Passing the buck

Who's responsible for ensuring that intermodal containers are road-ready?Individual states are implementing their own intermodal roadworthiness regulations, leading to the proverbial patchwork quilt of rules that interstate trucking firms despise.South Carolina and Louisiana already have their own laws in place. Illinois' law will become effective July 1 and New Jersey, Florida, California, and New

Who's responsible for ensuring that intermodal containers are road-ready?

Individual states are implementing their own intermodal roadworthiness regulations, leading to the proverbial patchwork quilt of rules that interstate trucking firms despise.

South Carolina and Louisiana already have their own laws in place. Illinois' law will become effective July 1 and New Jersey, Florida, California, and New York are threatening to follow suit with their own formulas for determining responsibility for intermodal equipment.

The stakes are huge. If each state has its own rules, truckers will be burdened with complying with what each state wants, not to mention the problems associated with state-run roadside inspection stations.

While the situation could be easily fixed with one consistent national rule mandated by the federal government, Dept. of Transportation officials are hesitant to act, believing the issue is best handled by a private sector compromise.

The private sector players believe this too, but despite public hearings, the beginning of rulemaking proceedings, and private meetings, those involved are only slightly closer to a rule now than they were several years ago.

"This will continue for a while," says Joni Casey, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Intermodal Association of North America, who has been meeting with interested parties for two years. "Six months from now we'll still be talking, and one year from now we may get more clarity on business arrangements."

The so-called business arrangements are key. To Casey and others, what should be a simple matter - determining who owns the intermodal equipment - is clouded by convoluted and intertwining leasing and ownership arrangements that make pegging the responsible party difficult.

As a result, current federal regulations have traditionally placed the burden on motor carriers, which really means the driver. This regulation was adequate in the early days of intermodalism, but now that traffic has skyrocketed, it's no longer practical, motor carriers contend.

Last year, DOT proposed that the entity that hands off the intermodal equipment to the driver be responsible for its roadworthiness. But these groups disagree, saying that in most cases they don't own the equipment and shouldn't be forced to fix it. They maintain that if a driver is not satisfied with the condition of a piece of equipment, he should refuse to drive it away.

Trucking officials contend that this is impractical, however, and say it's impossible for drivers to do more than a quick walkaround inspection before driving away.

At a recent conference, Stephen Van Beek, director of DOT's Intermodal office, said there's insufficient information about the extent of intermodal equipment failure and its impact on economic and safety issues.

During his presentation, Van Beek optimistically noted that some issues have seen agreement. The most important is that intermodal yards and terminals establish lanes where inspections could be made and minor repairs done. There is no consensus, though, on who would operate the lanes or pay for inspections and repairs. Again, ownership issues come into play.

While DOT is paralyzed and private parties talk with meager results, the states have taken matters into their own hands. Louisiana requires that the owners of intermodal equipment be held responsible for their equipment and reimburse motor carriers for fines, penalties, and repairs they incur during carriage. Laws in South Carolina and Illinois are similar.

While it seems as though the trucking industry has won in these states, no one can predict what other states will do. But even if they agree in principle that the owner should bear responsibility, unearthing the true owner is often difficult. Consequently, the new state laws are not being routinely enforced.

All the parties concede that while they want this to remain a private sector matter, they might ultimately need help from a higher authority. "We may need some federal intervention," says Casey. "We can't be left with different state laws on this issue."

Vision through the power of information" was the theme of this year's Truck Renting and Leasing Association (TRALA) conference, held March 8-12 in Rancho Mirage, Calif. The event was sponsored by Baldwin Filters, Bridgestone/Firestone Canada, Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., Great Dane Trailers, and Volvo Trucks North America, with the support of 25 other co-host companies from all areas of the trucking industry. Wendell R. Beard was the Master of Ceremonies for the general sessions.

TRALA chairman Frank E. Walter, of the Indianapolis-based Palmer Leasing Group, opened the meeting with his 2000 Chairman's address. Walter announced the return of Peter Vroom as TRALA exec. vp. Vroom will succeed the association's founding CEO and president, J. Michael Payne, who will be retiring at the end of 2001.

Technology was the subject of many other presentations, including the keynote address by James L. Hebe, president and CEO of Freightliner Corp.; the special presentation by Dr. James Canton, president of the Institute for Global Futures; and the speech by author and consultant Todd Buchholz. Their remarks left no doubt that technology will form the basis of competition in the future. As Canton noted, "Every business is an e-business, and radical innovation is the only competitive advantage."

Attendees also had the opportunity to hear past ATA president Thomas Donohue again, this time in his role as president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Donohue stressed the importance of "taking a broader view," and challenged TRALA to "expand your focus" to include logistics. He also suggested that a name change was in order for TRALA to reflect the changes within the industry.

Other speakers included sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella; Eaton Corp.'s chief economist, James P. Meil; and election analyst Norman Ornstein, who discussed the upcoming Presidential election.

The Maintenance Council of ATA has selected its leaders for the 2000-01 term. Serving as general chairman and treasurer is Bill Wolterstorff, fleet maintenance manager of Sather Trucking Corp. Vice chairman is Jim Salas of Ryder Transportation. Chairman of study groups is Duke Drinkard of Southeastern Freight Lines. Chairman of membership & publicity is Sam Cross of Condor Freight Lines. Immediate past chairman is Ken Johnson of K.J. Transportation.

CFI has honored three of its drivers for reaching two-million miles of service with the company. Inducted into the Joplin, Mo.-based international truckload carrier's Two-Million Mile Club were Gary Benight, a 20-year veteran at CFI; Charles Beaty, who's been with the company since 1981 but has driven professionally for nearly 30 years; and Joe Mitchell, who began his career in driving 38 years ago and also joined CFI in 1981.

PNV has launched a new line of full-service Internet kiosks. The Connect!Point Kiosks, which will soon be available in truckstops across the country, provide professional truck drivers with a wide range of online services, including e-mail access, trip routing and mileage information, and chat rooms for leisure/recreational purposes.

ExxonMobil Lubricants & Petroleum Specialties Co. announced its Commercial Vehicle Lubricants (CVL) team: David A. Parsons will lead the team as CVL manager, Stacey L. Trefts becomes national OEM and off-highway sales manager, and Russ Green marketing manager.

Kenworth has named Deb Seaney its new marketing communications manager.

Jim Wiggins was named CEO of the Gates Group of Companies.

Howard Levy was promoted to vp-purchasing and supplier development for the International truck and engine brand.

Patrick J. Brady has been named senior vp-sales and marketing for Consolidated Freightways. Bruce Stockton was named to the position of vp-maintenance.

Meritor Automotive named Mark Purtilar general manager-North America, for its Worldwide Aftermarket business.

Mike Fujimura was promoted to the new position of chief administrative officer at Bridgestone/ Firestone Inc.; Roy Stogner was promoted to director, corporate accounts-commercial for BFS' Truck Tire Sales Co.

Ruan Transportation Management Systems promoted Max Varner to president, Ruan Leasing, and Mike Kandris to president, Ruan Transport Corp.

Thomas B. Roydhouse was promoted to senior director of replacement sales and marketing for Continental General Tire's Commercial Div.

John Puckett Jr., president of Fontaine Truck Equipment Co., was recently elected the 36th president of the National Truck Equipment Assn.

East Manufacturing has appointed Dale R. Buhr director of manufacturing systems and training.

Schneider National appointed Christopher B. Lofgren COO.

If a truck driver crosses a state line - even for a short time - and stays within one state for the rest of the week, he is governed by the rules of interstate operations for the purpose of hours of service and overtime pay, according to a Federal Motor Carrier and Safety Administration ruling.

The ruling clears up the confusion that arose because the federal Fair Labor Standards Act exempts employers from overtime pay if they come under DOT hours-of-service rules. Although DOT maintains jurisdiction over interstate carriers, it has never been clear whether that extends to drivers who make intrastate and interstate runs within a one-week period.

According to DOT, a driver who starts his trip crossing state lines must adhere to hours-of-service requirements and carry records of his operation for the next seven to eight consecutive days, unless he is exempt because he has stayed within a 100-mi. radius.

The Internal Revenue Service has been conducting fewer audits and other enforcement actions. But two recent court cases show that carriers must still be careful about classifying workers and payments properly. In Leb's Enterprises Inc. v. United States, a federal district judge in Illinois agreed with the IRS that Leb's vehicle delivery drivers were employees, not independent contractors, because of the degree of control Leb's exercised over them.

In Shotgun Delivery Inc. v. United States, a district court judge in California said that courier drivers who received one check for hourly fees and one for a percentage of each delivery fee, to cover mileage and other expense reimbursements, were actually receiving wages in both cases because the company had not established an "accountable plan" for the reimbursements.

Motor carriers with more than $3 million in operating revenue must report financial data to DOT's Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). Despite protests from companies that the information offers competitive intelligence data to others. Fleets must show that such disclosure causes major financial or other harm for it to remain confidential.

Carriers have complained that the information offers competitors a way to cull confidential pricing and profit information, but DOT officials and several data collection companies say this is not possible. According to officials of Transportation Technical Services, publishers of the National Motor Carrier Directory, the information from BTS is mainly used for industry-wide benchmarking because the data is too generic to single out any one company's secrets.

The only carriers that are exempt from filing the data are those that are not required to file with the SEC and those for whom such disclosure would cause "competitive harm" because the information was considered a trade secret. Trade secrets are protected by state and federal law.

In 1999, 24 carriers requested exemptions. BTS denied 20 of these, gave one limited exemption, and requested more information from the others.

A Federal Highway Administration report shows that running red lights decreased by an average of 60% at intersections where automatic cameras were operating and the public was made aware of them.

The report studied red-light camera programs in Los Angeles County; San Francisco; New York City; Howard County, Md.; and Polk County, Fla.

In Los Angeles County alone, violations were reduced up to 92% at some railroad crossings where cameras were in place. During a six-month program in San Francisco, violations dropped 40%. In New York City, officials clocked a 38% drop in red-light running.

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