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Archive for February 27, 2017

What Has California Got In Mind For Zero Emissions Vehicles?

Considering the trucking industry is gearing up for the new greenhouse gas Phase 2 emissions regulations, one would think the California Air Resources Board (CARB) would be taking a hiatus as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gets to work. Except, that isn’t the case.

Their new set of goals aims to explore and expand on zero-emission vehicle technologies. At the time, CARB is not backing this up with any planned laws or regulations, industry experts anticipate that this new look could lead to new environmental mandates on diesel-powered vehicles that could complicate matters where it comes to moving freight in the state.

As Goes California…

California is different from other states in that it has a singular goal of reducing petroleum use, statewide. Pressure comes from the top and filters on down through the state’s agencies, where reducing emissions is concerned.

Just last year, California legislators attempted to pass a bill that would have cut petroleum use in the state by a full half. While that didn’t pass, it led to what we see today, which is an increasing focus on finding realistic ways to develop, field and mass produce zero- or near-zero emissions commercial motor vehicles.

Some may say, “Well, I don’t run in California.” In reality, that doesn’t matter. California is not an island. California has an economic engine that dwarfs that of most countries, let alone states. When CARB passes a rule, it ripples out across the industry.

Some say the changes that may come out of these new initiatives should take into account more than just the vehicle side of the equation. Might California do better to concentrate on modernizing its infrastructure rather than targeting diesel trucks? There are two sides to every argument.

The Other Side

CARB contends that the actions they take to further zero-emission and clean combustion technologies will have benefits that stretch far beyond the bottom line. According to some estimates, California has some of the most polluted cities in the country. The state faces a very challenging problem in figuring out a way to meet federal air quality and emissions standards while not harming its strong economic engine.

So what are CARB’s new guidelines? Specifically, they seek to:

  • Ensure all federal health-based air quality standards are met. Key milestones are set for 2023 and 2031.
  • Reduce their greenhouse gas footprint by 40 percent by 2030.
  • Reduce their greenhouse gas footprint by 80 percent by 2050.
  • Halve petroleum use in the state by 2030.

Considering the new federal ozone standards are set to a tough level, fleets will have to put in extra effort to meet them. This will require major changes across the industry, whether you are talking about industrial, transportation or manufacturing.

What CARB is essentially doing is attempting to lay the foundation for emissions reductions on multiple levels. From cleaner engine technologies to renewable fuels and zero-emission technology, California aims to end up with reductions that come in 90% cleaner than today’s standards.

Actions CARB is Taking

CARB is moving aggressively to plant the seeds that will grow into these changes. The agency is thinking beyond merely heavy-duty vehicles and is focusing on off-road equipment and more. These actions include steps to deploy zero-emissions technologies across a broad spectrum of equipment types, from busses to forklifts and airport ground support equipment.

Still, these actions go further than just aiming their intent at heavy-duty commercial vehicles. They will also affect other aspects of the freight network. Other measures outlines include a desire to see a quarter percent improvement in freight system efficiency by 2030.

While some say CARB is overreaching, the fact is no rules or regulations have been specifically mandated just yet. At this point, trucking will have to wait and see what the Golden State decides.

Truck Drivers – How Much Do You Know About Lift Axles?

When it comes to heavy-duty commercial vehicle components, so many have vital roles, and this includes lift axles. Serving as the backbone of state and federal road and bridge protection, lift axles serve a crucial function. Still, as is with so many other complex debates within the trucking industry, a byzantine maze of regulatory requirements clouds the lift axle picture.

For many, understanding what their state’s requirements are can be an exercise in futility. What you need is a comprehensive guide to get you through the rules landscape. But first, let’s take a closer look at what exactly lift axles are and the function they serve.

The Lift Axle: A Brief History

The first thing to know is that lift axles are non-powered. During use in their primary function, they can be lifted completely clear of the surface of the road. Additionally, they can be lowered, specifically to shoulder the burden during use with a straight truck or tractor-trailer.

You may also have heard of a lift axle being referred to as “auxiliary” or “retractable.” Lift axles haven’t always been the hot item on the street. Back when mixed-use vehicles such as dump trucks and concrete mixers began to go into mass production, lift axles entered wide-spread use.

A lift axles primary purposes include serving a role in ensuring the vehicle meets regulatory standards and distributing the weight evenly, thus making sure single axles and tandems never bow under the strain of too much weight.

The primary motivation for specific lift axle regulation was born out of the need to meet federal bridge law standards. The problem is that most states have their own regulations regarding lift axles, while the federal government still has their own sets.

How Do They Work?

In typical applications, a lift axle utilizes air bags, springs, or combination of both. The action is intended to lift and/or lower a set of wheels. While the application is sometimes used on tractors, lift axles are more commonly employed under a straight truck or trailer.

The truck driver operates the lift axle via a set of controls in the cab. They are either electrical or they could be air valves. In some cases, they are installed outside of the cab, depending on the application.

There are three distinct versions of lift axles:

  • PUSHERS: These lift axles are installed to the fore of the rear tandem axle. They are used to extend the truck or tractor’s overall wheelbase.
  • TAGS: These are air systems installed to control the lift and lowering of the auxiliary axle. Control valves are used to regulate the amount of air stores in reservoirs.
  • STINGERS: Tags are most commonly used on concrete mixers and dump trucks. They are a hinged, dual swing-arm system that swings, engages and disengages a lower and upper axle to activate the swing-arm

There are also steerable and non-steerable lift axles. Steerable lift axles have two modes of operation. One is designed for use when the axle needs to be left down when the vehicle is moving in reverse.

Steerable lift axles have to meet specific regulatory standards to meet manufacturing requirements. Due to their complex nature, steerable lift axles are generally more expensive than their non-steerable counterparts.

Non-steerable lift axles are simply that, non-steerable. They always follow the vehicle or the trailer. One can expect far less wandering when using a non-steerable lift axle.

Whichever you choose to go with, remember that lift axle requirements vary depending on the state that you live in. One example of a law you might need to know is that in New York, lift axle controls must be located outside the cab.

Whatever the application, ensure you are complying with all lift axle regulations. Only through full compliance can you ensure safety and minimal fuss when it comes to inspection time.

How To Operate Trucking Effectively Under The Umbrella Of The Coercion Rule

It’s likely you’ve already heard of the rule prohibiting acts of coercion designed to get truck drivers to somehow violate or bend safety regulations. It went into effect in January, and operators have been driving under it ever since.

The rule is officially called “Prohibiting Coercion of Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers Rule,” this regulatory measure – in very specific terms – prohibits fleets, shippers, receivers or other transportation operators from actively forcing truck drivers to break the rules.

There are three key areas that the final rule governs:

  • What a commercial truck driver should do if there is an incident of coercion
  • What the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) must do in response to allegations of coercion
  • What sort of penalties will be imposed if a particular entity, whether fleet or individual, has coerced a truck driver

Where it comes to penalties, we are talking up to $16,000, which is no small number. The history of this rule dates to as far back as 2014, when the federal government was fielding concerns from truck drivers that carriers and others acted as though truck drivers weren’t governed by specific operational restrictions and regulations.

Specifically, the FMCSA pointed out that truck drivers routinely reported having been coerced to violate regulations with threats implied, whether implicit or explicit, up to and/or including termination, reduced pay or forfeiture of benefits or good working hours.

What You Need to Know

Since the rule has gone into effect, it has essentially forced the FMCSA to move truck driver coercion complaints to the top of their priority list. In many cases, when the FMCSA follows up on complaints, whether the operator was coerced or not, the agency oftentimes uncovers other things.

What’s the moral of the story here? You may have great CSA scores, but that doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels. If you aren’t focused on the specific processes and procedures involved in ensuring compliance, you might wind up with more than just a small fine for a minor violation.

There are specific areas of focus that the FMCSA seems to put more emphasis on, the first of which being hours of service violations. Hours of service complaints also seem to be the most often cited. The best way to do this is by ensuring you have the proper documentation trail outlining time and date. Are you utilizing technology to your advantage?

Another area to keep an eye on is your fuel reports when compared to your fuel receipts. Always remember that you must record the time of the transaction. Whatever third-party supplier you use, whether the receipts are paper or electronic, must record the date and time when the transaction took place.

Generally, inspectors will use information from your GPS system to cross reference your driver log information. Fleets still using older e-logs will have to square their system’s proprietary settings with what the inspectors will be looking for.

Watch for These Things

First, set your automatic onboard recording devices or AOBRDs to a synchronous setting as the federal standard for such devices. An area where fleets are seeing violations are often reported when the truck is marked as moving by the GPS unit when the AOBRD doesn’t concur.

The reason for this lies in that some AOBRDs account for speed and distance movement before the time on the GPS begins tracking. If an ELD is set at 5 miles per hour with no distance setting, then you may end up thinking you have “yard time” where there is none, thus generating a discrepancy.

In the end, whether you are an independent operator or a fleet manager, you need to ensure a policy is place to hold to a minimum standard where the potential for coercion is concerned. After all, the last thing you want to do is run afoul of new FMCSA regulations.

Fleet Manager: How To Use In-Cab Video To Your Advantage

Are you a fleet manager who feels like you are standing just on the precipice of real success? Perhaps you are looking for better ways to motivate and coach your people. The fact is, if you are looking to strengthen your organization’s culture, from safety to recruiting, there are specific steps you must take.

You want to understand truck driver learning curves, decrease turnover, improve back office effectiveness and reduce overall costs. The best part? You can. Today, we will take a look at one such method: in-cab video.

Finding Context in the Conversation

With any sports season kick off, ask yourself how the best coaches get the best out of their teams. Quite frankly, they play the tape. They go back and watch video. This is how they determine the best and worst behaviors; how they uncover best practices.

They understand the value of in-game film in helping their players reach their full potential. These systems are used in evaluating truck driver performance, safety and overall organizational risk.

We live in the age of technology and trucking. It’s a marriage. Fleets have new ways of approaching how they get the most out of their people. In the end, you want your people to get a more detailed view of what is actually going on out there on the roads with your company’s equipment.

What You Need to Do

To break a behavior, you must first identify it. When a truck driver or technician carries through with a risky behavior, you must not only address it, but understand why it happened in the first place. Since safety managers can’t spend every waking moment with the fleet’s truck drivers, video event recorders provide a mechanical set of eyes where humans may not always be able to be.

They can help truck drivers take note of any hiccups during the operation of their vehicle. These systems not only help the safety managers; they help the truck drivers themselves. They can help strengthen the culture of an organization.

When you take the time to show your people you are confirming their habits with a video event recorder, there can be no ambiguity in the feedback, whether it is positive or negative. This is good for all parties involved.

Helping The New Guy and Decreasing Turnover

Using video event recording is especially effective when you are bringing new or inexperienced truck drivers into your fleet. It also gives your fleet or safety manager an effective look into how well the new employee learns complex concepts or difficult vehicle operation.

The fact is, when people are recognized for hard work, and when they are given the tools to succeed – of which video event recording is one – they are better able to not only handle the job at hand, but excel at it.

On the other side of helping the new guy sits managing turnover. Show your people you are investing in their success by staying on top of the latest trends in technology.

When people know there is an objective eye keeping track of what they are up to, it incentivizes them to do better. They know that they won’t be subject to coercion when the video event recorder is keeping a keen eye on what is going on both inside and outside the cab.

The final cog in the video event recording wheel lies in preventative vehicle maintenance. When a truck driver is aware that a potential action could trigger a video, they may adjust their driving behavior. Technologies like drive cams and external inputs can keep an eye on certain events and record a video when said event occurs.

As the cost of new vehicles and components only rises by the year, it is incumbent on a responsible fleet manager to be doing all he or she can to keep costs down and truck drivers happy. Video event recording systems are one way to do this.

What’s Up With The Spot Freight Market?

Have you been using the truckload spot freight market a lot less? If so, you aren’t alone. Due to the depressed rates over the last year, many have given up on spot freight. Still, it may be time to give it a second look.

Taking a closer look at the numbers, external pressures that had been pushing rates down may be balancing out, although this doesn’t mean they will be returning to last year’s levels any time soon, or the record-breaking highs of 2014.

The Full Story

So while the spot freight market hit a big bump in 2015, things didn’t really start to improve in any measurable way until this past spring. The reasons behind the price fluctuations can be traced right back to what has been affecting the overall economy, mainly the big drop in fuel prices.

When the oil industry all but collapsed, there was also a crunch in moving commodities, which had a spill-over effect in the spot freight market. First, flatbed freight saw the biggest hit, followed by van freight. With California’s continuing drought, the produce spot freight market also dried up.

Still, with the oil industry on the rebound, there may be some movement again in the spot freight market. Consider that retail sales in April and May increased at a rapid clip. In June and July oil and fuel prices started to creep up. California even saw some relief with improvements in their ongoing drought conditions.

And whether you call this a coincidence or not, the North American Freight Index took a big jump over the course of the spring and into the summer. Yet, the market isn’t completely out of the water just yet, as there are still factors at play that might put a cap on industry growth.

One such example is in linehaul rates. Considering there was a race to cut rates in the first half of the year, the added capacity brought online in 2015 only compounded the issue. Manufacturing also remains week, which puts a crimp on overall spot freight performance.

Even with the headwinds, big players are hopping back into the market. Swift Transportation recently announced that it has increased its spot freight activity somewhat, mainly due to the dearth of available freight in some areas. The fact is, operating in the spot freight market is a lot better than having your trucks sitting idle and generating no revenue at all.

What Does the Data Say?

The fact is, spot prices have been rising far more than contract prices. If you take a look at the data going back to 2008, just before the Great Recession, you will see that since the bottom, contract prices have seen their growth expand by about 1% year over year.

Yet if you look at spot prices, even with last year’s downturn, growth in prices has averaged around 2%. What this means is that random freight is increasingly making its way in from the edges of contracts back into the spot market. As rates have improved, so has volume.

One item to note, however, is that spot prices do tend to be more volatile. As capacity pressures go through some wild swings, so will price changes within the spot market. There is also a shorter lag time between market events and price responses.

On the flipside, contract rates have a much more defined lag. Contract prices will generally hit their peak around two quarters after spot rates make their move. Part of the reason behind this lies in the nature of data collection and contract renewal schedules.

Expect these kinds of lags, whether in spot freight or contract work, to improve over time as new forecasting tools and technological innovations emerge. And yet, with the market changing, you can expect both carriers and shippers to sustain these conditions for a while. After all, it’s just human nature.

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