NTTC Chairman Windsor
Apr 1, 2006 12:00 PM
Windsor: It's not bad, but the question is this: Will we ever again see the young drivers coming into this market? I think we do have a place for the 18-year-old truck driver. We could have an apprenticeship program.
I've talked with insurers about the issue. I've asked if they have studied accident statistics for truck drivers of different ages and experience. Where do we have the accidents? One gentleman told me that the new drivers out of school may have more frequency, but the accident damage is less costly. These accidents tend to be small fender benders. The major rollovers often involve a complacent driver who has been around a long time.
BT: With the background checks and all of the other hassles, why would any truck driver want a hazmat endorsement today?
Windsor: In our fleet, for instance, we have more work during the winter months for drivers who have a hazmat endorsement. We also offer higher salaries for the hazmat drivers.
I believe those with hazmat endorsements are seen as premium drivers by the tank truck industry in general. Some shippers also believe their hazmat cargoes deserve a premium driver.
We haven't seen any drop in hazmat endorsement renewals at our fleet, but we're just getting to the point where our drivers will have to begin their first renewal under the background check requirements. We don't know what sort of fallout we might see. We've only had one driver go in for renewal in the past couple of months.
BT: How quickly are background checks coming back in your part of the country?
Windsor: We are at four weeks and counting (as of mid January) for a cement driver who applied for a hazmat endorsement and background check so he could switch to petroleum hauling. We were told it wouldn't take that long. It's slow, and it's going to discourage people.
BT: Do you believe the federal government is addressing the issue?
Windsor: No. They are not addressing it at all.
BT: Do the background checks accomplish the stated purpose of protecting the US public from truck-related terrorist threats?
Windsor: As we've discussed at some industry meetings, no terrorist is going to subject himself to fingerprinting. It's more likely that he would be driving a truck in a non-hazmat capacity. I'm not opposed to a transportation worker ID card that applies to all truck drivers. That's the only thing that would really benefit security.
Even beyond that, the background check program has a lot of problems. Each state manages the program completely differently, and the costs vary widely. Some states will not accept hazmat endorsements from other states when drivers move. The Department of Homeland Security should manage the whole program for uniformity.
BT: In addition to the driver shortage, we also lack sufficient truck mechanics. What can the industry do to address that concern?
Windsor: There is a shortage. We're fortunate in this area because we have vo-tech schools with truck mechanic programs. We offer the students internship opportunities. Our fleet manager has built excellent contacts with the schools.
I think this is partly an awareness issue. Young people need to know that truck maintenance offers good opportunities. These are good positions that won't be outsourced overseas.
BT: What would you consider to be the biggest issues facing the tank truck industry?
Windsor: We start with the shift to ultra low sulfur diesel. We really have no idea what we'll be facing when we start to haul that fuel. What we do know is that our own operating cost will increase when we have to start using that fuel. The new 2007 engines that need the ultra low sulfur diesel will be a challenge.
We in the petroleum hauling industry hope that the Department of Transportation will withdraw its wetlines rulemaking. We believe that industry — led by Cliff Harvison and NTTC — has shown that the rule is unnecessary and would not improve safety.
We're still looking at the issue of indemnification for hazmat transportation. I think this will be a state-by-state issue. I think it will hit more than just the tank truck industry. It will affect all of trucking.
BT: With the driver shortage and other capacity constraints, why would any tank truck carrier sign an indemnification agreement today?
Windsor: It's gotten to the point where you can't go into any loading facility if you don't sign the indemnification agreements. There is no question that these agreements clearly state that in the event of an incident at the facility, the carrier will be the sole responsible party. Our attorneys tell us to cross off certain things, but we don't have a lot of options.
It's going to take American Trucking Associations, National Tank Truck Carriers, and the state trucking associations to help us get through this issue. It's more than any one company can address on its own.
The battle is being fought state by state. Certain states now have repealed indemnification language in contracts. I believe that is the best approach, because the state legislatures can address the issue in a broad manner.
BT: Taking a closer look at ULSD, what are the key industry concerns?
Windsor: At the end of last year, it looked like dedicated tank trailers would be mandatory for all ULSD shipments. We could do that. We could handle ULSD just like we do jet fuel. However, when you mandate dedicated equipment, you have just increased the cost of moving that product. It would cut productivity at least 50%.
At the NTTC meeting in Houston (Texas) in January, it still looked like we might avoid dedicated trailers. However, now it seems probable that we will not be allowed to switch-load gasoline and ULSD. This puts us back into dedicated trailers.
We still have some major safety concerns at the terminals and at the delivery points. There may be a higher risk of static-initiated fires with ULSD. Can the static problems be handled at the loading rack? We still need an answer to that question. Our safety managers need to work with the terminals to address these issues.
BT: Will the Mid-Atlantic states have problems with ULSD supplies?
Windsor: I think they will. The Colonial Pipeline has said they will not move ULSD north of Richmond (Virginia). We'll have to rely on barges for just about all of our ULSD shipments. We're being told that as a diesel user we'll be paying an additional 50 cents a gallon for ULSD.
BT: What are you hearing about the potential for alternative fuels, especially biodiesel?
Windsor: What I've heard is that it is being promoted as a potential alternative. We can use it in diesel blends up to 5%, according to engine manufacturers. Possibly, it could be used as a lubricity additive in ULSD, but we really don't have enough information to know for sure. We've read that some Midwestern fleets have problems with biodiesel gumming up the engine. Gelling in cold weather is another problem.
BT: What are your thoughts on the 2007 engines?
Windsor: We saw a pre-buy in 2002, and it certainly looks like one is occurring ahead of the 2007 model year. It's already happening. In our fleet, we're not interested in buying trucks with 2007 engines right away. There are too many issues. We don't know what we'll experience in the way of fuel availability. There has been little or no on-road testing in fleet operations because ULSD is not available. We could easily face a disaster in 2007 that could further cut trucking capacity.
BT: Would that affect the US economy?
Windsor: It definitely could. We're not going to be able to move as much freight if we've got engine issues. Now in defense of the manufacturers, the engine people tell us their engines will perform and that the technology has been tested and is tried and true.
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