By Charlie Morasch
During the 1990s, shippers paid premium rates for just-in-time deliveries. The higher rates somewhat compensated drivers for the headaches they incurred when making a drop at a specific time, many times in an area with little to no truck parking.
As just-in-time deliveries became the norm, however, the premium rates disappeared. All the while, drivers watched idling limits sprout throughout the country while the number of trucks on the road increased and truck parking decreased.
Today, as hours-of-service restrictions loom and diesel prices strangle profits, more and more truckers find themselves unable to idle. They also face challenges of being out of hours with no place to park and having to park in unsafe areas while waiting for warehouses to open, OOIDA officials told representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency and several state agencies on June 25.
To address these issues, a new coalition of representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, several state agencies and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association agreed to additional meetings to better understand air quality issues as they relate to trucking. The coalition met for the first time June 25 at OOIDA headquarters in Grain Valley, MO.
“We know it’s a reality that idle reduction is necessary, that emission reduction is necessary,” said Tom Weakley, director of operations for the OOIDA Foundation. “If we can band together and work together on those kinds of things, we can have an impact. We don’t want to be at odds with each other; we need to work together.”
Environmental agencies and state transportation planners, for their part, do want lower truck emissions but don’t want trucks parked along highway shoulders.
The state and federal agencies listened as OOIDA officials gave statistics showing that the majority of trucks are owned and driven by small-business truckers. The government officials indicated they’re supportive of holding warehouses at least partially accountable for truck idling.
The coalition’s first discussion included issues such as truck parking, communication of highway construction, and detours around wrecks that cause long delays – issues the group agreed cause higher emissions and traffic problems for all motorists.
“Most drivers get paid by the mile. Obviously, if you can’t drive and the truck isn’t moving, you don’t get paid,” Weakley said. “You’re not allowed to go anywhere you want to go. I can only go so many miles off the interstate, and only then to find someplace to rest and eat. A lot of them won’t allow you into city streets. Those are problems we have to deal with, too.”
The EPA’s new lowered ozone standard and efforts to curb nitrogen oxide emissions will mean many U.S. communities that have been air quality compliant soon won’t meet air quality standards. The problem is particularly worse during hot summer months – when truckers need to idle or use APUs for power and in-cab comfort.
In the Kansas City area, the Missouri counties of Jackson, Clay and Platte are nearing air quality violations. Across the state line is Johnson County, KS, a suburban county preparing to implement its own new idling restrictions, said Doug Watson of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
“There are going to be a lot of areas not meeting the standards and developing new regulations,” Watson said.
Winds of change
No one breathes in more harmful diesel engine pollutants than professional truck drivers. Weakley cited research showing drivers’ life expectancies being about 18 years shorter than the general public.
APUs provided an answer to idle-reduction when they hit mainstream trucking in the early 2000s. Many experts agreed that as units were sold and more companies offered the units, a drop in APU prices would follow.
That price drop, however, never came. That could be in part because of more and more regulations that now include APUs.
For example, to meet new air quality standards, many small trucking companies want to use APUs as an alternative to idling. States such as California, however, already have changed the game plan by requiring that diesel particulate filters be installed on the devices – adding yet another expense to compliance.
John Siebert, project leader with the OOIDA Foundation, called to light the burden it creates when the government issues a mandate that requires an expensive solution.
He told attendees to imagine walking up to these drivers and saying: “We’d like you to comply with this regulation and it’s going to cost you $7,500.”
Siebert said a likely response could be: “You’re going to take it out of my $31,000 pay, after I’m away from home 227 nights a year?’”
The recent diesel and oil crisis combined with other inefficiencies may lead to major changes in trucking, said Siebert, who pointed to 15 percent of trucks on the road “hauling air.” He said in the future, trucking may be forced to consider drop zones to split loads among trucks to maximize efficiency.
“We may have to change the way we do business,” Siebert said. “We’re going to have to get outside the box.”
Truck parking, truck volume and idling aren’t going to solve themselves, several of the meeting’s attendees agreed.
Eric Curtit of the Missouri Department of Transportation said one in four vehicles – or 25 percent of all traffic – traveling on Interstate 70 and Interstate 44 are over-the-road trucks, although the Interstate system was originally designed to handle 10 percent truck traffic.
MoDOT projects the number of trucks on those highways “to double by the year 2030,” Curtit said.
Curtit compared the new coalition to one established a few years ago in Missouri, which focused on traffic safety. That coalition was credited with cutting annual highway fatalities by 267, he said.
The new coalition could be successful as well, he said, and others agreed.
“I understand truckers’ frustration,” Curtit said. “You’re getting less money, being asked to do more, and being asked now to protect the environment and to deal with rising fuel costs and more strict regulations.”
“We have an opportunity to go deeper,” said Amy Bhesania of the EPA, referring to the issues.
OOIDA is very appreciative of the EPA’s efforts to disperse grant money for small trucking operations to install idle reduction and pollution cutting technologies, Weakley told the group.
Truckers need help to stay compliant with idling laws during extreme temperatures, and government agencies and warehouse operators should realize drivers are human, he said.
“It’s one thing to say, ‘don’t idle your trucks,’ ” Weakley said. “But hey, I always like to say, ‘My name is Tom – my name isn’t Peterbilt, it isn’t Freightliner. My name’s Tom. And I sweat, and I hurt, and I get cold.”
Later, the EPA’s Chrissy Wolfersberger said all parties should focus on understanding.
“From my perspective too – we need some understanding that EPA is more than a regulatory agency,” Wolfersberger said. “Any time we come out with a grant or a voluntary program that you can participate in or not participate in, it’s still seen as ‘you’re trying to make us do what?’ We’re not trying to make you. We’re offering this much money; participate if you want or don’t if you don’t want to. We’ve got more than one face or side.” LL