Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Land Line Now Blog has moved

We have moved the Land Line Now Blog from BlogSpot onto our own Web site.

All our future posts will be placed there.

To view future postings on the Land Line Now Blog, go to http://www.landlinenow.com.


Mark H. Reddig
Land Line Now

Friday, October 24, 2008

Attitude Adjustment

I know the economy is bad. I know we’re all struggling to get by. I know sometimes it’s raining and sometimes your dog dies and sometimes you just have a really bad day. And that’s fine. It happens to all of us.

But I’m getting more and more suggestions for RAZZBERRIES these days, it seems, from folks complaining about the attitude that they’ve been getting at truck stops across the country.

I won’t say it’s reached epidemic proportions yet, but the monkey has definitely escaped from the lab and infected more than a few people. I had a couple of calls recently about one truck stop that blocked off the majority of its parking lot and told truckers those spots were reserved for a biker event that was coming to town.

That’s all well and good, but one caller told me he just wanted to park his truck and go take a shower. He was very rudely told by the manager of the establishment that he was not welcome there and that the spaces were reserved for bikers. Another caller told me he had a very similar experience at the same place.

Then there was the guy who went to buy fuel and couldn’t use his card because the pump wasn’t on, so he went to the fuel desk to ask for help and was confronted with a line of people buying everything in the store except fuel. He simply asked the woman at the fuel desk if she could turn the pump on and was very rudely told that he would have to wait in line. He finally had to go and get the manager just to get the pump turned on.

And then there’s Diesel Dave Sweetman’s latest column in Land Line Magazine, for another example.

I don’t know what’s going on out there, but it sounds like some of these folks could use a serious attitude adjustment. So for anyone reading this who happens to work at a truck stop, let me help clue you in on something.

You work at a truck stop. The key word there is “truck.” Truckers are your bread and butter, your lifeblood, your main reason for existing. There are plenty of truck stops out there. And trucks have these things on them called wheels that allow them to keep on rolling right past your truck stop and on to the next one.

You see, the other key word in your business is “stop.” If the trucks don’t stop, your money most definitely will.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

You been here four hours! You go now!

Truck parking is in short supply, and it’s a growing challenge faced by truckers nationwide.

But in some parts of the East and West Coasts, it’s at the crisis stage.

Take New Kent County, VA. An OOIDA member called us recently, saying a truck stop there posted signs that limit parking to four hours. The signs, and apparently some employees at the truck stop, say it’s a county ordinance.

I think anyone familiar with trucking knows that’s nuts. And this is representative of what’s happening in many locations on the East Coast.

A rule like this passed by a local government can only be based on one of two things: It’s either ignorance of the realities of trucking, or – worse – they just don’t want truckers hanging around.

Mind you, they certainly don’t mind eating, wearing or buying what the truckers bring. They just don’t want them around.

So which one is it? I’m betting on option No. 2.

So let’s think about solutions. And here’s where we start: How many of you live there in New Kent County, VA?

If you do live there, have you called your representative in the county government and explained this to them?

Have you explained that you pay taxes too? That truckers have no choice but to rest the amount required by the federal regulations?

Even if you don’t live there, if you just haul there, give them a call. Let them know this is having a detrimental effect on your ability to serve their citizens.

If you’re a citizen of Virginia, call your state lawmakers. Explain that putting a two-hour limit on parking in rest areas – which is also taking place in that state – prevents truckers, who have no other option, from parking in the state at all.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Get Out the Bubbly!

Let’s pop some champagne and lift our glasses to Rachele Champagne.

Rachele’s the trucker from Gatineau, Quebec, who decided in July to organize the first ever all-female truck convoy to raise money for breast cancer research.

A short three months later, on October 18th, it became a reality when 29 trucks convoyed down Highway 401 in Ontario with 29 women behind the wheels.

By Rachele’s estimate, the participants raised at least $15,000.

“For 29 trucks, I’d say that’s pretty good” Rachele says.

I’ll say!

Plus, Rachele got donors to give all sorts of items that the women could take home – from bags containing things like bracelets and coffee mugs; to jackets and a coffee maker; to $1,500 worth of fuel.

“I think everyone left with a smile,” she says.

Will Rachele and the other women stage another convoy next year?

“Absolutely!” she says – adding that she bets there’ll be twice as many trucks next time.

Personally, given the short amount of time Rachele had to organize this year’s convoy, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a hundred trucks in the next one.

So, ‘cheers!’ to Rachele Champagne or en francais, ‘Sante!’

Monday, October 20, 2008

Drill, baby, drill

You’ve heard the chants at rallies across the country: Drill, baby, drill.

Folks are ready to use our domestic oil reserves so we can escape the dependence on foreign oil.

But those folks may have forgotten something. And the sad part is, it’s obvious, and I don’t think anyone – or at least very few people – have figured it out.

We can have all the oil in the world, but what if we don’t do anything to increase our refining capacity?

You can have all the oil in the world, but without the refinery capacity, what you have is a nice reserve of unrefined lubricant. It’s certainly not something you would want to put in your vehicle.

I guess the politicians missed that. Not that I’m surprised.

But we have to think beyond the political slogans and easy solutions. We have to think about the entire process of providing energy to this nation, start to finish.

If we mess up this one, we could damage our nation in ways I don’t even want to think about.

Friday, October 17, 2008

OOIDA employees get TWIC'd

I recently talked to OOIDA’s Joe Rajkovacz and Rick Craig about the Transportation Worker Identification Credential, or TWIC, program. If you listen to the show at all, you probably already know all about it.

But just in case, here’s a quick recap: It’s the security card that all ports in the U.S. will be requiring by next spring. If you drive in and out of any ports in the U.S., you’ll need to have one.

One of the things Joe and Rick told me that surprised me was that you could use the TWIC card as an ID for airport security as well. I guess it makes sense. It’s a Transportation Security Administration thing, after all, and they run security at both ports and airports.

I had to laugh, though, when Rick flashed his card at Kansas City International Airport and was waived on through. Then Joe went next, only to have the security guy stop and wonder what kind of card it was supposed to be. At least the folks at the Los Angeles airport seemed to know what was going on.

It would be easy to dismiss this because Kansas City is a smaller airport. So what does it matter if they don’t know what’s going on, right?

But consider this: On September 11, 2001, a group of men made their way through sloopy airport security and managed to kill 3,000 people within a couple of hours.

The airport where they started? Portland International Jetport, Portland, ME. I’ve been to that airport many times. It makes Kansas City look like New York’s JFK Airport.

Okay, so the folks at the airports don’t know what’s going on, so what? This card is for ports, right? Surely the folks at the ports know what’s going on. Maybe they know, but for now, at least, they can’t do much with that knowledge. There are no card readers installed at the ports yet.

So does that mean you shouldn’t bother with a TWIC card? Well, that depends on whether or not you want to haul freight in and out of the ports. Flawed program or not, TWIC is here to stay.

Let’s just hope the TSA realizes that, too, and fixes those flaws before they become part of the permanent record.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

CARB enforcement, no holds barred

CARB has taken the kid gloves off.

The California Air Resources Board announced just last week that it was sending members of its staff into the field to begin strict enforcement of its idling rules – including the five-minute limit for commercial trucks.

Here’s how things work in a nut shell.

Trucks, even those with sleeper berths, are not allowed to idle more than 5 minutes in an hour.

The only exceptions for the vast majority of truckers are:

  • You are stuck in traffic;
  • Idling to service or inspect your vehicle;
  • You are using a power take-off device;
  • You cannot move because of mechanical failure, or bad weather;

If you violate the new truck idling rules, you could face a fine of $300. And if you do it again and again, you could face even higher fines, sometimes running $1,000 to $10,000.

The situation is dire for some truckers, who face forced confinement in their sleepers for rest periods.

The new enforcement effort has caused a lot of trucker reaction. One truck driver told us that the agency was stepping up enforcement in truck stop parking lots, something he questioned. Is it legal to go onto private property to enforce the rules?

It’s a good question.

I asked OOIDA’s Member Assistance Department about that. They concluded pretty much the same thing I did. There is nothing to stop CARB from doing that.

The truck stop is a public place, a business that welcomes members of the general public onto its property. And once CARB enforcers walk on that property, there’s nothing to stop them from ticketing any idling truck they see.

But that’s just another aspect of the situation – not the fundamental problem.

California has decided to single out truckers among all vehicle drivers as somehow responsible for the state’s air quality.

Admittedly, diesel fumes are worse than car fumes. But California has a heck of a lot more cars than it does trucks, and they’re all emitting tons upon tons of pollution.

Will state officials tell cars to shut the engines off and stop idling? I’d say no.

That’s because, first, so many cars run on the roads there, it would be impractical to try to shut them all down.

Second, trucks are an easy target. There aren’t nearly as many as cars, and with so many groups demonizing trucks, it’s easy to get lawmakers or agencies to pass a rule restricting them.

Of course, that leaves us with a number of problems that CARB hasn’t addressed. So let’s take a look at those.

First, this is inconsistent with other laws. Truckers are required to take their 10 hours off to get rest. How can the government expect truckers to get proper rest in a cab where the interior temperature may be well above 130 degrees?

Unfortunately, many of our laws contradict one another. And we the people pretty much have to live with it. Saying “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” won’t get you out of a ticket.

Second, while CARB could make an argument that owner-operators have the option of purchasing idle-reduction equipment such as APUs, no one can argue with any logic whatsoever that company drivers have that option.

So what should they do? Apparently, CARB’s answer is that they should roast out in the desert heat, which is plain bull.

So what can people like you and I do to help out those truckers?

The best thing is to get some useful information out there that can help those truckers.

We’ve spelled out the rules, which is a good step. But we plan to go much further. For truckers who don’t have an APU or other similar system, we’ll do some research and see if we can get some solid advice for you to follow.

But no matter what, be ready – those fines are high enough they could cause some real financial damage.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Are Some Journalists Taking the Easy Way Out?

When I was in journalism school, I was always taught that question mark headlines – and question mark lead sentences, for that matter – were a no-no. They weren’t expressly forbidden, but they were seen as a last resort of weak writing.

You’d never know that to look at the news today, though. It seems like every news Web site and news network out there is asking questions. Is the economic crisis over? Is the economic crisis just beginning? Are land sharks a danger to you and your family? We’ll have the answer to that question coming up at 11.

ABC News seems to be one of the worst offenders in this category. Look at the headlines from their Web site from Friday, Oct. 10. Early in the morning, the headline read: “Black Friday?” And pondered just how low the stock markets were going to go.

A short time later, the headline was changed to something slightly less apocalyptic: “Gray Friday? World Markets Tank, Dow Flails from High to Low.”

Apparently someone at ABC News decided to adopt the federal government’s color-coded terror watch system and use it for news coverage.

The market threat today has been upgraded from black to gray. I suppose if it recovers, it will go to charcoal gray, then slate gray, followed by light gray. Who knows? If it’s a really good day, it could go as high as off-white.

But I digress. The problem I have with question headlines is that they are a cheap way to draw in readers or viewers or listeners. “Is grass really green?” Well, of course we all know it is, but we might tune in anyway just in case the folks on the news crew know something we don’t.

But think about it this way – if they know so much more than you, why do they keep asking such stupid questions?

I’ll have the answer for you at 11.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Trouble in the land of TWIC

We reported recently that after years of delays, the federal government has finally opened all the enrollment centers for the TWIC card – the Transportation Workers Identification Credential.

Of course, we still don’t have all port facilities using the cards. And we don’t have the electronic readers necessary to check them to ensure they’re valid.

But, hey, you can enroll. I guess that’s something.

Or is it?

A trucker called in to OOIDA headquarters recently to tell us what we suspected would happen all along. To enter the ports he services, he has to have not only his TWIC card, but also a card for that port, a card for some terminals, a whole box of cards just to do his job.

The whole original idea of TWIC was not only security, but to replace all the other cards.

You may remember that back then, Todd Spencer said that TWIC would not replace the two dozen or so cards some truckers have to carry – it would be just one more card. And here we are, years later, watching that prediction come true.

This is a boondoggle, a waste of taxpayer money that has yet to yield any result for the American taxpayer or the American trucker.

Unfortunately, it’s also a reality right now. Truckers who want to work the ports have to sign up, have to turn over some very personal information, have to travel the miles and miles to get to an enrollment center, have to pay the fee.

It’s been a big concern for me to hear it’s causing truckers this kind of inconvenience … although that word hardly describes what a pain in the butt this has been.

The problem here, though, is not just the pain. It isn’t even charging a fee for what could be your fourth government background check.

It’s a philosophy of how government interacts with industry – a philosophy carried out only halfway.

The federal government has been very reluctant to put more regulation on big businesses. Some of you may read that and think, hey, I thought they wanted to deregulate all business.

But the fact is, you and all the other truckers out there know that the amount of regulation you face has not decreased one iota. You have logbooks and FAST and cargo securement and hazmat endorsements and medical cards and chain laws and spring thaw restrictions and weight limitations and split speed limits and kingpin-to-rear-axle limits and IFTA and IRP and drug tests and on and on and on.

But big business … well, things are running pretty smooth for them. The current folks running things in Washington have been pretty lax in enforcing regulations in regard to them. Ask anyone who’s talked with their carrier about possible violations of the leasing regulations.

So when the feds put TWIC out there, they said it would replace these cards, but then they did nothing to make that happen, no regulation requiring ports or terminals to use it in place of all the other cards. They just accepted that it would happen; call it a faith-based security initiative.

Well, no one is accepting on faith that you fill out your logbook. You are required to meet the regulations imposed on you. Why shouldn’t the shippers, receivers, brokers, big carriers, and yes, port terminals be required to do the same?

If TWIC is going to work, they can’t just enforce it on the trucker; they have to do something about getting the ports to use it to.

Of course, there’s also the other option – they could give up this nonsense and come up with something that actually works.

What a concept, what a radical idea! But then again, we are dealing with the feds … so don’t get your hopes up.

Friday, October 10, 2008

What’s in your wallet?

Let me see if I’ve got this straight.

We’re on the brink of a financial Apocalypse because greedy Wall Street suits handed out so much bad credit … and our only salvation is to pump billions into the credit markets so the suits can start handing out credit again.


I’m going to do my patriotic part by running up the credit card at 28 percent interest.

Then I’m going to get one of those adjustable rate mortgages and put the family upside down in our payments.

Will the bank give you a home improvement loan, a vacation loan and a cereal malt beverage loan if you’re not making your monthly house payments?

If so, I’m gonna get me some of those too.

After all, the administration has set the example for borrowing – the national debt now tops $10 trillion, up from $5.7 trillion eight years ago.

That means I – and every other man, woman and child in this country – already owe $33,000, just to pay off the national debt.

China alone has underwritten $500 billion of our debt and unless they pull the ‘nuclear option’ (dumping those US treasury notes) they’ll probably lend us more.

So what’s a little more personal debt, eh?

I say let’s loosen up those credit markets at any cost – and let the good times roll!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Bike and hike? Pay to play

California is in the midst of a debate about the state’s highway funding.

We say highway funding, but in reality, the proposal on the table would spend a lot of cash for things far removed from cars and trucks. The proposal would use $90 million dollars of highway user money to put a bike and hike trail along a commuter rail line.

One of our listeners did a little figuring. He calculated that for the length of the trail, that would mean the state of California would spend $1.3 million per mile.

Remember, this is a commuter rail line along an existing rail line. The land is there and available, so this is all for bike and hike.

That same listener was incredulous, just as I am right now. What kind of idiot spends $1.3 million a mile for bike and hike trails? What are they paving this thing with, gold dust?

We have a bike and hike path not far from OOIDA headquarters. They used land already owned by the public, smoothed out and leveled the ground with a Bobcat, and then laid down some pea gravel. Project done.

I’m betting it didn’t cost a fraction per mile of what this thing is running.

I don’t object to this kind of thing overall. I’ll admit, I use those trails. I like them. And if I want more, I can vote to raise my own blasted taxes and pay for it. If I’m not willing to pay, and I want to walk, perhaps I can use a unique and highly advanced creation of 20th century scientists – the sidewalk.

What I do object to is money that was paid for paved highways being stolen away for this kind of thing.

If you want this kind of path in your town, be ready to pay for it. But don’t make some trucker who’s already dealing with sky-high fuel prices pay yet more just so you can pedal in peace.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Hot fuel still in the hot seat

Hot fuel – it’s an issue that OOIDA first brought to the public’s attention years ago. It’s an issue the association and others have fought to fix – and one the oil companies have fought to ignore.

Here’s how hot fuel works. A standard gallon of diesel at 60 degrees contains 139,000 Btu, or British Thermal Units. Run the temperature of that fuel up to 90 or 95 degrees – something that’s not unheard of – and it could contain as many as 2,000 Btu less.

That means you could spend a thousand dollars more a year for fuel, and go fewer miles on each tank of fuel.

Fuel companies compensate each other for the difference. The only people who don’t get some compensation for the difference temperature makes are you, truckers or motorists.

Some time back, we found out the very same oil companies who started this mess have found a way they think they can avoid responsibility.

The ploy involves stickers placed on the pump. I’ve seen or heard of several different versions, but they all follow a similar theme: We sell gas measured by the gallon, not measured by how much energy it provides. We’re not responsible if that energy level per gallon falls below what you expect.

We first became aware of the stickers when they appeared on pumps in California. We’ve been told recently they’ve made it all the way to the East Coast.

It’s clearly an attempt to circumvent the real issue of hot fuel, a disclaimer that in essence says, “We’re informing you officially that we intend to cheat you, so that makes it all legal and OK.”

Well, I have a message for those folks: It’s not OK.

OOIDA is continuing to pursue this issue. Another group is continuing to pursue a lawsuit. Others are still pushing in state and federal weights and measures groups to have the rules for how fuel pumps work changed.

And we’ll keep all of you updated as the issue progresses. But as you know, with our government, really changing anything takes years.

The problem we face is that slow speed of change, and the incredible resources possessed by the folks who want to keep things the way they are.

The problem our opponents face is that we have a lot of patience, and a long memory. And we will not forget.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Back to the Future? Instead, let’s consign futures to the past

Recently, Terry Scruton reported on a Senate hearing where our elected representatives investigated what role that speculation played in this year’s oil price run-up.

Speculation, in this case, pretty much refers to activities on the futures market, which itself is not much more than a legalized, disguised and very dangerous form of gambling.

Here’s the theory: You start by finding a time where you think oil will go up in price over the next three months. You buy a load of oil that’s not scheduled to arrive here for a month to three months in the future. You make the purchase with borrowed money, using virtually none of your own. Then, as the oil is near delivery, you go back to the same market and sell it for the higher amount.

As the stock market and the rest of the economy started to tank, folks thought oil was a good investment. So they started investing in these “futures.”

Remember, over the past year, if you adjust for seasonal variations, the supply of oil and the demand for oil to burn was pretty typical. What there was more demand for was oil futures. And that drove the price of those futures – and eventually, the price of the oil they represented – up.

That’s the case with oil – the very nature of the market encourages further speculation, encourages traders to commit acts likely to drive up the price, so they can take hefty profits and never actually have to possess one ounce of oil (they never take delivery unless the price drops below what they paid for it).

But this problem isn’t limited to oil. Not by far. It’s pretty clear to me that the futures market is at the heart of many of our economic problems over the years.

Ask a farmer how much they were paid for the amount of wheat used in a loaf of bread. It’s pitiful.

Sure, some of the cost of the loaf went to the baker, to the cost of the yeast, to the retail store, and – God willing – to the trucker who brought it there.

But when some brands of bread are running well over $3 a loaf, it’s ridiculous that the person who produced the most important ingredient gets paid the least of anyone involved in the process – in some cases, as little as 5 cents for the wheat that goes into that loaf.

So where did the rest of that money go? A lot of it ends up on the futures market, where a trader who never worked a day on a farm in his life pulls in huge quantities of cash for the wheat in that bread.

That doesn’t even address the ultimate problem: The end consumers – in this case, economically struggling families who have to pay that much more for the food they need – get stuck with the bill.

Here’s a telling statistic: I’ve seen salaries listed for futures traders that run from $80,000 to $300,000 plus – a figure nearly unheard of decades ago. Farmers are often paid no more for wheat now than they were in the early 1920s. Don’t believe me? Check out Kansas History Magazine.

I really do think the same kind of thing is happening with oil. In both cases, the end consumers – truckers or grocery shoppers – are getting screwed.

The only big difference between the oil and wheat situations is that for oil, the producers – in this case, oil companies – aren’t getting paid a pittance like the farmers. They’re getting rich, too.

It’s just one more thing to discuss when you call your representative or your senators.

Only they can pass the laws needed to properly regulate futures trading and prevent this kind of crisis again.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

I think we should sleep on it

Sometimes, issues are real, and require real attention.

Sometimes, they’re artificial, and still get attention because someone inflates their importance in order to serve their own agenda.

Sleep apnea is a little of both.

On the one hand, we have the FMCSA’s Medical Review Board, which wants to force anywhere from a third to half of all American truck drivers to be tested for the illness every year – at an out-of-your-pocket cost of thousands of dollars. They want that test whether you’re really at risk for the disease or not.

On the other hand, you have those who have criticized opponents of that plan – including OOIDA. Some have claimed we haven’t covered it enough on Land Line Now, or that truckers don’t really understand the problems.

I think that’s a criticism I need to address.

First, I don’t think anyone wants someone who really might have apnea to avoid a test.

Also, I think many of us have a very good idea what apnea is. Many of us have it – myself included.

And finally, we actually have talked on this show with a number of medical professionals about what apnea is and what it does to people who have it. We’ve also talked quite a bit about CPAP machines and how they treat the illness.

However, that’s a whole different matter than what the Medical Review Board is talking about. They want any trucker with a BMI, or Body Mass Index, of more than 30 to have the yearly testing. The last estimate I saw indicated that could be around 42 percent of all truckers.

It’s uncalled for, and it’s unnecessary.

In talking with folks on the air and off, virtually all say the simple Body Mass Index test is inaccurate in determining whether someone is obese. And it’s a very inaccurate way to determine who’s at risk for apnea.

Again, this isn’t just some Joe off the street – this is information that comes from medical professionals.

The method used here to measure BMI is to simply compare your weight and height. A truly accurate BMI test involves placing you in a tank of water and measuring your displacement. Far fewer people would show a BMI of 30 with that test.

Second, while obesity – when correctly measured – is one indicator for apnea (not a guarantee you have it), it’s not the only indicator.

Here are just a few of the possible factors that can indicate you are a potential sleep apnea sufferer:
  • People who are overweight;
  • Men with a 17-inch neck or larger;
  • Women with a 16-inch neck or larger;
  • Older men and postmenopausal women;
  • Adults and children with Down syndrome;
  • And children with large tonsils.
Again, that’s just a few of the kinds of people who are at risk.

Whether you get tested for apnea is a decision that should be made by you and your doctor, not by some bureaucrat who is sitting at a desk a thousand and a half miles away.

So why are they doing this? Why use BMI as a method to decide who’ll get tested for apnea?

The answer lies in who is calling for this.

Charlie Morasch, who’s one of our writers down at Land Line Magazine, found some interesting facts when he looked.

For example, he discovered that one member of FMCSA’s Medical Review Board is an executive committee member and board member of the National Sleep Foundation. The National Sleep Foundation is funded largely by drug companies, and also receives funds from CPAP manufacturers.

Gee, do you think that person might have a vested interest in hundreds of thousands of truckers being required to undergo sleep testing – which would be performed by companies represented by the National Sleep Foundation – and being required to buy machines – which would be provided by the CPAP manufacturers?

So here’s the upshot. I’m with those who say we need to treat apnea seriously. But I’m not in favor of forcing people into unneeded medical tests. And I’m not into forcing hundreds of thousands of truckers who don’t have medical insurance to have to pay for those tests out of their own pocket, or give up their livelihoods.

Let’s let doctors who know their patients decide what testing is necessary. That’s the way it is now, and that’s the way it ought to be.