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End-run around FMCSA: Trucking groups take issues to Congress

The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee hearing on the next surface transportation authorization took a detour into trucking regulations Wednesday, but the line of questions posed to Transportation Sec. Anthony Foxx offers a glimpse at the many transportation-related issues that are included in every highway bill.

Both the American Trucking Assns. (ATA) and the Owner-operator Independent Driver Assn. (OOIDA) have agendas they expect to address with authorization amendments, typically a more expeditious option than trying to pass stand-alone legislation – to say nothing working through the formal rulemaking process. (Previous coverage of the FMCSA regulatory calendar for 2015 is here.)

“Funding is the biggest piece, of course,” Dave Osiecki, executive vice president and head of advocacy for ATA, told Fleet Owner. ATA has long advocated for an increase in the federal tax on gasoline and diesel as the most efficient solution, but would support an alternative long-term solution that continues to be user-based.

However, ATA also wants to make sure the reauthorization has language “to keep tolling in check,” Osiecki added. The Obama administration’s Grow America Act would do away with a prohibition on states’ ability to toll existing Interstates.

More broadly, ATA would like for the next highway bill to deliver a robust federal freight program, following up on MAP-21’s strategic freight plan.

“The plan’s no good unless it has some dollars to implement it,” Osiecki said. “We want dedicated funds. It’s for the federal government to work with the states to fix major freight bottlenecks. We all know them.”

Reform of the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program is another high priority for ATA, specifically getting “imperfect scores” off of the FMCSA website and addressing crash accountability.

“FMCSA is only going to do so much administratively,” Osiecki said. “It’s been four years and some of these problems are well known, yet the agency hasn’t been willing to address them. So we do think we need to go to Congress.”

As for truck size and weight, Osiecki explained that ATA sees a congestion benefit and potential safety gain to permitting twin 33-foot trailers, but the organization does not plan to pursue an increase in truck weights maximums.

ATA also is looking to address the driver shortage, perhaps through driver training standards that would allow conditional permits for drivers under 21 years old.

Osiecki declined to lay odds on whether a long-term bill would pass by the May deadline for the current MAP-21 extension.

“I don’t want to prognosticate,” he said. “This is a big issue and everybody recognizes the need to do something, but you’ve got to figure out how to pay for the system first.”

OOIDA’s Ryan Bowley, director of government affairs, also immediately points to funding  as the critical issue for the highway bill. The small business trucking organization encourages its members to be in touch with lawmakers, particularly to oppose expanded tolling authority.

For OOIDA, driver training standards and CSA reform are likewise items on the Capitol Hill to-do list.

Bowley characterized congressional attention to the hours of service restart provision “a good sign.”

“As with so many trucking issues, the details are things that folks on both sides of the aisle can understand and appreciate,” Bowley said. “The important part of the highway bill is that it’s going to be a vehicle to address a number of these.”

OOIDA is monitoring its members as they go through the medical exam process, for instance, to determine if the changes to the examiner registry are delivering the expected benefits – or resulting in more problems and confusion.

“Truckers are going to be part of the solution on these issues,” he said. “We want to help Chairman Shuster and Ranking Member DeFazio get a good, positive bill over the finish line.”

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