Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ex-FMCSA administrator: “Good policy, good data” drove Collins amendment

Count former FMCSA Administrator Annette M. Sandberg among those in the transportation industry who are fed up with the mainstream media’s misreporting of the passage of the Collins amendment in the Cromnibus funding bill earlier this month.

In a letter to the Bangor Daily News, Sandberg, who served as the second administrator in FMCSA history, said she was “perplexed by the unfair and inaccurate statements” being made by opponents of the amendment, named for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). The letter was posted to the newspaper’s website on Tuesday.

“Special interest groups have deliberately misled Congress and the public by distorting the safety record of the industry,” Sandberg writes. “For example, they have selectively chosen a narrow period (e.g., 2009-12), rather than the long term, to paint a negative picture of trucking. In fact, over the past decade (2003-12, the most recent year available), truck-involved fatalities declined 22 percent, and the truck-involved fatality rate (accounting for increased mileage exposure) dropped 37 percent.”

Sandberg spent 22 years in public safety, including three years from 2003 to 2006 as the top dog of the FMCSA. She is now the CEO of TransSafe Consulting LLC, which provides transportation, public safety and security consulting services.

“If there is one thing we can all agree on, it’s that safety is our top concern. That’s why I’m perplexed by the unfair and inaccurate statements being made by those who oppose a provision recently approved by Congress to temporarily suspend two new provisions in what’s called the “34-hour restart rule.” Let me be clear: This provision, sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins, debated in the open, and approved 21 to 9 by the Senate Appropriations Committee, will make the road safer.”

Sandberg goes on to say that while it may be “easy” (read: lazy) to characterize the issue as a fight between the trucking industry and safety advocates, the truth is that safety is everybody’s top priority.

“During my tenure and even since, I have found that the trucking industry — and safety advocates — believe that every crash on our highways, regardless of cause, is a tragedy. Truck drivers have families and loved ones who they want to get safely home to, as well,” she said.

The whole thing is worth a read. You can do so here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

It’s just one little toll increase, right?

On the smallest of levels, a toll increase adds a buck or two to trucker’s trip across a toll road or toll bridge. It’s only when we zoom out and look at the bigger picture that we see how much these incremental costs can add up.

We were speaking with Don Schaefer the other day. He’s the executive vice president of the Mid-West Truckers Association, based in Springfield, Ill. The members of his association, much like the members of OOIDA, are mainly small-business truckers who own and operate their own trucks and small fleets.

We were discussing how small-business operators are many times forced to eat the costs associated with toll increases, not just in Illinois but across the Upper Midwest and throughout the Northeast as well.

That got us thinking. How much would it cost for a trucker departing from Schaefer’s home state of Illinois and taking toll roads all the way to New York?

With input from a trucking member, a trusted atlas and toll schedules for turnpikes along the route, we determined that a trucker could depart from Rockford, Ill., and spend $42.70 on the Illinois Tollway System to reach the Indiana state line. That is, of course, taking the 40 percent toll increase into account that takes effect Jan. 1, 2015. If that trucker used the Chicago Skyway, he or she would have to add $25.20 to accommodate that roadway’s 2015 toll increase.

After that, still heading east, the trucker would pay $39.70 to use the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road to the Ohio state line. Next comes the Ohio Turnpike and another $50 to get to Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike, America’s first “superhighway” also comes with a super cost for a trucker. To cross the Keystone State to the Delaware River exit into New Jersey, a trucker will pay $172.38 starting on Jan. 1, 2015.

New Jersey toll roads add $45.45. Our trucker in the scenario has not even crossed into New York yet and has spent $350.23 in tolls. We haven’t even mentioned federal and state fuel taxes that the trucker pays on every gallon.

A trip across the George Washington Bridge adds $75 during off-peak hours or $95 during peak hours for a five-axle truck. A year from now, those same bridge tolls will jump another $10 to $85 and $105 respectively.

Is this getting ridiculous yet? It doesn’t matter whether a trucker is hauling a gold statue or paper towels, we’re talking serious coin.

Long-haul trucking, by nature and livelihood, traverses multiple state lines. The extra toll taxes hurt anyone in the chain that cannot absorb or pass on those costs to their customers. Small-business truckers are hurt the most in the scenario we provided as many cannot simply pass on the cost or eat the increase.

Those who promote toll roads speak of them as a luxury, a way to stay out of traffic and a way to save time. Time is money, after all.

But not everyone has the money to burn. Many see toll roads as a luxury they simply cannot afford.