SAFETY, technology trends, economic issues, and the future of America dominated discussions during the National Tank Truck Carriers’ 67th Annual Conference April 26-28 in Boston, Massachusetts.
NTTC’s leadership continued to tweak the association’s signature safety award programs over the past year. Specifically, the NTTC Outstanding Safety Performance Award got a major overhaul.
“After careful consideration, we made the decision to begin presenting two awards—one for both small and large tank truck carriers,” said Dean Kaplan, NTTC executive committee chairman. “This change allows for greater equity and engagement across our carrier membership.”
Tidewater Transit Co Inc, Kinston, North Carolina, won in the 31.5-40 million miles high-mileage category with an accident frequency of .368 accidents per million miles, and Wynne Transport Service Inc, Omaha, Nebraska, was the lower mileage winner in the 12.5-15 million miles category with an accident frequency of .314 accidents per million miles.
Tidewater Transit’s David Edgerton and Wynne Transport’s Alan Roberts were named NTTC safety Professionals of the Year. They were honored in June at NTTC’s Tank Truck Safety & Security Council annual meeting.
The second recipient of the William A Usher Sr Professional Tank Truck Driver of the Year Award was Robert Weller, a 40-year veteran driver at Hahn Transportation Inc in New Market, Maryland. He has more than 3.4 million accident-free miles on the road and was a finalist for the award in 2014, the inaugural year for the program.
“This is truly an honor,” he said during the presentation ceremony. “I never thought anything like this would happen to me. It is an honor to stand with the other drivers on this stage. I realize I didn’t get here by myself. I had a support team in my family and my second family at Hahn Transportation. These people shared their knowledge with me. Barbara Windsor (president of Hahn Transportation) always ends every discussion with “be safe.”
Drivers like Weller are increasingly in short supply, according to the latest economic report from Bob Costello, senior vice-president and chief economist for the American Trucking Associations. Costello was part of an economic panel that included Martha Gilchrist Moore, senior director of policy analysis and economics for the American Chemistry Council, and John Felmy, chief economist for the American Petroleum Institute.
Costello said the trucking industry as a whole is short 45,000 to 50,000 drivers. At current trends, the shortage could balloon to 240,000.
“We are in big trouble if it gets there,” he said. “Not only is our industry in trouble, but so are a lot of other industries.”
Trucking companies are addressing the driver shortage in a number of ways that includes raising wages. The average salary for all carriers is $54,585, with tank truck at $55,000 and refrigerated at $57,000.
“Last year, we saw many carriers put on 8%, 10%, 12%, 15% base-pay increases,” he said. “Some of those same fleets that did it last summer are doing it again this year.”
Many fleets are changing pay models where possible, offering sign-on bonuses: 48% of TL carriers are offering sign-on bonuses, followed by 33% of LTL and 33% of private fleets.
“I’ll bet you the number was higher last year, but what scares me is that one-third of private fleets and LTLs are offering sign-on bonuses,” Costello said. “We’ve never seen these types of numbers. They make a lot more money and are home more often, and yet now they’re in this spot where they have to offer sign-on bonuses? That’s so alarming to me.”
In addition to the driver supply issue, tank truck carriers are seeing a drop in shipment volumes, according to Costello. For-hire tank truck loads (both liquids and bulk commodities) increased 6% in 2012 and 6.3% in 2013, but that slowed to 2.1% last year and 2.8% in the first quarter of this year.
“As production slowed because the price of oil came down so much and knowing how big petroleum is, we went to 2.1% growth last year,” he said. “Up until 2014, this was the group that was doing the best in the trucking industry. Since oil production slowed down, it hasn’t done as well.”
On a tonnage basis, tank truck carriers still play a leading role. Tank trucks accounted for 25.6% of all tonnage in 2013. By commodity: petroleum-based, 49.2%; chemicals, including fertilizers and cryogenics, 15.8%; everything else, 35%.
Chemicals were a big part of the tonnage, according to Gilchrist Moore. In the first quarter of 2015, chemicals (excluding pharmaceuticals) experienced 5% year-over-year growth.
“Consumer products led the growth (up 14%), and that’s really tied to consumer spending, and that has held up,” she said. “Synthetic rubber did well (up 10%), which is tied to tires, which is tied to the vehicle market. In all, the outlook is one of strengthening. I think it will be a lot like last year, when the first quarter was down and we saw steady gains.”
Looking to the future, she said chemical shipments should continue to grow. The chemical industry has announced $140 billion in plant expansions and new construction.
“That represents one-third of the existing capital stock of the chemical industry, with 240 projects occurring all over the country,” she said. “Most assets are being put into the southeastern United States. There are a number that plan to go into the Appalachian area to tap into the (natural gas coming out of the) Marcellus Shale.”
Keynote speaker and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said that economic growth is critical to America’s future. “I think most of us believe that you grow the economy in the cities and towns and villages all across this great country, that people create jobs, not the government,” said Walker, who is expected to announce plans to run for President in 2016. “It’s about time we got the government out of the way so people can create jobs and more opportunity. There are a number of ways to do that: One I’m trying to do in our state is lower the taxes. If we put (money) back in your business, your household, your family, you’re better off spending your money than the government is.”
He added that reform of the federal government is another critical necessity. “There are some in our nation’s capital who measure success by the size of government, but they should be looking at how many people are dependent on the government,” he said. “How many are on food stamps and unemployment? I think we should measure success by how many are no longer dependent on the government. We understand that true freedom and prosperity do not come from the mighty hand of the government. They come from the power of the people to live their own lives and control their own destinies through dignity born of work.”
Technology issues got a close look through two presentations. The Carrier Panel—Technology 20/20: Needs & Expectations examined likely technology trends over the next three to five years and looked at how technology developments are impacting truck drivers.
Cliff Dixon, vice-president of IT for Quality Carriers, Tampa, Florida, said: “There’s no doubt mobility is huge. When we look at what’s changed significantly over the last 10 years, the invention of the iPhone and introduction of that into the environment has challenged all of us to create applications. That’s a motto we are trying to adhere to, and drivers have that expectation also. How do we get the information to the drivers that they need in the manner they expect? We’ve also spent a lot of time on trying to be agile enough to leverage new technology, whether it’s software platforms or something in the cab with the tractor and the ability to share data between them. So we have to focus on single-sourcing data shared across many platforms and not having to enter data. We’re really just putting something together that is less error-prone.”
Ron Sandlin, president of Florida Rock & Tank Lines, Jacksonville, Florida, added: “With the driver and staffing of the fleet, we’re spending time on analytics, whether that’s predictive analytics on people’s behavior or the personality index. We’re trying to move that into our driver hiring and retention process. How can we hire the best drivers? I know we don’t always have that huge a selection of people to choose from, but when we do, let’s make sure we hire the best ones that will be focused on safety and will want to stay in one place for a long period of time.
“Beyond that, the data interaction is important, particularly on the petroleum side. We’re dealing with a number of different software systems. We’re trying to interface and integrate. We have people do data entry into customer systems. We just have to do a better job of getting all of them integrated and move that information straight from the truck or loading rack right to that customer and get it billed and get it done with that load so we can get on to the next one.”
Lance Collette, president and chief operating officer of Eagle Transport Corp, Rocky Mount, North Carolina, said: “For us, we want to continue to enhance our technology through our drivers and make sure whatever we’re putting out there also makes sense to them and there’s something in it for them. We just went through a lengthy evaluation of technology. One of the starting points is: ‘This is what’s in it for you. This is how we believe it can help your work life and your productivity and quality of life on and off the job.’ And then we try to drive that technology to what they want to get out of that.
“At Eagle Transport, our first goal is to eliminate in-cab distractions—anything that intrudes on their work environment that causes them to do anything other than look through the front windshield and drive the truck. We want to make sure we’re not introducing technologies that interfere with that, so we get a lot of driver input on that. Drivers will give you a lot of good ideas. They’re pretty free with their thoughts. I always encourage anybody that if you think you’ve come up with the next great idea, make sure you do it with their input as well.”
Automatic tire inflation technology was reviewed by Al Cohn and Steve Robinson with Pressure Systems International. They pointed out that tire-inflation pressure is the number one maintenance issue fleets face today.
The top four reasons why tires lose air:
• Tread punctures. “It’s not a massive, sudden blowout,” Cohn said. “It’s getting a puncture in the tread and losing air, and before you know it, you have a big problem. The #1 puncturing object is a 20-penny nail that’s 3½ inches long.”
• Osmosis through the casing of one to four psi per month. It depends on tire materials and construction.
• Sidewall damage.
• Leaking valve stems.
Cohn said PSI has surveyed 30,000 vehicles at truck stops, and steer tires always have the best air pressure, then the first drive axle. “The farther back you go, the worse the pressure is,” he said. “The left side of the vehicle is better than the right side. If you see a driver at a truck stop, say, ‘I’ll bet you $5 that the lowest air-pressure tire on your vehicle is the right rear inside trailer tire. You’ll win $5 98% of the time.”
Under Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) rules, there is an eight-point penalty for a flat tire or fabric exposed; ply or belt material exposed; tread and/or sidewall separation; flat tire and/or audible air leak; a cut that exposed ply and/or belt material; steer tire tread depth of less than 4/32”; and drive, trailer, or dollie tire tread depth of less than 2/32”.
What is a flat tire? Cohn said there are various definitions, but the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) states a flat tire is when the tire pressure drops to 50% or less of what is the maximum tire inflation molded into the tire sidewall. For example: If the tire sidewall says “120 psi max,” then 50% of 120 psi equals 60 psi. A vehicle found with even one flat tire is considered out of service.
“If you have a tire-inflation system on your vehicle, they typically don’t even measure air pressure because they know the system is doing its job, and you can save up to 17 minutes in inspection time,” Cohn said.
Robinson said a tire-inflation system will provide a significant reduction in tire-related roadside service calls, improved vehicle fuel economy (3.8% according to an FMCSA study in 2010), longer tread life (over 10%), short ROI (seven to 10 months), and very low maintenance.
Harold A Sumerford Jr, chief executive officer of J&M Tank Lines Inc, Birmingham, Alabama, was elected 2015-2016 chairman.
NTTC’s 68th Annual Conference & Tank Truck Equipment Show will take place at the Marriott Marquis San Diego in San Diego, California April 24-26, 2016. ♦
Find the NTTC Annual Conference Report archive with articles from 2011 to present