Monday, December 30, 2013

Holiday roses

Senior Correspondent Terry Scruton and LL’s Managing Editor Jami Jones were in the “Land Line Now” studio last week recording a segment that handed out some special Christmas “roses” to some deserving people. Being on the road can be lonely during the holidays, and it’s good to know there are folks out there doing stuff like this to make it just a little less lonely.

Here are some of their holiday shout-outs.

Terry kicked off the segment with some holiday roses to a group of volunteers led by Ryan Diekmann – a driver for US Foods – who went to the Love’s truck stop the week before Christmas and handed out goodie bags to the truck drivers.

According to Terry, it happened at the Love’s in Cedar City, Utah. About 150 truckers got bags containing a blanket, homemade cookies and other treats. The group is an all-volunteer group called Operation Christmas on the Road, and their trip to the truck stop has become kind of a Christmas tradition.

Each year they dedicate their efforts to one of their own who passed away during the year. This year they dedicated everything to Jeremy Gunter, Diekmann’s former supervisor, who died rescuing his son in a drowning accident last June.

Jami handed out more roses to a group called “A Truckers Christmas Ministry” out of Greenwood, La.

They went out on Christmas Day to the TA truck stop there in Greenwood and handed out gift bags to truckers that included things like a Bible, cookies, CDs and toiletries.

The ministry was started by husband and wife Pete and Tammy Smith who started visiting the truck stop about four years ago.

Terry gave a rose out to the Meals for 18 Wheels group, which was started just this year by OOIDA member Kari Fischer and fellow trucker Crystal Schoonmaker. They started it back around Thanksgiving to try and bring some meals to truckers who are away from home during the holidays.

The group has snowballed since then, with nearly 450 members on Facebook. They have even inspired people outside of trucking to get involved, like a woman named Michelle Hepburn of Mokena, Ill. Now to be fair, Michelle’s son is a truck driver, but her sister-in-law got the idea to deliver goodies to drivers from the Meals for 18 Wheels Group.

Terry says they baked up a whole bunch of stuff, including peanut butter kisses, pecan nut cups and pumpkin spice cookies, which they handed out to truckers on Christmas Day.

As long as we’re talking about people doing nice things on Christmas, Jami gave a rose to police in the town of Melbourne, Fla. They spent their Christmas Day like any other day on duty – and one of those duties is, of course, pulling people over for speeding. But, instead of giving folks a speeding ticket and ruining their Christmas, they gave them a warning – and a scratch off lottery ticket.

The Associated Press quoted one of the cops as saying they bought the tickets with their own money because they wanted to spread a little holiday cheer while still ensuring public safety.

“We don’t know if any of the lottery tickets were winners,” said Jami, “but these officers are definitely winners in our book.”

Terry gave roses to Kennesaw Transportation Co. out of Cartersville, Ga. They started a policy 15 years ago to reward employees who had been at the company for five years or longer with a $10,000 bonus every five years.

This year the bonuses will go to 36 employees for a total of more than $360,000 dollars in bonuses handed out. Some employees there are on their third round of bonuses.

We know there are lots of other people and groups out there, too, but Terry and Jami and the whole OOIDA media crew just wanted to highlight a few and say thank you on behalf of truckers everywhere for making those long holiday hours on the road go by just a little bit faster.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Oh there’s no place like the truck stop for holiday shopping

I hate shopping, Christmas or otherwise. Well, I like shopping for groceries, but that’s because I like to cook said groceries … but I digress.

Perhaps it’s the long lines, the maddening crush of people, or maybe I just never got over the fact that it seemed like every single one of my mother’s weekly shopping excursions to the mall, or wherever, always seemed to cut right into the heart of my Saturday morning cartoons as a kid. But somewhere along the way I acquired a passionate distaste for the practice.

While online shopping has certainly helped to keep me from turning into a full-on Scrooge at this time of year, somehow, some way, I always find myself rushing around at the last minute to get that one thing that somebody on my list desperately wants (and which I somehow have forgotten to acquire ahead of time).

Many truckers no doubt know the feeling of dashing through the snow right around Christmas to round up presents for loved ones. Whether you’re like me, and you avoid shopping on general principle, or you’re like countless others who spend 300 plus days of the year on the road and in the cab, it can be stressful as all get-out trying to wrangle those gifts.

Until I came to Land Line in February, there was one place I’d never really considered for those DEFCON 2-level holiday shopping emergencies – the nearest truck stop.

Our friends at Love’s Travel Stops sent us an updated list of more than 100 items they’re offering to help truckers and patrons polish off the last of their Christmas shopping. This year’s specialty items focus on a “Retro Revamped” theme centered around classic toys like Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots and the Slinky. A life size 40-inch leg lamp made popular by the movie, “A Christmas Story,” rounds out the throwback theme.

The company’s most popular 2013 Christmas items include:
•           Mini plush tigers
•           30-inch hobby horse and unicorn with sound
•           Fancy Puppies in a Purse
•           Round plush animals
•           Mattel Die-Cast Monster wheels gift pack
•           18.5-inch standing stuffed penguin
•           Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots
•           Retro Slinky
•           Semitrailer with construction vehicles

Love’s certainly isn’t the only truck stop catering to shopping needs of truckers during Yuletide. A trip to the nearby TA Travel Center and Petro Stopping Center in Oak Grove, Mo., revealed both had a wide array of toys, clothing, DVDs and other electronics for sale. A pretty robust selection for sure.

So I’ve decided to heck with the parking problems and long lines at the big box stores. The wife and I are headed home to Joplin for the holidays and I gotta swing by Love’s. If my dad didn’t already have a desk-sized version of the leg-lamp, that 40-inch model is what he’d be getting from “Santa” this year. Who knows? Maybe our nephews would like those Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em robots as much as I did when I was a kid. 

May your journeys be safe and swift this holiday season. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from all of us at OOIDA HQ. 

Truckers for Troops: Team Jami wins the branch challenge

Photo by Nikohle Ellis
During the Truckers for Troops telethon, veterans and supporters of the five armed services have competed for the last several years to see which branch called in the most to donate to their fellow troops. Of course, it’s all in fun, but this year the competition really heated up.

When truckers called in, I can testify that the phone crew kept a careful tally on a huge bulletin board. It’s become a contest with no small amount of interest.

That’s not really surprising. About 57 percent of OOIDA members are military veterans. Many have sons and daughters serving right now. Truckers are generally a community of people who passionately support our troops.

This unofficial “branch challenge” began during the radio telethon a few years ago. People would call in a give a shout out to their former branch. The membership department started keeping track. When OOIDA’s trucking news radio show “Land Line Now” Anchor Reed Black – proud Army veteran – found out about the challenge he boasted that his fellow Army vets would likely exceed the efforts of all other branches put together.

Land Line Magazine Managing Editor Jami Jones was in the show’s studio when the statement was made. She could not let that go without a challenge, so she offered to lead the team that would include all other branches. Truckers who called in to participate also “cast a vote” on behalf of the branch of choice.

Team Reed and Army was a consistent winner the first couple of years, but last year votes from branches other than Army pushed Team Jami to victory.

In the early hours of this year’s telethon, Reed Black had clearly pulled ahead. But that lead fell in the last days due to overwhelming support from the other branches, including one vote on behalf of the British Royal Navy.

On Friday, OOIDA’s Membership Department announced that the 2013 Truckers for Troops branch challenge was again won by Team Jami.

“This is just a fun contest,” says Jami. “The real winners here are the troops who are reminded by our efforts that we are thinking of them, and we appreciate what they do.”

The first congratulations to Team Jami came from OOIDA President Jim Johnston, a Navy veteran. However, it was rumored this week that OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer, an Army veteran, was asking for a recount.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Joy ridin’ with Trucker Charity and the Christmas Group

Everyone admits the North Pole has the ultimate JIT logistics operation – one rig, one driver, one night to deliver all those loads. Second behind the North Pole, with no logistics department at all, is a not-for-profit outfit of professional truck drivers called Trucker Charity’s Christmas Group. 

They’ve been fundraising all year so they can give a helping hand to selected trucking families who need a little assistance getting through Christmas. This year – the group’s sixth annual event – represented a special milestone. The group reached $60,000 total donations distributed to 100 trucking families in need.

They began their “deliveries” promptly at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday evening and completed the last call at 2:24 a.m., a marathon that dispensed $13,200. That’s $600 Comchecks to each of 22 chosen trucking families. Each check was delivered with a personal, chatty phone call from Santa and 40 plus “elves” on a massive conference cellular joy ride that lasted 8 hours.

Canadian trucker Greg Manchester played the role of Santa – he lives closest to the North Pole. Greg was on the job, sitting in his truck waiting to be unloaded. At one time, he had to leave to get hooked up. He began each call like this:

Greg (Santa):  Ok, guys, quiet down, I’m dialing. We’re live. 

And then.

Greg (Santa): Ho ho ho this is Santa, calling from the North Pole. I am here with all the elves on the workshop floor. You are one of the 22 families we’ve chosen to support this year with $600 to get them through Christmas. So Merry Christmas! (1, 2, 3, everyone on the conference call shouts “Merry Christmas!”)

What we heard after that ranged from sobs, gasps of relief, shock, bewilderment and outright “are you serious?” In many cases, the wife was home with kids, husband on the road, behind with bills and no presents. Not even a tree yet. When they got over the shock of a $600 check that would soon be in their hands with no strings attached, most said they would catch up bills and buy presents for the kids and grandkids.

Many of the families were dealing with trucks broken down, surgeries, illnesses, heart attacks and family members in the hospital. A call was made to a young mother with six kids. Her trucking husband was recovering from an illness and already back on the road. They lost their home and are staying with a relative. Several truckers said next year they’d be on their feet and part of the volunteer group. One wife, through her tears: “You couldn’t have called at a better time. We’ve been getting disconnect notices all week.”

The workshop floor was packed last night. Trucker Charity President Lance Wood said it was the biggest crowd ever. Most members of the group were there, including Kerry Mullins, Isaac Bland, Eldon McFarling, Idella Hansen, Mark and Mary Abraham, Virginia Chomo, Greg Wilson, Tony Hamilton, David Gilland, Rodney and Cindy Bartlett, David Stewart, Sean Davis and many more. Then there were guests like myself and Joanne Ritchie of OBAC who were along for the ride, plus one trucker from the U.K. (Allan Dodds) and one on the line from Australia. And this list isn’t even half of them.

On Friday, Trucker Charity secretary Kerry Mullins said the project could not have been accomplished without supporters like OPS, Dillard's Trucking, America’s Trucking Network, Auto Sock, Snap On, Let’s Truck, Pittsburg Power, FASS System, Justin Boots, Red Eye Radio, IdleAire, Air Tabs, True Balance, Centramatic, Terry Wooley, Maxwell Technologies, Mike Beckett, OOIDA, OBAC, APRAC, Sennhieser, Uniden and many more.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Volvo’s epic moment

Photos courtesy of Volvo Group
Surely, you’ve seen it by now: Jean-Claude Van Damme doing the splits while balancing on the mirrors of two Volvo trucks moving in reverse.

If you have, you’ve helped make it the most viewed automotive-related commercial in YouTube history with nearly 60 million views since its introduction Nov. 14.

If you haven’t seen it, clear a minute of your schedule, click here, and take care of that immediately.

The commercial dubbed “The Epic Split” is certainly one of the most talked about commercials we’ve heard of in recent history. It has drawn more than 6 million shares on social networking sites and has received 10 million search impressions according to Google.

Photos courtesy of Volvo Group

Moreover, it has been the subject of more than 20,000 editorials by the media around the globe. Some of the early reports called it a fake, like some kind of camera trick.

And while those too-good-to-be-true videos exist out there in numbers, Volvo speaks adamantly of its authenticity.

Van Damme, the 53-year-old action star of “Bloodsport” and “Universal Soldier” was the real deal in this commercial, requiring only one take to complete the stunt. And that is remarkable by anyone’s standards. Watch it again, and picture Van Damme climbing up into position and knocking that whole thing out of the park in one camera shot.

Yes, he had some additional foot support added to the truck mirrors along with some safety wires that were made invisible during post-production of the commercial, but “The Epic Split” was indeed that.

Just as remarkable, to us anyway, is the spectacular display of truck driving exhibited by the Volvo drivers, Jens Karlsson and Mikael Rosell.

Even with Volvo Dynamic Steering systems on board, those new Euro-styled Volvo FM trucks were not driving themselves. Kudos to those driving professionals.

Just a week after the commercial made its debut, I was in Washington, D.C., to attend a transportation summit hosted by Volvo Group and the American Highway Users Alliance.

The commercial dominated the dinner conversation as the trucking press met with Volvo Trucks North America Media Relations Manager Brandon Borgna. He said he was just as surprised and moved by the commercial as we all were.

The whole thing was done on a closed set in Sweden.

Brandon said during that first week, he fielded a tremendous number of questions and requests for information from North American media. The first day drew 6.5 million YouTube hits, so it’s not hard to see why.

Even Volvo Group President and CEO Olof Persson declared “I will not be doing the splits” during his remarks at the transportation summit.

No matter how you look at it, or how many times you look at it, “The Epic Split” is worthy of the hype. It’s just that cool. And try getting that Enya song out of your head after a few views.

Incidentally, this is not Volvo’s first rodeo involving trucks and epic feats. Persson showed a video during the transportation summit in D.C., which depicted “driverless” vehicles that used technology to navigate and steer. The video got a reaction from the 160 in attendance because the people behind the wheel were reading newspapers and using tablet computers instead of watching the road.

Volvo has also produced the world’s fastest hybrid semi truck. The aptly named “Green Machine” topped 147 mph during a “flying kilometer” in Utah recently, and reached 95 mph at two-thirds of a mile from a standing start. We got to see the “Green Machine” and meet owner-driver Boije Ovebrink during the 2012 Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky.

They’re not done yet, by a long shot. Our source at Volvo Trucks North America told us that Volvo is in production of some top secret videos to share in the future.

We’re probably not alone in wondering how the company could possibly top “The Epic Split.”

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

‘Just because’

OOIDA Member Don “Jailbird” Schmidt and wife Kim.
It’s about trucking, friendship and sticking together. It’s about being thankful and giving something back, says a trucker known as Jailbird.

He’s talking to me about a group of drivers and others who are deeply rooted in the trucking industry and who make long miles on the road go by faster by staying connected with each other on a daily basis. Spreading the news, discussing issues, or just sharing highs and lows of the day – Jailbird says it’s purely a social thing.

I get it. Smartphones, texting, email, Facebook, tweets. I know a thousand times more people than I did years ago and I have to admit that keeping up with your friends is good for the soul.

OOIDA Member Don “Jailbird” Schmidt stopped by OOIDA headquarters recently. He and his wife spent some time visiting with me, recalling how his small group got started and how they are now doing much more than just keeping in touch.

“It started about four years ago. About seven of us were talking on the phone a lot, just chatting on our cellphones almost daily,” he said, “and it just made sense to go to a chat line. So we did.”

Now there are about 30 regular callers. Don says he can call the chat line anytime and someone will be there. The chat line is called “Jailbird’s conference” or JBC, which Don says can also stand for “Just Because.”

The JBC conference chat line now has an open Facebook page – J B C – that includes 310 friends who make comments and post photos anytime day or night. Kim Schmidt is the page’s administrator, monitoring the posts.

He throws out names like Flagwaver, Fisherman, Jon O, Braindead, Candy B, Bobby Boofay, Straycat and others. I give an affirmative nod to each name as he’s talking and think to myself, is it weird that I actually know them all?

Don says the group is more than just friends, they are “family.” And along with sticking together, they step in and help each other and even hold fundraisers to support their favorite causes.

The helping hand efforts began when one of the original members needed assistance and the others bailed in and sent her some cash.

Somebody said, “We should start up a charity.”

The charity work started off small, doing a couple of fundraisers. Because they were not a 501 (c)(3), they decided to hook up with another trucker charity that is. They affiliated with Truckers United for Charities.

“And we’ve become very involved with Truckers United for Charities and all the projects they do,” says Jailbird.

The JBC group started off with a dunk tank, a couple of 50/50 raffles and a T-shirt drive. During the first week of August, they have their own truck show in Perrysburg, Ohio – the Schmidts’ home town. Now, they are planning a repeat of their “drag race” fundraiser at Papa John’s during the 2013 Mid-America Trucking Show.

Kim tells me for MATS 2014, the beneficiary that the group has designated is OOIDA, specifically Truckers for Troops and the OOIDA Mary Johnston Scholarship Fund.

“Many of us are veterans and we really like the Truckers for Troops effort,” says Don. “And the scholarship fund? How many of us truckers have kids and want them to go to college? The students that will get this money are OUR kids.”

“People ask all the time why we our group exists, why we do this stuff,” he says. “And I say, well … just because. That’s all.”

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

California emission regulations should be equal

I had nearly completed a column on the injustice of false equivalency of cars and trucks in California when I was prompted to scrap that and go back to the drawing board.

I was prepared to write about the unfairness of regulating commercial businesses as strictly as personal vehicles used for recreation and other purposes, when the reality of CARB’s uneven enforcement hit me.

The Golden State and its California Air Resources Board recently released an updated version of its AB32 Scoping Plan – the big picture formula it uses to measure pollution at the macro and micro level, and how specifically regulations and other forces will reduce air pollution to 1990 levels by the year 2020, and 80 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050.

Though it is still in draft form, the 123-page document is a loose blueprint for future rules and will continue to be updated before likely being finalized by spring, according to CARB Spokesman David Clegern.

To read a draft of the plan, click here. To enter a public comment on the plan, click here.

After reading the draft plan, it appears CARB is trying to equate passenger cars and heavy-duty trucks. In one section, it mentions a 4.5 percent annual drop in greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks. It then follows that up with a similar figure for big rigs.

I asked CARB whether the document attempts to equate the very different purposes and dynamics of trucking versus passenger vehicles. “If you look at the regulations we have in place, they really don’t equate the two,” Clegern said.

Clegern pointed to the state’s Zero Emission Vehicle mandate, which will require automakers to make increasingly larger percentages of vehicles for sale to be of the zero emission variety, including electric cars.

“With the zero emission vehicle mandate, about 90 percent of the fleet – passenger cars – is to be those kinds of vehicles by 2050,” Clegern said. “That’s quite strange in the structure or market there. Trucks are quite regulated already.”

True, but CARB has put the onus on trucking emissions on both truck manufacturers and truck owners. With cars, the focus is largely on automakers.

I told Clegern I agreed particularly with his sentiment that trucks are regulated more, which made me wonder why the scoping plan draft made it appear CARB was just getting started with trucking rules, particularly with paragraphs like this one:

“To date, ARB’s focus in the transportation sector has been on reducing emissions through the efficient movement of people,” the document reads. “Although ARB has adopted some strategies to address the heavy-duty fleet, more needs to be done.”

CARB’s opportunity to reduce emissions in freight movement is sprinkled throughout the plan, even as even larger emissions sources appear to be ignored.

One pie chart shows sources of black carbon in the air. Off-road vehicles create 31 percent of the black carbon, on-road vehicles 24 percent, and fireplaces 19 percent.

Nothing in the scoping plan indicates a future regulation on burning wood. Will CARB crack down on wood burning in fireplaces?

“It’s a guidance document; it’s not a regulation,” Clegern said. “We’re far enough out at this point that some of those things will remain somewhat open questions. We have to be open to adaptable technology and changing economics. We try not to trap the people we regulate into something that is too ironclad, especially this far out.”

CARB has opened the draft scoping plan up for public comment, and Clegern said all stakeholders are encouraged to voice their opinions about the plan.

“We want to hear from people on this,” Clegern said. “If they have an idea on how to reduce those emissions that they think will work, if they see something they think is particularly onerous, we want to hear about that.”

If you read the scoping plan, CARB’s tenor carries an air of moral authority that I’m sure stems from sincere intentions. Terms like environmental justice are mentioned when it comes to cleaning up smoggy areas around ports and urban centers.

If the state is serious about reducing emissions, I hope CARB begins treating car owners like they do truck owners. If California really means business with air quality, it should regulate fireplace burning as seriously as it inspects port trucks.

But that’s not the feeling you get reading that scoping plan. CARB’s AB32 Scoping Plan offers little equivalency, false or otherwise.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Can you spare a dollar?

How many times in our lives have we spent an extra buck on something? Perhaps it was a convenience item we forgot at the supermarket or that we made a choice to buy one brand over another. Perhaps we needed an extra coffee or decided this was our week to win the lottery. Sure, we could have not spent the extra dollar, but we did.

Why did we do it? Because in our minds, the item was worth it at that particular moment. We almost don’t think twice when we buy a bottled soft drink for $1.59 when we could buy a can for 59 cents.

Why, then, do we skip one fueling station and head down the road to another because the posted fuel price is 1 cent cheaper? For a car with a 14-gallon tank, that’s 14 cents if you were running on fumes. Even for a commercial truck needing 150 gallons, 1 cent difference means $1.50 savings. Two cents cheaper would be $3, and so on.

The comparison, and our mindset, demonstrates the difficulty that we, as a nation, face when it comes to paying a little more for the very roads and bridges we drive on every day.

Perhaps we all take for granted that the infrastructure was designed and built decades ago for generations that couldn’t possibly have imagined the technology, the traffic, or the size and weight of today’s trucks that we have now. Obsolete bridges that were designed to carry 5,000 vehicles a day are carrying 20,000. Urban sprawl and commuting have almost gotten out of control.

The point being made here is that eventually we’re all going to be asked to pay more to travel.

Rep. Bill Shuster
chairman of T&I Committee
This week, I was in Washington, D.C. on assignment, covering a summit on infrastructure hosted by the American Highway Users Alliance and Volvo.

Many of transportation’s big players were present as guest speakers or panelists, including Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster. The latter two chair the committees that are largely responsible for writing surface transportation bills.

In fact, it was Boxer who coined the term “MAP-21” for the current two-year bill that passed in 2012, fully titled Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century.

While many people outside the transportation realm may view MAP-21 as a glorified extension of the last bill (SAFETEA-LU) because it did not drum up any new funding or grow the federal transportation program, that’s not entirely accurate.

As Boxer put it during the summit, MAP-21 reformed the federal program, overhauled it and cut a great deal of red tape.

Sen. Barbara Boxer
chair of the EPW Committee
“We did so many of these reforms that now we can just concentrate on the funding for the next bill,” she told the 160 attendees. Boxer is chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Shuster, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, says he expects the next highway bill to be drafted in the spring of 2014, building in some time to work out any differences between House and Senate versions by MAP-21’s expiration date on Sept. 30.

While lawmakers go to work debating the funding mechanisms for the next bill – fuel taxes, tolls, etc. – the public is going to need some convincing.

Shuster says the big challenge is convincing the public that there’s a problem.

“We’re not going to ignore the funding issue. But I think it’s important that we build the case. We need to make sure the American people know there’s a problem,” Shuster told the summit group. “If we lead talking about funding, I think that diminishes what we have. We’ve got to build the case to the American people that there is a problem, and make sure they understand it.”

If they understand it, then asking the public to pay a little more would be an easier sell.

Another of the summit participants, Bud Wright with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials – easier to say as AASHTO – says the fix may not be as shocking to the American people as they might otherwise brace themselves for.

“It would take an additional $1 per week per person to grow the program at the federal level,” Wright said.

Greg Cohen, American Highway
Users Alliance
Wait a minute. Weren’t we just talking about spending an extra dollar on soft drinks?

Are we being told that we can once again regain a globally competitive and state-of-the-art system of highways and bridges for a buck a week? Not flying cars and smart grids, but we could certainly add capacity and make roads safer and less congested.

The debate will come from the various ways people will have for sweet-talking – or prying – that dollar out of people’s hands.

The trucking industry’s small businesses, owner-operators and large carrier fleets have all made their positions known, and it is surprisingly unified: increase the federal fuel tax rather than resort to overuse of tolling or other methods. This is an area in which OOIDA and the ATA fall on the same side.

The longer we wait, the deeper the hole gets. AASHTO says the Highway Trust Fund will have lost $57 billion because of alternative fuels and hybrid vehicles because fuel taxes are not collected on those vehicles. So something needs to be done to get those vehicles paying their fair share to use the system.

Sen. Boxer likes to talk about her hybrid vehicle and the fact that she has only filled the gas tank three times in the last 3,000 or so miles. She says she’s willing to pay her fair share but does not support a system that would have satellites and computers tracking every mile to apply a tax.

She was serious when she told the summit group she supports an honor system in which vehicle owners report their miles traveled when they renew their licenses, and pay their taxes based on their odometer readings.

But there’s not much bureaucracy in honor systems, and Washington loves a bureaucracy. Government loves to talk about creating jobs, and except for a few exceptions the government hardly ever shrinks.

Some, like U.S. Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, believe the transportation funding can come from a national infrastructure bank. He has a bill in Congress right now, HR2084, that would jumpstart the infrastructure bank plan without using any money from the Highway Trust Fund or U.S. Treasury funds. His seed-money idea is a bit complicated, but is something about bringing back money to America that has been invested offshore.

Rep. John Delaney of Maryland
And with any form of funding, the “who pays” will always be the highway user, in the form of any tax, toll or fee. So it’s back to convincing people they need to give up one soft drink per week to keep bridges from falling down.

We’ve heard the administration say for years that the president will not sign off on a fuel-tax increase while the economy is in recovery.

But, as many people said during the infrastructure summit, it’s time to have that discussion. It’s time to forge ahead. As the ATA’s Bill Graves said during the summit, we’ve got to convince the policymakers to forego their “intellectual amnesia” and take a stand.

The summit seemed to put everyone in the starting blocks for the long run ahead to the next highway bill. It was also a place for new ideas, concepts and opinions to be shared.

I couldn’t possibly walk away without sharing a video presented during the summit by Volvo Group President and CEO Olof Persson. He was part of a panel discussion titled Sustainable Pathways Forward.

Olof Persson, CEO of Volvo Group
The video shows how existing technology could lead to a form of “driverless” vehicle. Obviously, the drivers are still behind the wheel, but the technology would allow a string of vehicles – a platoon – to follow a lead vehicle without the need for hands-on control. It would work by relying on an experienced truck driver in the lead vehicle providing the cruise control for the pack. Check this out and try not to wince when you see the drivers reading the paper, surfing the Web on their tablets, or turning to talk to the camera.

The summit provided some opportunity to discuss other issues important to trucking and transportation. Rep. Shuster has spoken in his remarks about continuing to reduce the regulatory burden on transportation projects, carrying on from where MAP-21 leaves off.

During a Q&A, I asked if reducing the regulatory burden would apply to other areas as well, such as the trucking industry.

“We’ve got to be smart about this. We just can’t keep piling on regulations,” he responded.

I’m pleased with my first trip to Washington, D.C., to get a taste for how things work and hear directly from people who have key roles in transportation.

Freight movement, fuel efficiency, cost? They’ll all play into the equation for the next multiyear highway bill. We may even hear some of the same speeches when that time rolls around.

I could use some caffeine from the vending machine right now, but I think I’ll save my dollar and hit the water fountain instead.

Nov. 22, 1963 – where were you?

Nov. 22 is a day that Americans remember as one of our nation’s darkest days. We read about it, talk about it, and hear TV specials and radio shows about the life, career and still-questioned assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Many of us remember that day – where we were and precisely what we were doing.

I was in my high school gym class, in the locker room, and Coach Russell was in her office with her hands over her face. But that’s not what I am going to share with readers today. I want to let you read a “here’s where I was” account from OOIDA Life Member Ralph Fries of Escondido, Calif. Ralph was a trucker and longtime OOIDA Board member. But he also had an impressive career in the U.S. Navy, retiring from active duty in June 1977.

Maybe because I can see this young sailor, far from home, hearing his commander-in-chief was dead. Maybe it’s because JFK served in the Navy, too. But I found this account worth sharing. Here it is, in Ralph’s words.

When I received word the president had been shot, I was serving onboard the USS Epping Forest MCS-7, homeported at Sasebo, Japan, as an MR1, A-Division and Machine Shop Leading Petty Officer. The ship had arrived in Hong Kong Harbor on Nov. 22, 1963 (Asian Time).
USS Epping Forest

During the mid-watch (00:00-04:00), Nov. 23, 1963, RM1 John Pace was the senior radioman on watch in the ship’s radio shack when the ship received an urgent message notifying the commanding officer that the president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on Nov. 22.

RM1 Pace stated later on that he had first viewed the message and put the message in the captain’s message box. He removed the message from the captain’s message box several times to reread the message as he couldn’t believe in what he was reading, as he had never read any message before during his career with that kind of devastating information. 

At or about 07:00, GMG3 Depperschmidt, petty officer of the watch on the quarterdeck, passed the word over the ship’s 1MC from the quarterdeck, stating that President Kennedy had been assassinated and the ship would be getting underway at 08:00 for sea. 

Upon departing Hong Kong Harbor, the ship set “Condition Three” battle readiness condition. While off the coast of Taiwan in the South China Sea, with the MSC’s mine sweep ships that came alongside, we held a memorial service onboard on the flight deck for the death of President Kennedy.

A day or so later, we learned that Oswald had been the shooter in killing the president and that Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald. 

Just a note, I was in the 1st Class Mess (about 05:30), having a cup of coffee. The ship’s liberty boat had just returned to the ship before reveille was sounded. The returning sailors were saying that the Chinese people on the beach were telling them that the president of the United States had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

During this same time frame, my wife was residing in Sasebo. Our Japanese friends and neighbors came to our home and presented Harlean with many bouquets of condolence flowers to her in respect for the death of our president. 

That’s where Ralph Fries was 50 years ago. Thanks, Ralph, for sharing that.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Logging truckers pull together to honor teenage cancer victim

Now I’m not saying I agree with it, but I think we can all acknowledge that outside the industry, truckers generally aren’t stereotyped as soft-touches. Far from it, in fact. But those of us who’ve spent any length of time around the trucking community know that when it comes to lending a helping hand for a worthy cause, truckers are usually among the first to roll out.

Case in point: A group of logging truckers turned a 15-year-old girl’s tragic death into a celebration of her love of life with a convoy that brought truckers from all over the Pacific Northwest together.

Hannah Williams, of Vancouver, Wash., was diagnosed with pineoblastoma in 2010, a rare and malignant form of brain cancer. She passed away on Oct. 23. A celebration of her life was staged at the Clark County Fairgrounds in southern Washington on Saturday, Nov. 16. The event was highlighted by two separate convoys – one from the south in Eugene, Ore., the other from Tacoma, Wash., converging on the fairgrounds.

Her stepfather Jeff Roberts, a longtime logger, spread Hannah’s story throughout the West Coast logging community. Since her diagnosis, Hannah had undergone radiation therapy, brain surgery, and a host of other treatments to combat the disease.

Local news reports estimate as many as 150 truckers participated in the convoy, which concluded with a barbecue at the fairgrounds. Many of the trucks were reportedly sporting purple ribbons or other purple mementos in tribute to Hannah. Purple was her favorite color. One area trucker even dedicated his purple truck to her, renaming it “Hannah” before she passed.

Proceeds from the convoy and from the sale of shirts, hats and purple ribbons are going to help Hannah’s family in their time of need.  

A Facebook page “Hauling for Hannah AKA Hannah’s Heroes” has posted pictures and other updates about the girl’s courageous struggle. A story in the local paper mentions a Make-A-Wish trip to Hawaii the girl and her mother got to take shortly before her passing.

In a newscast on KPTV-12 in Oregon, one of the convoy organizers, log trucker Ryan Tatham summed it up best.

“Everybody thinks we’re rough, tough, gruff loggers, but it’s brought a lot of guys to tears,” he said. “I’ve had to hold back tears.”

In the same report, the girl’s mother, Tyana Williams, talked about how the log trucking community identified with the toughness of her daughter’s spirit in the face of a terminal disease.

“The trucking and logging community is a tough community, and I think they appreciated how tough that girl was and how much she gave,” she said.

Sure, truckers are tough. But they can also be amazingly tender-hearted, and the outpouring of support for this young girl and her family is just another in a long string of examples. Truckers convoy to raise money for Special Olympics, donate to our troops through campaigns like Truckers For Troops, help out our pets through organizations like Operation Roger, and look out for their own through charities like The St. Christopher Fund.

Saturday’s convoy and celebration of life for Hannah Williams made news in papers and TV stations in both Oregon and Washington, and it’s certainly a story worth telling. But it shouldn’t come as any surprise to those who know about the spirit of generosity in the trucking community to see them be captivated by this story.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Flagwaver’s mission: Beyond Arlington

The Wreaths Across America project is one we’ve covered for several years. We have a number of OOIDA members who drive the trucks that move all those wreaths and some who are members of the Patriot Guard Riders who escort the trucks. OOIDA sponsors wreaths each year.

Last year, I attended a wreath-laying ceremony planned for the Missouri State Veterans Cemetery, 55 acres located north of Higginsville, Mo. The box of greenery sent to this Higginsville location contained seven balsam wreaths with red ribbons, made by the Worcester Wreath Co. in Harrington, Maine. The ceremony was smartly conducted by the American Legion, with assistance of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.

We only got a box of seven wreaths that day and they were solemnly dedicated to the fallen members of the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, Marine Corps, Merchant Marines and to the more than 93,000 MIAs and POWs.

Still, as I stood there with wind whipping, I thought how that cold, quiet place might look and feel if all of the other plain white headstones had those red-ribboned balsam wreaths, too.

For that reason, I can relate to a project that one of our OOIDA members has committed to this year – placing a wreath on every veteran’s resting place in a cemetery south of his hometown. That’s what Mike Frybarger is hoping to do for the Floral Grove Cemetery near West Unity, Ohio.

Mike, aka “Flagwaver,” is a life member of OOIDA. He drives for Craig Transportation out of Perrysburg, Ohio. In 2012, the company was among the volunteers who donated a truck to pick up the wreaths in Maine and take them to Arlington. Flagwaver was proud to participate last year. It wasn’t the first time he’d been to Arlington though. The first time was in 2007 and the impression will never leave him.

He couldn’t help but think that the wreaths that covered all those stark tombstones at Arlington should be a nationwide effort. This year, he’s starting with Floral Grove Cemetery.

He says there are 347 veterans who are resting there for eternity, many of them he remembers. When I talked to Flagwaver on the Friday before Veterans’ Day, he had 187 wreaths reserved for Floral Grove and he was freshly jazzed about this morning’s donation of 34 wreaths from the local antique power club.

“Even if I don’t make my goal of 347, I think I have started a good thing and that it will catch on,” he said. “And next year get even better.”

Wreaths need to be sponsored by Dec. 2, 2013.

The national goal is 500,000 balsam wreaths. Last year, more than 450,000 wreaths were placed at hundreds of locations at Arlington, as well as veterans’ cemeteries and other locations in all 50 states, ceremonies at sea, and 24 national cemeteries on foreign soil.  

Mike says all over the world, the wreaths are laid at the same time, which is noon, Saturday, Dec. 14, and it’s an incredible feeling to be part of it.

“It’s not like any Memorial Day or Veterans’ Day because there’s more of a personal connection,” says Mike. “When someone takes that wreath and has it in their hand, we ask them to look at the tag on the wreath. There will be name on that tag and we encourage our volunteers to research that name, find out a bit about the person we are honoring. We don’t just leave the ceremony and go home. We make a more lasting connection, we remember, and honor.”

To help Mike reach his goal, you can do it through Wreaths Across America (they’ve created a web page for that specific location) or you can email him at

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Someone needs to take away Maryland’s crystal ball

To my knowledge, it’s still impossible to predict the future with any certainty. I mean, very few people have crystal balls, at least ones that work.

So when it comes to predicting traffic patterns and toll revenue, let’s just say it’s a far-from-perfect science. Consultants can study other roadways, current traffic counts, and maybe pick out some trends to watch. But even then, what they come up with is merely a projection.

Let’s take a look at the goings-on in Maryland, where truckers are still reeling from a series of sharp toll increases that began in 2009 on I-95 and at other facilities run by the Maryland Transportation Authority.

The $30 toll on I-95 north of Baltimore is now $48, while the $15 toll on the Preston (Bay) Bridge and the Nice Memorial Bridge on U.S. 301 also jumped to $48. Truckers fought hard against those increases, but they happened.

Now, the transportation authority – the same one that increased those tolls despite an onslaught of public outcry – is getting ready to open a new toll project, eight miles of managed toll lanes called the I-95 Express Toll Lanes, from the I-895 interchange to the north side of Maryland Route 43 in White Marsh.

Using its crystal ball, the authority projects the express lanes will save vehicles time and money by moving things along a little faster during periods of congestion. But how reliable are their projections?

A recent article by points out that the $1.1 billion expansion project will collect a paltry $10 million a year in tolls – hardly enough to even make the debt payments. So why is such a top-heavy project happening?

You have to go back to 2003, when the I-95 Express Toll Lanes were proposed. That’s when the consultants came along and sold Maryland on the idea that I-95 would be unable to handle a projected 238,000 vehicles a day by the year 2020.

News for Maryland: The consultants no longer predict 238,000 vehicles per day on the interstate. In fact, that number was recently revised to 186,000 vehicles per day – a difference of 52,000 vehicles, or 22 percent. And the new lanes aren’t even built yet.

Nobody was counting on or predicting a recession, but that’s just what happened a few years ago, and it knocked a lot of traffic off the roads. These new lanes may have created some jobs, but that’s all we can really say about them. Like a lot of others who bet the farm on a toll road, this one is set up to be a failure.

And as for the overall toll picture in Maryland, I am predicting their premium prices are going to continue to drive traffic off the roads. But I could be wrong. I don’t have a crystal ball.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Debunking IBTTA’s ‘Toll Every Interstate Campaign’

In my email a few days ago was a press release from the IBTTA, the International Bridge Tunnel and Turnpike Association. They represent the folks who operate toll roads and who are very vocal in support of all things tolling and public-private partnerships for roadways.

IBTTA is running a public relations campaign to soften the concept of tolling among lawmakers and in the public eye. They recently set out to “debunk the myths” about tolling, and are making claims such as “tolling is not a tax; it’s a user fee.”

And while we can split hairs over definitions and ways around them, the fact remains that tolls hit the user square in the bottom line.

OOIDA Director of Government Affairs Ryan Bowley says that IBTTA’s “debunking” of toll myths need to be debunked. He put his thoughts in writing, and we’ll share them here for the sake of conversation. Thanks to Ryan for debunking the debunkers.

Recently, the pro-tolling community, largely represented by the International Bridge Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA), has moved forward with a broad public relations campaign in an attempt to convince policymakers that the solution to our nation’s highway funding challenges is to slap tolls on as many roads as possible, especially our Interstate Highway System. 

Part of their campaign is to put out what they state is factual information to “debunk” myths of highway tolling. As the national trade association representation the interests of independent owner-operators and professional truck drivers on all issues that affect small business truckers, OOIDA wants to take this opportunity to debunk some of the myths about tolling that IBTTA is putting out there as part of its campaign, a campaign whose clear end-goal is to place a toll on every mile of the Interstate Highway System. Further, OOIDA is providing important facts about how tolls affect truckers, especially the small-business truckers who make up more than 90 percent of our nation’s trucking industry.

Fact 1: Truckers generally pay tolls directly out-of-pocket.  Unlike the arrangements most companies have for business travel, for example, truckers do not see direct reimbursement for tolls, as the majority of trucking is based on a pay by-the-mile system. For instance, the $165 toll for a truck to drive from Philadelphia to the Pennsylvania-Ohio border must be paid out of the trucker’s per-mile rate, and there is no guarantee that the trucker will be paid a rate high enough to cover the cost of that toll without further affecting his or her $40,000/year take home pay. This is especially true as most toll roads see overcharging truckers as a way to keep tolls low for local commuters.

Fact 2: Tolling Interstates discourages truckers from using our safest and most efficient highway network.  The Interstate is clearly our nation’s most efficient highway system and its safest.  Adding tolls to current toll-free Interstate lane miles would be disincentives to truckers using this system as they make the rational decision to avoid the toll road and travel on toll-free roads that are not as safe and are not as efficient.

Fact 3: While MAP-21 made significant reforms to ensure that more Highway Trust Fund dollars are dedicated to improving our highway system, there is no guarantee that tolls are reinvested in the highways truckers and other motorists are paying to use. Time and time again, IBTTA members are discovered diverting toll revenues away from the roads and bridges that toll payers assume the tolls they pay are going to maintain and improve. Hundreds of millions of dollars of toll dollars collected by the PA Turnpike Commission are paid to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to fund state-wide transit and road improvements.  The Port Authority of NY/NJ has enacted multiple rounds of toll increases despite the fact that the agency will not show toll payers where these toll increases will go, which is especially concerning given reports that toll dollars are being diverted to the reconstruction of the World Trade Center site.

Fact 4: Truckers recognize the need to maintain our roads and bridges, but tolls are a step backwards in this effort. OOIDA members and other truckers are out on our nation’s highways every day and see the costs of congestion and poor conditions through time and fuel spent in traffic and repair costs to their trucks.  Instead of enacting new taxes on mobility through tolls, policymakers should address the short and long-term challenges of the Federal Highway Trust Fund through modernizing the current fuel tax system and structure.

Fact 5: The collection system for the fuel tax maximizes dollars going into the Highway Trust Fund. The current system used by the IRS for collecting the fuel tax ensures that only a handful of entities actually directly pay the IRS, ensuring that administrative costs are low and that the maximum amount of tax dollars collected go into the Trust Fund for investment in roads and bridges. Even under an electronic tolling system, the tolling authority must track every individual vehicle and ensure they pay the toll, meaning significant back office and collection costs that would only increase if there was an expansion of toll roads.

Looking beyond tolling to the argument that some have made in favor of an mileage-based user fee where road fees would be paid at the fuel pump, such a proposal would make every single truck stop and gas station into an agent of the IRS or state tax authority and require a huge collection bureaucracy to track and collect funds from the more than 250 million vehicles across the country.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Fight the power: Group following the ‘litter’ of the law in NSA protests

Okay, so this isn’t really a trucking-centric story, but it’s certainly a story most truckers and other fans of the Fourth Amendment can appreciate.

Here goes:

An organization that advocates for digital privacy rights and opposes surveillance by the National Security Agency is set to adopt the section of highway that runs directly to and from the Utah Data Center.

In exchange for picking up litter at least three times per year, the group Restore the Fourth – Utah, will have its name on signs outside the building, according to a report in The Salt Lake Tribune.

According to the group’s Facebook page, Restore the Fourth is “a non-partisan, non-violent, nationwide advocacy and protest movement demanding an end to the unconstitutional surveillance employed by the U.S. government.”

The Utah Data Center, of course, is the hub of computer platforms, databases and other technology used by the NSA to capture, store and analyze telecommunications networks.

The highway adoption represents a loophole for the group to continue protests against the agency’s data collection methods, protests that were initially stymied when law enforcement reportedly made the group relocate from the road outside the data center because the area was NSA property, according to the Tribune.

One of the group representatives was quoted as saying they plan to carry picket signs while picking up litter. According to the newspaper, the Utah Department of Transportation will erect signage in both directions along the adopted highway, State Road 68, also known as Redwood Road, as well as provide the group with trash bags and orange safety vests.

Restore the Fourth’s goal is to “end all forms of unconstitutional surveillance of digital communications by the U.S. government,” by engaging in non-violent protests around the country, so sayeth their Facebook page. The group hopes the protests and rallies will spread awareness and increase political action.

Hats off to these folks for their efforts to find a way to be of public service not just with their message, but with their cleanup efforts, too.

That’s one way to fight the law and win.