When George Rodriguez, director of cargo security for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), announced that he wants to see trucks and trucking facilities locked all the time, he could not have foreseen such ardent industry opposition.
Publicly, individual companies are hiding their discontent, waiting to see what else TSA has in store for them in the name of homeland security, i.e., how much it will cost. Behind the scenes however, lobbyists are keeping a close eye on TSA, trying to nudge issues in their favor.
“Like everyone else, the trucking industry wants to do its part for homeland security,” said one lobbyist, “but how far is too far? Locking every truck every minute of every day may be overkill.”
Speaking at the Eyefortransport Cargo Security Forum in Washington, DC, last December, Rodriguez, former security director for Yellow Corp., noted that only 20-30% of truck trailers are locked, a lapse that could allow terrorists to commandeer them or place explosives inside. “Every truck that's on the road in the U.S. should be kept locked and I'm steadfast in my commitment to getting that to happen,” Rodriguez said.
To those outside the industry, a lock on every truck seems like a simple request, but fleets see a more complicated situation. How do you control padlocks and keys when you have high driver turnover? How do you keep locks from freezing in cold weather? And, if padlocks become the standard choice, how much protection does it offer against readily available bolt cutters? If not padlocks, then what kind of lock will be required and how much will a retrofit cost?
Jeff Davis, vp-safety at Dayton, OH-based Jet Express, sees internal controls as the main cost issue. “We have 600 trailers. If we add up the cost of locks, installation and labor, administration, key distribution and back-up systems, we're looking at around $150 per trailer.”
Ninety percent of the company's business is handling loads for General Motors. Currently, some trailers are sealed and some are not. “Locking all trailers sounds like a noble concept, but how do you control it cost-effectively?” asks Davis.
Dan Fout, safety director for Garner Transportation, Findley, OH, says that since 9/11 all of their 300 trailers are sealed. Drivers are required to do walkarounds and check seals when they return to their trucks after a stop. “The drivers are also required to lock the tractor when they're not inside — always.”
Fout, whose company hauls food and beverage cans, agrees that locking all trucks would be a logistical nightmare and may not bring about the desired safety effect. “Checking the seals each time is adequate for us,” he says.
Hardest hit by a locking proposal may be the small-package delivery carriers. David Bolger, Washington spokesperson for UPS, says that its Class 8 trucks are always locked, but delivery trucks (aka “package cars”) are a different story. Drivers are already required to lock the two entrances to the package area of the cars, but the driver area doors do not have locks at all.
“We are comfortable complying with a law that the package area be locked,” says Bolger. “If TSA says the driver compartment must be locked, then we would have to review that.” Bolger did not offer a cost for putting locks on the two driver doors, but it probably would be substantial, considering the company has 81,000 package cars and trucks.
Industry officials and TSA are tacitly agreeing to consider Rodriquez's strong pronouncement on truck locks as a trial balloon, with a TSA official noting that “it's only one particular idea.” TSA will offer its full proposal sometime this quarter.