Once final feathers are ruffled and this lame-duck Congress waddles off, it will no doubt leave in its wake a suspension of the two provisions of the Hours-of-Service (HOS) restart rules regarded as most onerous by trucking.
The rollback legislation, known as the Collins Amendment (for chief sponsor, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), is attached to the massive omnibus funding bill now before Congress.
Should that bill pass with the HOS rider still intact, the provisions within the 34-hour restart rule that require two consecutive overnight periods from 1-5 am and limit use of that restart to once every 168 hours would be suspended for one year.
In that period, the measure would require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to conduct a new study of the impact of those two provisions on trucking.
Fleet owners as well as shippers will rightly cheer this holiday present for its potential to improve productivity next year—and perhaps for longer-- by increasing truckload capacity.
Yet trucking stakeholders should be aware there’s no guarantee this tidy package will end up a gift that keeps on giving. At least not right away
That’s because whether the incoming Congress opts to extend or make permanent the rollbacks will hinge on what comes out of study the Collins Amendment would mandate the Federal Motor Carrier afety Administration (FMCSA) to conduct.
That study would have to assess the operational, safety, health and fatigue effects of the provision.
“The Collins rider would compel FMCSA to complete a ‘naturalistic’, that is to say, real-world, study of how those provisions impact trucking,” Dave Heller, director of Safety & Policy for the Truckload Carriers Assn. (TCA) told Fleet Owner.
“The intention of the study is to gather sufficient data to demonstrate whether the intent for having the two restart provisions is correct,” he noted. “The previous FMCSA study on this was widely viewed as not reflecting the reality of how trucking operates.”
Heller advised that while “the rollback itself is getting all the press, it’s the study that the period of suspension allows to be conducted that’s the key element.”
He explained that the study’s results may well fault those provisions. But the conclusions possibly could also prove them out. “Either way,” Heller added, “we won’t know which way it will go until the study is completed and we see the data it generated.”
“Congress is due to take action on a surface transportation reauthorization bill this spring,” Norita Taylor, spokesperson for the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Assn. (OOIDA) told Fleet Owner. “One of OOIDA’s top priorities for that bill is significant reforms to FMCSA to return motor carrier regulations and enforcement to a focus on the issues that actually do have a strong relationship with crashes.
“Part of that effort should be continued reforms to the HOS rules, including but not limited to the use of the 34-hour restart,” Taylor added. “We are hopeful that both Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate will take action on all of these issues next year.”
If indeed they pass legislation favored by trucking, fleets will have to factor in typical Beltway lag time. Research and analysis firm FTR estimates that, given the required study and the other regulatory steps that would follow, any “modified regulations would be in place no earlier than early 2017.”
According to FTR, the good news, at least for the short term, is that the rollbacks “will improve industry productivity by 2% immediately, lasting for the two years it will take to write a modified regulation.”
The firm advised that this “2015 productivity benefit will noticeably affect truckload capacity utilization. This will join an already moderating trend to lower capacity utilization to near 96%... This means that the industry will have an important reserve of surge capacity to handle seasonal peaks or other issues in 2015. FTR expects price increases to moderate as a result, especially for spot markets.”
FTR expects that once a modified regulation is in place— again, no sooner than early 2017, it foresees productivity decreasing by 1.5%, “if the sleep timing issues are solved” in a revised rule.
Besides taking that specific hit from the type of 2017 restart rule FTR anticipates, trucking must also bear in mind that those changes would arrive along with the already “impending wave of regulatory drag still scheduled for late 2016 and beyond,
stressed Noël Perry, FTR senior consultant & managing director.
“The revised [restart] regs will hit just when a bunch of other regulatory changes appear as well,” he continued. “At that point, capacity will move above 100% and stay there for a year or more-- unless FMCSA doesn't do what it says it will do or if recession appears to blunt demand.
“Should recession occur— at FTR we think this is likely-- that simply will push the crisis out a year or two,” Perry commented. “At that time, the problem will be worsened by a surge in recovery freight."
Summing up, Perry advised that while the “already moderating driver shortage will be reduced more for the next two years… the bad news is that the problem is not going away. It is simply moved out to 2017.”