A variety of groups, from unions to safety-themed organizations, laid out their transportation agendas for the rest of the year – especially where highway funding and electronic logging devices (ELDs) are concerned.
The primary focus of the Transportation Trades Department (TTD) of the AFL-CIO this year is surface transportation funding reauthorization, largely because the highway trust fund (HTF) officially becomes insolvent in May unless some sort of a long-term fiscal solution for it is established.
Edward Wytkind, TTD’s president, emphasized in a statement that “2015 must be the year when we break the stalemate on funding our badly deteriorated transportation system and put millions to work.”
To that end, the group is rallying behind what it dubs “eight principles” for surface transportation reauthorization:
- Expand highway and transit funding with a fuel tax increase or similarly reliable funding source;
- Embrace financing tools that do not harm private and public sector jobs; Reject “devolution” proposals;
- Restore federal neutrality on transit privatization;
- Advance transit safety and health reforms;
- Permit limited authority to flex federal bus capital funds to transit operations;
- Provide resources for a national freight investment policy;
- Protect and enhance “Buy America” policies.
Several other related issues will be part of TTD’s “Capitol Hill” focus this year, including:
- Rail safety: Congress must move forward on an expired rail safety reauthorization bill that finally improves railroad operating practices that currently expose workers and communities to avoidable safety risks. Rail safety reforms must target chronic employee fatigue, bar the use of one-person freight train crews, and implement safety-related technology.
- Hazmat transport: With an increase in the shipment of hazardous materials across the country – particularly on freight trains – it is vital that firefighters receive adequate training to respond to emergencies. Congress must pass a reauthorization bill that commits adequate funding for hazmat training programs.
- New “crude-by-rail” rules: TTD said its executive committee supports provisions of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's (PHMSA) proposed crude-by-rail regulations, which would require an increase in the information available to emergency responders about the movement of such shipments, and calls on PHMSA to issue stronger regulations regarding the transport of lithium batteries in our nation's skies.
- Safety rules for drone operation: To ensure safe integration into the National Airspace System, TTD said the widespread commercial application of Unmanned Aircraft Systems “drones" must not be permitted until the U.S. government establishes clear and enforceable operating standards. TTD wants the FAA to set rules requiring that drone operations meet all of the standards imposed on those who currently use the airspace, including operator training and certification, and safety restrictions on airspace access.
- Raise motorcoach entry standards: Over the past several decades, the TTD said diminishment of "entry" standards for on intercity bus carriers has severely limited the ability to ensure that only companies willing and able to uphold federal safety requirements are granted operating authority. TTD wants the FMCSA to begin raising market entry standards by increasing the existing minimum insurance requirements.
Where the trucking industry is concerned, the Alliance for Driver Safety & Security – an interest group comprised of seven motor carriers and four telematics/software providers – is seeking to “speed up” ELD mandates, which are being delayed until November this year, along with other initiatives.
“ELD technology is already in the field now and Congress directed the agency last December to accelerate the ELD mandate sooner than later,” noted Lane Kidd, the group’s managing director, in a statement. “ELDs will stop the endless debate over truck driver hours of service (HOS) rules.”
The group noted that its priorities in 2015 also include
- Raise the minimum liability insurance level for trucking companies;
- Recognize hair testing to meet federal truck driver drug testing regulations;
- Keep in public view the federal government’s Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) ratings for trucking companies;
- Support truck speed limiters and new standards for commercial vehicle safety technologies;
- Pass long-term transportation funding that includes more money for commercial vehicle law enforcement.
“We are committed to safety objectives that make sense for our country first, the trucking industry second and our companies third,” noted Steve Williams, chairman and CEO of TL carrier Maverick USA and the group’s chairman, in a statement.
“For example, we shouldn’t tolerate 300,000 trucking accidents that kill upwards of 4,000 people each year, and 600 of those fatalities are truck drivers,” he added. “We can do more to lower risk for all motorists and help our truck drivers do their jobs and arrive home safely.”
Kidd added that trucking support higher minimum liability insurance level will also help win more “public trust” for the industry as well as improve highway safety.
He pointed to the recent data from the U.S. Department of Transportation that showed 3,602 people killed in large truck accidents in 2013, of which about 600 were truck drivers, while another 100,000 people were injured, including 24,000 truck drivers.
“Trucking company owners can keep the public’s trust by supporting a higher minimum liability insurance level,” Kidd said. In 1980, Congress set the minimum at $750,000 specifically to compensate the victims of trucking accidents but that level is no longer adequate to cover the medical costs for motorists or truck drivers who are injured in a catastrophic accident.”