort earned Jorge esteem from not only Goodyear, but the entire trucking industry.

The wreck happened in October 2008. Battling insurance red tape put him off the road for five long months. After meeting Jorge in Louisville, Land Line Now’s Reed Black said, “We have leads on good used trucks and a financing department; can we lend a hand to this guy?”

Such things are not always easy, but OOIDA was able to help Jorge find a good deal on a 2005 Freightliner Columbia (with APU) and a trailer. OOIDA’s Margo Fries and Joe Greer helped put together a plan that financed the equipment. Margo helped him get a grant on the APU from SmartWay. The one-stop shopping at OOIDA for permits, insurance, etc. was handy, too.

On Friday, May 29, Jorge picked up the truck here at HQ. Reed and I greeted him at the door. It was great to see Jorge again. He drove down from Colorado with his friend Manuel Sierra, another trucker (and new OOIDA member) from Scoular, the company that Jorge worked for prior to the accident and that is glad to have him back.

Special kudos to Goodyear Tires, who welcomed Jorge back by putting on 18 new Fuel Max tires all around and donating refurbished wheels for the truck. Pilot kicked in a $250 gift card. TA gets a nod, too, for making him a lifetime member of the TA RoadKing Club Chrome Club Elite with nice credit worth $100 on the card as well.

This morning, a small crowd of OOIDA folks walked with Jorge out to the red 2005 Freightliner. OOIDA’s Joe Greer handed the keys to Jorge, who climbed aboard and fired ’er up. Nice moment. The truck had been parked for a few months and it may sound crazy, but I swear when that diesel roared to life, it was like it could not wait to get back to work, too.

Jorge’s old company is ready to make that happen. I hear there’s a load waiting for him on Monday.

Declawing CARB (temporarily)

The California Air Resources Board has drawn heaping piles of criticism from truckers for years, and especially during the last two to three years, when the environmental agency began aggressively implementing emissions regulations on trucks.

Whether it was the ban on idling that took effect in 2008, this year’s impending reefer regulation, or the upcoming ban on older trucks by 2015, truckers have grown tired of keeping up with the Golden State’s recent emissions-busting measures.

Although many of California’s regulations were planned years ago during better times, they cost truckers thousands of dollars and are being implemented and enforced during our worst economy since the 1930s.

And they divide truckers.

Some drivers complain about strong enforcement of the idling restriction, while others wish CARB would regulate more so they’d feel better about spending all that money on an APU to be compliant.

OOIDA has communicated its concerns to CARB and Gov. Schwarzenegger regarding some regulation specifics and the timing of more regulations during a down economy. CARB has adjusted some implementation timelines to accommodate small trucking businesses.

In the California Legislature, one state senator is listening to those who say the state’s enactment of Assembly Bill 32 – the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 – is helping choke an already wheezy economy.

AB 32 was designed to cut the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The law gave the already powerful CARB agency room to create dozens of new regulations, many of them falling to the trucking economy.

Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, introduced Senate Bill 295 in late February. The measure would require CARB to reanalyze the costs associated with implementing AB32. The new senate bill is scheduled for a public hearing on Wednesday, May 20.

Dutton noted that the unemployment rate was less than 5 percent when AB32 was enacted but is now more than double (11 percent as of Monday).

“The worst thing that could happen right now is for more Californians to lose their jobs,” Dutton said.

In a news release from Dutton’s office, Matthew Kahn, an economist from UCLA noted: “While I support the Governor’s broad AB32 goals, I am troubled by the economic modeling analysis that I have been asked to read. AB32 is presented as a riskless ‘free lunch’ for Californians. … This would be a large free lunch! I would like to believe this claim but after reading through the Economic Analysis and the five appendices there are too many uncertainties and open microeconomic questions for me to believe this.”

In some ways it might seem surprising that the men and women who earn their living behind the wheel could have told university experts and political leaders what the crush of incoming regulations would do to America’s most populous state.

Unfortunately, some of these truckers aren’t around to say “I told you so.”

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Longer, heavier trucks won’t help environment

I don’t know where the Canadian Trucking Alliance gets its environmental statistics from, but perhaps the greater mystery is why some provincial governments take the bait.

The CTA and affiliate Ontario Trucking Association continue to say that putting longer, heavier trucks on the highways will conserve fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A single tractor would replace two tractors hauling two trailers on major highways, but let’s remember that the single tractor is going to work harder and burn more fuel with a double than with a single. And we haven’t even gotten to the logistics yet.

Longer, heavier trucks would still be prohibited from traveling on secondary roads, and everybody knows they can’t make deliveries, so guess what? That second tractor would be put right back into commission to haul the extra trailer for delivery or pickup.

That first truck, the one configured to pull doubles, would not be spec’d to pull a single trailer, thereby poking another hole in the efficiency argument.

Creating new infrastructure and staging areas for hookups does nothing for the environment, and the replacement of prematurely worn-out roads and bridges can’t possibly be green.

Ontario’s pilot program to allow longer-combination vehicles, or LCVs, is flawed because all they’ve done is put road trains on already congested highways.

Long, slow road trains.

We should be finding ways to mitigate congestion, not forcing motorists to merge and navigate around double or even triple trailers. What about the fuel the four-wheelers burn as they slow down and speed up to get around the road trains? That doesn’t sound green to me, and it is another argument against the speed-limiter agenda.

Mega carriers want doubles and triples so they can haul more freight without paying drivers more. It lines their pockets while suppressing freight rates and driver pay.

The stuff about longer, heavier trucks saving fuel and greenhouse gas emissions is a smokescreen … a large, slow-moving smokescreen for the real agenda.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Say it ain’t so, Ohio

A couple of days ago I was minding my own business perusing the Internet for the latest statehouse happenings that would be of interest to truckers. On any given day I come across a gamut of topics. Some of the topics could be considered juicy while some might be labeled dry.

Well, thanks to a couple of knuckleheads in the Ohio House what popped up on my computer monitor was a bill well-suited for a nice ripe razzberry – to steal a term from my colleague Terry Scruton.

Less than two months after Gov. Ted Strickland signed into law a bill doing away with split speed limits on Buckeye interstates, two state lawmakers want to bring back a speed gap.

That’s right. Democratic Reps. Tim DeGeeter of Parma and Dan Dodd of Hebron have introduced a bill that would allow motorists to drive 70 mph on rural stretches of interstates – up from 65 mph.

Trucks, which right now are required to drive 55 mph on the same portions of roadway, have been cleared to travel 65 mph starting July 1.

The bill sponsors say one of the benefits of a 5 mph differential is that it would allow motorists to go faster around trucks.

“I think some of it’s a safety issue. They feel safer if they are able to get around trucks,” Dodd told WCMH-TV in Columbus, OH.

As you would expect, the lawmaker’s response went over like a lead balloon with OOIDA, which fought for several years to have the speed differential in the state eliminated. Research collected by the Association concludes that the difference in vehicle speeds, not excessive speed, contributes to accidents. Collisions occur when trucks and cars must change lanes and pass more frequently.

“The only speed limit policy that makes sense is to have all vehicles traveling at the same speed,” said OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer.

Reading the comments of Spencer and Dodd leave me with one prevailing thought: Thank goodness for OOIDA’s work in Ohio on this issue. The Association’s use of well-thought-out reasoning and research to support their view is the perfect antidote to the simplistic “must pass truck” approach that some at the Ohio House are hopeful will win over lawmakers.