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Transport Watch: Trucking Industry Prepares for HOS Rules and Other Changes
An update on several issues relating to the trucking industry, including the hours of service rule, a cargo pre-inspection pilot program between the U.S. and Canada, and incentives to switch to natural gas-powered trucks.
Date Posted: 5/1/2013
The good news in the trucking industry is that there may soon be tax credits available for switching to natural gas trucks. Also, crossing the U.S./Canadian border could become easier and faster. The bad news is that the controversy over the hours of service (HOS) rule has still not been resolved.
Hours of Service Rule
Members of the trucking industry have begun preparing for the new hours of service (HOS) regulations. The compliance date for many of the provisions of the HOS rule is scheduled for July 1. However, that could change in one of two ways.
The American Trucking Association (ATA) brought a case against the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regarding changes to the rule that the trucking industry has said is an unjustified regulation that will reduce productivity and increase costs without improving safety. The case was heard by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on March 15 and is now waiting for the court’s decision, which could come at any time. ATA is specifically challenging the limits on the number of times drivers can use the restart provision to only once within a seven-day period. It is also concerned about the requirement to take off-duty breaks during the workday. ATA contended that these changes were not supported by the data available and should be rejected.
Though the ATA requested that the FMCSA delay the effective date of the HOS rule until three months after a decision is reached in the court case, the request was denied. The ATA said the request was to prevent the possibility of confusion and wasted training if the court’s decision makes any changes to the rule. However, multiple members of Congress have now intervened, asking the FMCSA to reconsider the request to delay the compliance date. Bipartisan letters have been sent to both FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro and Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray Lahood.
“By FMCSA’s own estimate, the trucking industry will spend more than $300 million between now and July 1 to train drivers, make software changes and implement other modifications to prepare for the new rule,” said a letter signed by members of both the Senate and House transportation subcommittees. “Shippers, receivers, and federal and state enforcement officials will also spend considerable sums – all to prepare for a rule which could be changed or vacated by the court. Delaying the July 1 effective date of the rule is the most responsible course of action to take given the uncertainty of where the court will come down.”
The Congress members also said that given that the FMCSA chose to give 18 months from the time of publication to the effective date, that it is difficult to reasonably argue that a few months’ additional delay might have a measurable impact on highway safety.
The FMCSA and DOT had not responded to the Congress members’ requests as of press time.
Canadian Pre-inspection Pilot Program
The United States and Canada have signed a Memorandum of Understanding that paves the way for a United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) truck cargo pre-inspection pilot project as part of the Beyond the Border Action Plan. The pilot project provides CBP officers a designated pre-clearance area in Canada to conduct primary inspection activities for eligible truck traffic and drivers seeking to enter the United States – which should expedite cargo and travelers.
The pilot project will be carried out in two phases. The first phase will test the concept of conducting U.S. CBP primary cargo inspection in Canada, and will be implemented at the Pacific Highway crossing between Surrey, British Columbia and Blaine, Washington. Phase two will further test how pre-inspection could enhance border efficiency and reduce wait times to facilitate legitimate trade and travel, and will be implemented at the Peace Bridge crossing between Fort Erie, Ontario and Buffalo, New York.
Natural Gas Incentives
President Obama has proposed tax credits to help promote switching to natural gas-powered trucks as part of his proposal to establish an Energy Security Trust which would invest revenue from offshore oil and gas development in research intended to help shift cars and trucks off diesel.
“I’m proposing that we take some of our oil and gas revenues from public lands and put it towards research that will benefit the public, so that we can support American ingenuity without adding a dime to our deficit,” the President said. “We can support scientists who are designing new engines that are more energy efficient; developing cheaper batteries that go farther on a single charge; and devising new ways to fuel our cars and trucks with new sources of clean energy – like advanced biofuels and natural gas – so drivers can one day go coast-to-coast without using a drop of oil.”
President Obama said he is committed to accelerating the growth of natural gas and other alternative fuels in the transportation sector. His plan calls for over $40 million to be budgeted for natural gas production research and putting in place new incentives for medium- and heavy-duty trucks that run on natural gas or other alternative fuels. This would include providing a credit for 50% of the incremental cost of a dedicated alternative-fuel truck for a five-year period, according to the White House.