Friday, June 24, 2011

CARB ‘explains’ its truck rules

“Whatever starts in California unfortunately has an inclination to spread.”
- Jimmy Carter, 39th U.S. president.

I read that quote for the first time this week and immediately knew it would be appreciated by our trucking readers.

For decades Land Line has covered the California Air Resources Board, the nation’s single state environmental agency with more power than the EPA. The state has long had power to include special requirements for new engines in trucks and reefers to meet their emissions specifications.

The number and severity of CARB rules has increased rapidly in the last five years, matched only by CARB’s ability to tack on such a lengthy rule amendment process that at times seems to take four steps forward and nine steps back. Industry stakeholders may spend months or years making CARB aware of their needs and suggestions for a rule, only to see that input wiped out after a different stakeholder convinces CARB staff at a later meeting.

The process is heartbreaking, particularly if you watch webcasted CARB workshops in which CARB staffers appear to listen and work well with stakeholders, who often include in-state truck owners.

Next month, as Land Line reported yesterday, CARB will host an all-day session in which it will explain a multitude of diesel truck rules. It’s a good idea, considering that several of the rules at one time inspired CARB to create online calculators to help truck owners see which equipment they’d need to replace or retrofit.

Unfortunately, it appears this all-day educational session won’t be webcast. So, truck owners who happen to be near Los Angeles, and who can afford to burn an entire weekday not making money driving, will benefit.

California was this close to helping the hundreds of thousands of interstate truck owners who are having difficulty understanding the multitude of diesel regulations either in motion or already enforced.

Let’s hope if other states with aggressive air quality agencies (New York, Texas) move forward and imitate the Golden State, they’ll make simplicity and accessibility a priority.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Doom impending for California drivers?

When the calendar turns to July 1, some California vehicle owners have expressed concern about a Judgment Day of sorts spurred by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

At issue is the agency’s delay in mailing out vehicle registration renewals for July and August. Anyone looking to play the blame game needs to look no further than state lawmakers who mandated holding off on sending renewals to see what happens with the state budget.

State lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown are fussing over a fee associated with 0.50 percent of a vehicle’s estimated value.

Since 2009, the vehicle license fee for smaller vehicles had increased from 0.65 percent of a vehicle’s estimated value to 1.15 percent. That additional fee is set to sunset June 30, dropping the cost back to 0.65 percent.

The governor and fellow Democrats have been working to make sure the state can continue to collect the fee. They say the money is needed to help balance the state budget.

Foreseeing a potential doomsday scenario playing out at the DMV, lawmakers waived the state’s mandate to send renewal notices out 60 days ahead of time. The reason: They did not want vehicle owners with July or August renewals to get a statement with the wrong amount on it.

As a result, the DMV reports that affected owners will not receive their renewals until next week.

This is far from the smoothest way to go about doing business, but it does appear that state officials are prepared to handle the potential crisis without the chaos some Californians have feared.

You likely are thinking that all sounds good but “what happens if I get pulled over with expired tags?” Again, the DMV assures that it is all good. This reassurance is found on the agency’s website:
“Law enforcement is aware and will not cite vehicles until the first day of the second month after the vehicle registration expires. For example: A vehicle with a registration expiration date of July 10th would not be cited for delinquent registration prior to Sept. 1, 2011.”

Californians still concerned about tickets, or who want to simplify the renewal process, can go to the DMV website and pay online starting July 1. Be sure to print a receipt and keep it handy for any law enforcement officers who may have missed the state’s notice about the delay.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

HOS? Where’s the respect?

The debate continues on hours of service, a rule that is back on the table again. Imagine that. They keep tweaking and tweaking, for what? They aren’t going to make everybody happy and make compliance rules to fit everyone and every operation.

You know the feds didn’t come up with this out of the blue. This time it’s because of a lawsuit by the safety campers trying to get the rules changed. Maybe we should call them safety-happy campers. Then a court sent it back to the feds because of “procedural” issues with the way they came up with the current rules. All this just proves what we all know: Some people won’t give up on a bad idea.

I would like to be on the feds’ task force or rules committee that helps draw up the new compliance rules. I would be the one standing up for the older drivers – because I would like to see us seasoned hands get a little respect. It doesn’t matter if we’ve had 20, 30 or 40-plus years out there doing millions of safe miles. We operate under the same parameters as a rookie right out of a six-week driving school and running with a trainer for a month.

Compare that to the building trades. I think they all pretty much have a four-year program to work up from apprentice to journeyman status. Not us. Just get that basic CDL; then, it’s just a paperwork thing and you can be qualified to handle hazmat loads, pull doubles and triples and tankers. Oversize, high, wide, long and heavy, no problem, your CDL covers that.

In our business there’s not a lot of chance for advancement, but a lot of us wouldn’t care to go “up” the ladder anyway. We are truckers, so what would we do? Sales, safety? I think nearly all of us believe we would be a good dispatcher. In fact, very few could handle it. I certainly couldn’t. It’s been my past experience in 40 years plus that I would rather work with a dispatcher who’s never put a foot in a truck than work with an “in off the road” trucker.

So what else would reward those of us with many years and millions of safe miles behind us? The building trades have a format of working through the system in four years. That might be a little short in our case. But I think if a trucker could document 10 years and a million safe miles, have a clean or nearly clean MVR, and a satisfactory record with the DOT – it would prove one thing: He survived that first million miles. He’s doing something right.

I think the FMCSA should give these cream-of-the-crop driving professionals a pass on the logbooks, maybe a card identifying him as a trusted safe driver or something like it. This would let the driver do what he’s obviously been doing all along: sleep when he needs to sleep, and now not have to worry about how to fit it into the logbook. That’s the single biggest issue in my book.

Manage your own time, not go by a graph on a log sheet. And I think a track record of a million safe miles proves the driver is capable of doing that. I personally have nearly 4 million behind me, but I can say without a doubt that first million is where you get your education.

This “honor system” for super drivers is not as off the wall as some might first think. And I am not the first to think of it. Seriously, think what an incentive this would be to younger career truckers out there rolling off the miles. By the time they reach that million miles, they will have had a belly full of logs and will be looking forward to this goal.

In today’s electronic world, monitoring total miles in some fashion would probably be a good thing. I don’t think not having to run a log wouldn’t affect most of our operations much. But, as always, some people just can’t appreciate a gift.

About law enforcement, it kind of snuck up on me but somewhere along the line as I got older I realized the cops were showing me a lot more respect. With a few exceptions it was across the board, be it a traffic stop, DOT inspection, at a scale house, etc. Nothing said, of course, but you could just feel it.

The cops show us seasoned geezers a measure of respect. Why can’t our own industry do the same?