ATTENDEES had plenty to cheer about at National Tank Truck Carriers’ 71st Annual Conference & Exhibits, which was held April 23-25 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
John Whittington, 2018/2019 NTTC chairman and now executive committee chairman, pointed out some critical achievements on the advocacy front over the past year. Topping the list was NTTC’s successful campaign to secure federal preemption over California’s meal and rest break rules.
“We gained that preemption for all hazmat shipments under the federal Hazmat Transport Act,” Whittington said. “A few months later, our coalition led by the American Trucking Associations secured similar treatment for all interstate shipments in California, whether hazmat or not.
“When the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration proposed changes to the federal hours of service rules, supported them, especially expanding the short-haul exception to 14 hours. However, we stood by our position that any hours-of-saervice flexibility must be paired with an expansion of the electronic driver log mandate.
“We still have to do more work on a legislative fix for our nation’s infrastructure, and we have to do it in 2019. We’re willing to raise the gas tax to fund our roads, but we also want to repeal the federal excise tax.
“We’re working closely with Congress on legislation that will grant dry bulk loads a 10% axle-weight tolerance. Working with FMCSA, we’re taking on rear-end accidents that occur when tank trucks have to stop at poorly marked highway-rail grade crossings.”
Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio welcomed NTTC’s support for higher gas taxes. As the keynote speaker during the North American Safety Award annual luncheon, DeFazio said he favors gasoline and diesel tax increases as the better way to finance the Highway Trust Fund compared with miles-traveled strategies. He said 28 states have already gas and diesel taxes, and many of them are red states.
He pointed out to his audience that tank truck drivers are all too familiar with our aging national highway system, which he said includes 47,000 bridges that need to be replaced or substantially repaired, and another 235,000 that “need work.” In all, 40% of the system has deteriorated to the point that it can’t be resurfaced.
DeFazio acknowledged that expanding and improving the US infrastructure will be expensive, costing as much as $1 trillion over 10 years for surface transportation alone. However, he said he believes the investment will bring an undeniably positive rate of return, ultimately making the United States more efficient and competitive in the world economy.
Getting an infrastructure bill through Congress and to President Trump’s will be challenging, according to Bob Costello, chief economist and senior vice-president of international trade policy & cross-border operations for the American Trucking Associations.
An infrastructure program must be completed before the end of this year or it probably won’t happen. Costello said he expects the political focus to shift to the 2020 Presidential Campaign as 2019 winds down.
At the same time, Costello said he agrees that expanded funding for surface transportation infrastructure is critical. Good highways are critical to keep the US economy rolling.
Costello presented a very upbeat economic forecast for the tank truck industry. The tank truck industry outperformed much of the rest of the trucking sector last year, and the good times are continuing for the tank truck carriers.
Truck loads continue to grow with the US economy, which grew by almost 3% in 2018. The US economy should grow by another 2.4% this year and 2.2% in 2020.
Consumer fundamentals remain good, including a solid job market. The unemployment rate for 2018 fell to 3.9% (and it dropped to 3.7% for two months during the year). It is forecast to reach 3.6% this year.
“We are near or at full employment right now,” Costello said. “We have more job openings in this economy than we have unemployed people.
“It’s incredible that we are still hitting 210,000 new jobs every month when we are at full employment. Don’t be surprised if the new jobs number comes down a bit. Wage growth climbed to 3% last year. I think it will be slightly less this year, but up again next year.”
Costello added that the US economy continues to look very strong. “People keep asking me if a recession is coming,” he said. “It’s not. Last year we had an economy that grew well above trend. We are moving back to trend. The US economy is slowing, but growing. That means a recession can be pushed off even further.
“Economic expansions don’t die of old age, they usually die of something else—a bubble or the Fed doesn’t realize the economy is slowing and they keep pushing on the brakes until it’s too late to avoid a recession. Federal Reserve Board has said they have no plans to increase interest rates this year. I believe the next threat of a recession won’t be until 2021 or later.”
In the face of a strong economy and record employment, one of the biggest challenges facing tank truck fleets is finding enough technicians and mechanics to keep tractors and tank trailers in top running order. Within the next three years, the industry will need 67,000 new technicians to replace retiring workers and 75,000 diesel mechanics to meet new demands.
It will be critical to ensure that the new additions to the workforce have the training they need to hit the shop floor running, according to Matt Johnston with Design Interactive. He discussed using augmented reality systems to improve technician and mechanic training in the shop.
Barbara Herman, K-Limited Carrier Ltd, became the first female recipient of NTTC’s Professional Tank Truck Driver of the Year award. She is the sixth driver selected for the William A Usher Sr trophy, which is sponsored by Great West Casualty company. Her 34-year truck driving career includes more than two million accident-free miles of driving.
Groendyke Transport Inc and Tandet Logistics Inc were the latest to win the NTTC’s Outstanding Safety Performance Trophies for their calendar year 2018 safety achievements.
Groendyke Transport, Enid, Oklahoma, led the 40- to 90-million mileage category within the Harvison Division with an accident frequency of 0.462 accidents per million miles. This is a record-setting seventh Outstanding Safety Performance trophy for the carrier.
In the Sutherland Division, Tandet Logistics, Oakville, Ontario, Canada won in the 5- to 7-million mileage class with an accident frequency of .150 accidents per million miles.
During next year’s Annual Conference & Exhibits, NTTC members will be celebrating the association’s 75th Anniversary. The event will take place May 3-5, 2020 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington DC.