The House of Representatives passed Democrats’ $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill onto the Senate before adjourning for the Independence Day holiday weekend. Two provisions focused on electric vehicle charging and commercial vehicle insurance have led some industry groups to question the bill’s merits.
The majority party rolled its $494 billion highway bill into the giant Moving Forward Act, which along with rebuilding U.S. roads, bridges and transit systems, would include funding for schools, housing, clean water, the postal service, rural broadband access, and more.
Trucking industry groups have had mixed reactions to the spending package, which is expected to pass the Democrat-controlled House but could face more opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate and by the Trump White House.
The American Trucking Associations on June 30 called for bipartisan support of the bill, saying it would be a welcome injection of cash into the country’s degrading infrastructure following the COVID-19 economic crisis. Along with creating new jobs, the legislation would strengthen commercial corridors and support long-term growth, according to Bill Sullivan, the ATA executive vice president of advocacy.
“Given the looming shortfalls to the Highway Trust Fund and the decimation of state and local budgets caused by COVID-19, major construction projects across the country have been put on hold, threatening to exacerbate the unemployment crisis and placing added strain on our nation’s supply chain,” Sullivan said. “By passing a bill with real money — rather than saddling our grandchildren with more debt or borrowing money from China — Congress can ensure that an infrastructure investment accelerates our economic recovery.”
But an amendment that would raise the minimum insurance requirements on commercial vehicles is hurting the trucking industry’s full-throttle support for bill. The amendment by Rep. Chury Garcia (D-Ill.) would raise the insurance requirements from $750,000 to $2 million. It would also require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to adjust the minimum insurance requirements based on inflation every five years.
The amendment caused the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association to reverse its original support of the bill, noting that just 0.06% of crashes result in damages exceeding $750,000.
“We cannot support legislation that will cause many of our members to lose their businesses and livelihoods,” OOIDA wrote in an email to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “An overnight increase in minimum financial responsibility of 167% will undoubtedly devastate many small-trucking businesses. The 265,000 single-truck operators working in America today will be particularly at risk.”
The ATA also voiced its opposition to the Garcia amendment. Sullivan said it would benefit trial lawyers and hurt truckers. “If a change to the minimum insurance cap is to be made, it must reflect the direct input of the trucking industry and be based on actuarial data — not special interest pandering,” Sullivan said. “If the Senate and Congress want to get this right, they must pursue a fair, data- and stake-holder-driven process to determine appropriate levels and their impact on safety and economic outcomes. ATA will work to improve the bill, including a fix to the minimum insurance cap that is inclusive of the regulated industry and data-driven.”
Like the ATA, OOIDA initially supported the highway bill because it included funded truck parking, included restrictions on tolling, and limited excessive detention time and predatory lease-to-own schemes.
The spending package also includes provisions to increase electric vehicle charging stations at rest stops across the U.S., which is opposed by truck stop and gas station lobbyists. NATSO, which represents truck stops and travel plazas, the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) and the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America (SIGMA) said the bill discourages private business from investing in EV charging infrastructure.
The groups oppose the Moving Forward Act’s provision that would lift a longstanding federal rule prohibiting commercial activity at interstate highway rest stops. That ban, according to the groups, has incentivized businesses to invest in fuel stations just off America’s highways. “Private sector development of this national fueling network has ensured that drivers of gasoline-powered cars do not suffer from range anxiety,” according to a joint statement from NATSO, NACS and SIGMA. “A similar approach would drive demand for electric vehicles.”
The three organizations also oppose a related provision that would allow investor-owned utilities to receive federal grants to underwrite EV charging infrastructure even if the utilities have raised rates to pay for that infrastructure. “Fuel retailers will not invest in a technology where they have to pay for their own infrastructure and recover those costs while utilities can ‘double-dip’ and have all of their investments covered by unwilling underwriters,” the groups wrote on June 30.
The Moving Forward Act, according to the retail groups, features a short-sighted impulse to quickly build EV charging infrastructure without regard for long-term implications. “It will lead to a small number of chargers and no additional investment off the highway,” the groups’ statement reads. “This will mean fewer options for the consumer and less competition in pricing.”
The trade groups said infrastructure spending is a top priority and they are eager to work with Congress to explore policies that encourage existing off-highway businesses to expand the full range of transportation energy offerings for consumers, including electric vehicle charging.
NATSO announced earlier this year that it formed the National Highway Charging Collaborative with North America’s largest electric vehicle charging vendor, ChargePoint, to add electric vehicle charging to more than 4,000 travel plazas in the next decade.
What else is in the bill
The more than 2,000-page bill was condensed into a 96-page summary that breaks down the infrastructure investments by sector. Below are some of the commercial vehicle, fleet, and trucking-related items:
- Requires FMCSA to conduct a comprehensive review of the impacts of current hours of service rules.
- $494 billion in surface transportation reauthorization funding.
- $2.2 billion in motor carrier safety grants to assist states in truck and bus safety oversight and enforcement, commercial driver licensing, and technology improvements.
- $1.5 billion over four years for the FMCSA to modernize its information technology and management systems.
- $250 million grant program to address the shortage of parking for commercial motor vehicles to improve the safety of commercial motor vehicle drivers.
- $25 billion to modernize U.S. Post Office infrastructure and operations, including building up a “zero emissions” postal vehicle fleet.
- Establishes a truck leasing task force to examine the impacts of truck leasing agreements.
- Establishes a ‘‘Women of Trucking Advisory Board’’ to encourage outreach, education and hiring of women into the trucking industry.
- Allows up to a 10% weight variance on an axle of a commercial motor vehicle transporting dry bulk goods to accommodate cargo that may have shifted in transport.
- Authorizes a national advanced technology transit bus development program to facilitate the development and testing of commercially viable autonomous buses that do not exceed a Level 3 automated driving system.
- A new grant program for states to impound or immobilize passenger-carrying commercial motor vehicles found to have significant safety violations.
- Requirements that could lead to all new trucks being equipped with automatic braking systems
- Creates a working group to come up with guidance on creating more ergonomic seating standards for commercial vehicle drivers.