A JAM-PACKED event for a jam-packed year.
That’s probably the best way to describe National Tank Truck Carriers’ 68th Annual Conference & Exhibits April 24-26 in San Diego, California. Meeting sessions covered the latest regulatory developments, the need for a united effort in dealing with legislative and regulatory challenges, the economic outlook for the tank truck industry, how oil prices will impact tank fleets, and how tank fleets are handling technology.
“This meeting reflects our association’s level of engagement in industry issues,” said Harold A Sumerford Jr, NTTC executive committee chairman. “The quality of our advocacy efforts this past year is best highlighted by perhaps the greatest victory of our industry when we learned of the end of the wetlines battle just days after Christmas.
“Make no mistake, the wetlines victory is a gigantic win for safety benefitting our professional drivers, trailer technicians, the enforcement community, and the public at large. The absence of this wetlines concern now allows our carriers to focus on real safety issues and technologies while freeing our team in Washington DC to pursue other, more relevant issues on the legislative and regulatory fronts.”
Pat Thomas, chairman of the American Trucking Associations, congratulated NTTC’s membership on the wetlines victory. He encouraged the NTTC membership to stay engaged in the legislative and regulatory process in Washington DC.
He pushed for a unified voice in his “State of the Trucking Industry” presentation. He lauded NTTC for working with ATA to get things accomplished and said he looks forward to increasing that collaboration.
“I’d love to tell you it’s a lot different today in Washington DC than in the past, but frankly, it’s not considerably different,” he said. “It’s tough to get things done there, and it takes a great deal of effort. “It takes folks coming together and speaking with one unified voice in order to make things happen. When we splinter our groups and have different views on things and we’re walking from one Congress member’s office to another, we damage our ability to get things done.
“The real strength of what we do as an industry is to take all the various parts of this federation—whether it’s a state trucking association or other groups—and bring ourselves together and speak as one voice. That’s incredibly important in what we do in Washington. Numbers matter to me. I’d love to tell you that every member of Congress sits down every night and says, ‘What do you think is the right thing to do on this?’ What they really do is sit down and say, ‘Who’s putting the most heat on us today to do the thing that I probably agree with?’”
Joe DeLorenzo, director of the office of enforcement and compliance at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, provided the regulator’s perspective. He opened with a request for the tank truck industry’s help in bringing enforcement officials up to speed on electronic driver logs.
Speaking during the Annual Safety Awards Luncheon on April 26, he said inspector knowledge of electronic logging devices (ELDs) is a key to easing confusion at roadside inspections. With a variety of ELD systems currently in use, inspectors are having a difficult time accessing driver log data.
“My job in this time of transition is to make sure that all of the 10,000 or 12,000 enforcement people out there understand what is an ELD versus what is not,” he said. “For all of you on your side, it’s really important that during this transition phase where there could be confusion at the roadside about the type of device and electronic logs and hours-of-service, the one thing you can really do to help is make sure your drivers really know. Anybody who’s been a driver and has been in a roadside inspection will tell you it is not an easy process for anybody. All enforcement officers are somewhere on the roadside, with trucks going by on one side at 70 mph. They run into all kinds of issues. So the more your drivers know about this process, the easier it is to do.
“When we’re all ELDs, it will be easier. In the meantime, when we have this variety of different devices, it is definitely challenging from an enforcement perspective.”
DeLorenzo also reviewed other FMCSA regulatory actions, including harassment and coercion, safety fitness, hazmat enforcement, and the beyond compliance program. Of all the initiatives, the beyond compliance initiative would reward carriers that go beyond what the regulations require.
Attendees heard plenty on how the regulatory activity in Washington DC is affecting tank truck operations across the country. Lawrence J Gross, FTR senior consultant and partner, said during his economic update that new regulations—including the electronic driver log mandate, proposed speed limiter rule, drug and alcohol cleaning house, safety fitness determination, and safe food transportation—will generate a need for more truck drivers.
“The demand for new drivers is manageable right now, but the trucking industry will begin to feel the shortage by the end of this year,” Gross said. “By 2018, the regulatory drag will create a need for 120,000 new driver hires every quarter.”
New regulations—such as the speed limiter requirement—also will bring a need for more trucks. Gross pointed out that the industry will need 67,000 more trucks for every one mile per hour drop in speed to handle the same amount of freight. Currently, 2.9 million heavy-duty trucks are on the road today moving freight across the United States.
Gross also reported that tank truck carriers should see a 3% growth rate in freight levels over the next two years if the US economy continues on its current track. Looking at trucking in general, modest freight growth (between 2% and 3%) is expected through 2016 and into 2017, and 2016 truck loadings could exceed the 2006 peak. To handle the freight growth, truck fleets are squeezing more productivity out of their existing equipment.
“The tank truck industry challenges include a continued decline in oilfield fracking activity, which includes transport of chemicals and water,” Gross said. “The strong dollar is impeding US chemical export activity; and we are seeing slowness in industrial and manufacturing activity.”
In his presentation, “2016 Oil Outlook: When Do the Head Fakes End?” Tom Kloza, the global head of energy analysis for the Oil Price Information Service(OPIS), said the old oil era is over.
“The days of $140 and $150 a barrel are over,” he said. “Unless we have a worldwide confrontation where we have greater problems than oil, the days of $110 oil are beyond us. It’s actually mostly good news for this country.”
Some other predictions:
• Crude oil prices will remain under pressure as long as the Middle East troika maintains market share strategy. Shale costs are extremely variable, but expenses are dropping.
• A return to $70 bbl for crude would bring 10 million b/d or more of US crude oil output.
• The seasonality of gasoline will continue as time goes on. There are fundamental reasons why the market is bipolar.
• Oil shale is now the marginal barrel. Easy access to crude oil and descending costs mean that $80 bbl is the ceiling, as opposed to the 2011-2014 floor.
A carrier panel looked at the role technology is playing in today’s tank truck carrier operations. Jeff Moe, president of Solar Transport, said technology became part of his company’s strategic plan about eight years ago.
“We’ve decided that one of the advantages we were going to create and sell was a technology package that provided data and analytics to our customers,” he said. “It’s wrapped onto almost everything we do. We started onboard recording devices in 2005, (electronic driver) logs shortly after that. It’s really wrapped technology into every other aspect of what we’re trying to build as a company, whether it’s safety programs or customer service, recruiting, retention. It’s really the base of our overall package.”
Steve Rush, president of Carbon Express, has been a passionate advocate of electronic driver log, but the decision to adopt that technology didn’t come overnight. “We took two years of really making drivers toe the line and do it right,” he said. “A lot of them really didn’t have a log. I can tell you that we were 34-35 trucks when we went to electronic logs, and today we’re 47 company-owned. So I got better as an owner. I’ve been forced to understand my cost advantage and make sure that I was getting correct money back from shippers and receivers. I still don’t think the government knows how important this is. They can’t police it. Nobody can. And still it’s going to be difficult because there are people who have electronic logs and still cheat. That has to be corrected.”
Outstanding drivers who play by the rules and award winning fleet safety programs were in the spotlight throughout the three-day conference. Darryl Nowell, a Richmond, Virginia-based driver with Eagle Transport, was named 2016/2017 National Tank Truck Carrier’s William A Usher Sr Professional Tank Truck Driver of the Year. He is the third recipient of the award.
Carbon Express Inc and Miller Transporters Inc and were the latest recipients of National Tank Truck Carriers’ Outstanding Safety Performance Trophies for their calendar year 2015 safety achievements.
Miller Transporters, Jackson, Mississippi, won their 31.5-40 million mileage category, within the contest’s Cliff Harvison Division, with an accident frequency of 0.295 accidents per million miles. This is Miller Transporters’ second Outstanding Safety Performance Trophy.
In the Austin Sutherland Division, Carbon Express, Wharton, New Jersey, was top carrier in the 3.5-5 million miles class. Carbon Express’ accident frequency of zero accidents per million miles was the winning mark in their category.
NTTC’s 69th Annual Conference & Exhibits will take place at the Fairmont Chicago at Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois April 30-May 2. ♦