Friday, January 23, 2015

Washington senator should switch to decaf

Police brutality. A widening socioeconomic gap. Global warming. Erecting a statue of a local hero.

These are things that politicians are expected to be concerned about. You know, important issues. Top to bottom is a great way to tackle the issues. For one state senator in Washington State, working bottom to top seems to be preferred. And we’re talking scraping the bottom of a barrel … or coffee pot.

Washington State Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, has recently filed legislation to make sure everybody knows about free coffee. More specifically, he wants to erect road signs along the highways notifying drivers when and where free coffee at the state’s rest areas is available.

Pearson states his concern that volunteers who serve the coffee are losing donations from travelers. His other concern, of course, is driver safety. According to Barbara LaBoe of the Washington Department of Transportation, the state quit replacing the “free coffee” signs back in 2012. By 2015, the signs have all disappeared. LaBoe explained that 35 signs plus two electronic ones will need to be replaced. Each sign costs $400, with the electronic signs costing $6,000 apiece, bringing the grand total to $26,000 … to inform people about free coffee.

That’s a lot of taxpayers’ money for caffeine jolt awareness. Last year, Washington’s state debt was more than $89 billion (16th worst), with a per capita debt of $12,988 (32nd worst), according to nonprofit organization State Budget Solutions. More than 70 percent of that debt stems from unfunded pensions. A lot of hardworking people may not receive a pension because expenses like “Free Coffee Ahead” signs are taking priority.

Don’t get me wrong; coffee is good – nay – nectar of the gods. Nancy Gagliano, Chief Medical Officer of CVS MinuteClinic, noted that caffeine is known to restore mental alertness when people are experiencing fatigue. In the short term, it can improve the ability of sleep-deprived individuals to learn and make decisions.

“I think it’s reasonable for a professional driver to stop for a cup of coffee when fatigued, but if sleepiness is not resolved, the driver should pull over for some ‘zzz’s,’” Gagliano told Land Line in an email.

No doubt coffee is helpful for drivers everywhere, but do we need to spend thousands of dollars for coffee signs? If safety is the issue here, aren’t there more significant aspects to focus on?

Perhaps Sen. Pearson should grab a cup of joe when making future decisions.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

C.R. England among most ‘engaged’ workplaces?

Utah-based mega carrier C.R. England was recently named one of the Achievers 50 Most Engaged Workplaces in North America.

Hmm. Engaged workplaces?

Are we talking about the way they “engage” drivers at all hours and during rest breaks via their fleet-management systems and electronic logs?

If so, they would certainly qualify.

Apparently the real award recognizes top employers that display leadership and innovation in engaging their workplaces.

England sounds like a perfect candidate.

Like the way they recruit new drivers who quickly become trainers that train their new drivers who quickly become trainers. That’s innovative leadership, right?

This is also the same company that recently asked the FMCSA to allow drivers that pass their skills tests but don’t yet have a physical CDL in hand to haul paying loads for the company. Their innovation knows no boundaries.

Always thinking outside the box.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Crash fault, crash risk, CSA and falling bridges

The overpass collapse onto Interstate 75 in Cincinnati could not be a more sobering example of the FMCSA’s delusional approach to crash risk.

On Monday, just two days before the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration released a report to Congress on its plan to study crash risk and announced it will be seeking public input on the study, a man lost his life and a truck driver was injured when an overpass scheduled for demolition collapsed onto I-75 below.

The J.B. Hunt intermodal driver, Eric Meyers, was approaching the overpass just as it collapsed. Just driving along. Doing his job. And, bam, a bridge falls in front of the truck. Not much in the way of options. The truck hit the fallen bridge and Eric was injured by the flying debris. Minor injuries, but injured nonetheless.

Most that hear or read about that would think it to certainly be an unfortunate turn of events. A case of wrong place, wrong time.

But not anyone familiar with the FMCSA’s safety measurement system, Compliance, Safety Accountability – or CSA.

CSA has a one-size-fits-all approach to calculating (internal to FMCSA only) scores in the Crash BASIC – a category designed to score motor carriers and their likelihood of crashing based on previous crashes. All crashes, regardless of fault. It goes into the system, chewed up and spit out by FMCSA’s fancy math and, voila, a score is calculated.

I cannot honestly think of a scenario any more clearly not the fault of a driver. The bridge collapsed. The sky fell. Mr. Meyers played absolutely no part in that scenario going down.

Yet his motor carrier and the driver, internally in the scoring side of CSA, will be saddled with a reportable crash.

The insanity of that scenario should not escape anyone.

Two days after the bridge collapse, FMCSA has released a report to Congress on its intention to study a motor carrier’s role in crashes as an indicator of future crash risk.

One of the scenarios the agency is pitching to analyze crash data is to resurrect the Large Truck Crash Causation Study methodology. The mere mention of that study has me muttering, cussing and wanting to bang my head on my desk. It’s just junk.

The study, rather than reporting who was at fault and why, is actually a collision-avoidance or crash-prevention study focused on pre-collision events rather than the consequences.

That purpose and the intention of the study have escaped many who began citing statistics – erroneously – from the study almost immediately following its release.

That’s not too hard to understand when you look at an example cited throughout the methodology summary:

“A truck turns across the path of an oncoming car at an intersection. The critical event is the truck’s turn across the path of the other vehicle. The truck had the turn arrow, observed the oncoming vehicle, and assumed that the oncoming vehicle would stop, which proved to be incorrect. (Right-of-way, which is captured separately, does not necessarily determine the critical event, because the collision may still be avoidable.) The critical reason is ‘false assumption of other road user’s actions.’ ”

Huh? The car ran the red light, so it is the cause of the crash. Why is the trucker being hit with statistical labels of “critical event” and “critical reason”?

Poor Mr. Meyers. With that kind of twisted logic, the trucker is the critical reason he was hit by the bridge because he was there.

Makes your eye twitch, doesn’t it?

Fault matters. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time and having a bridge fall right in front of you could not be considered an indicator of future crash risk.

FMCSA’s approach to all this is flawed and their study needs a serious reboot before it ever gets started.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Dear Florida DOT …

We’re still waiting on the truth, or at least a valid explanation about why the Florida SunPass toll collection system overbills customers and, more importantly, what the agency plans to do about it.

Are your overcharges a result of an accounting mistake? A software glitch? Or something, dare we say, concocted?

Your explanations vary on why it happens, and that is troubling. So too is your customer service and bare-minimum approach to remedy a complaint. Your status quo has been to let the problem continue until someone calls you on it.

A lawsuit filed by a trucker and OOIDA member from Plant City is an attempt to ferret out information about how often these overcharges occur, why they occur, and what you’re doing to correct the problem. The lawsuit seeks damages to force you to refund overcharges to anyone who has been wronged.

An FDOT senior official told a state Senate committee last year that data about the problems exists and that you work with customers to find refunds. But others who work for you have said there’s no way to track how widespread the problems are. So which is it?

Meanwhile, we know that the overbilling and wrongful billing keep happening at SunPass collection points and from your back offices.

WFLA in Tampa just added another story to its growing archive on the subject. They’re not giving up. Your customers are not giving up, and we’re not either.

We understand that there are lawyers involved now and that you cannot comment on pending litigation.

We sincerely hope the lawsuit forces the truth out in the open and requires you and your technology vendors to make amends.

You are a taxpayer entity and should be held to a high standard. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Golden parachutes for a lead balloon

The boondoggle that is the Indiana Toll Road continues to take. And take and take. Now word has come down that a handful of top executives from the private company that operates the toll road stand to split a $1 million golden parachute on the back end of their bankruptcy trial.

Wait a minute. The folks who racked up billions in debts and declared bankruptcy just eight years into a 75-year lease will somehow cash in once they give the road back to the state?

Something is not right here. How could this happen?

Well, perhaps it’s because this was one of the worst roadway contracts ever signed – one of those deep pains that tollpayers and taxpayers will feel for decades to come.

According to documents from the bankruptcy trial of the Indiana Toll Road Concession Co., the Spanish-Australian firm that famously leased the toll road in 2006 for $3.8 billion, the golden parachute awaits the top four or five executives if the toll road fetches enough money on the resale to another investor.

Specifically, if a new company comes along and bids $4.5 billion to take over the lease, the outgoing executives split a cool million. If a bidder comes along and offers $6 billion for the road, the bonus pool stands to double to $2 million.

Oh, and this executive bonus pool is separate from another payout to lower level managers that totals nearly $750,000.

The court documents say the executives deserve bonuses for helping the state and future operator transition to the future.

I guess a lead balloon requires a lot of golden parachutes to come back to earth. They should have just let it fall.

The now infamous lease of the Indiana Toll Road was nothing more than pawnshop mentality in the beginning and has cost users millions. For what? Only to see the road turned over to someone else for more of the same.

Anyone who tells you this was a good deal for highway users is somehow in on the joke or stands to gain from other likeminded projects.

I suppose there’s a chance that a brand-new deal could improve accountability and perhaps keep toll rates in check for truckers and other users. But we’ll only believe that when we see it happen, and until then this bankruptcy proceeding deserves every ounce of scrutiny it’s been getting.

Shout-out to the Northwest Indiana Times for continuing to report the latest and “greatest” involving the trial.