James F. Mahoney, Attorney
Commentaries
 
     

May 2016

Coming Down the Pike for Transport Companies

Maybe at the top of annoyances coming out of the FMCSA is “Beyond Compliance,” the Agency’s false logic attempt to make trucking “safer” by rewarding motor carriers that buy equipment purportedly leading to better CSA scores.

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It would be nice to see the empirical data of enhanced safety stemming from the latest doodads, rather than just regulatory guessing.

Using the input received and the Congressional direction in the FAST Act, the notice published in the Federal Register provides details on FMCSA’s proposal and processes to allow “recognition” ( I’m thinking this doesn’t mean a gold star; instead probably some kind of bonus chit to help the carrier bypass inspections or audits) for a motor carrier that:

  • installs advanced safety equipment; (gee, at a implementation price when shippers are balking at 2% rate increases?)

  • uses enhanced driver fitness measures; (are we talking sleep apnea testing? If so, another waste of carrier resources and time. Measure neck size, much more reliable; or hire skinny drivers).

  • adopts fleet safety management tools, technologies, and programs; (robots and algorithms replacing fleet Safety Management?) or

  • satisfies other standards determined appropriate by the FMCSA. (maybe a realistic new driver training program with a real backing test?)

See more.

For another prime example of regulatory annoyance, look at the mandate for ELDs. Not one of us would dispute the fact that drivers can shave miles on ELDs just as they could with paper logs.  Even I could do it (not that I would ever).

Then there’s URS. As of September 30th, the Agency will use the singular URS registration number to make our world simpler. But it will cost hours in learning and complying with the new system. The old system and paper filings will no longer be allowed because the Agency believes the Unified Registration System will cut down on phantom registrations by unsafe carriers – all six of them. Gee, no one could ever figure a way to register around the URS if one were so inclined.

Lest we forget the new Food Safety Modernization Act, a safeguard work-in-progress for a non-existent problem, in a year from now shippers, consignees, warehouses, and freight brokers will be looking to one another for assurances and pointing fingers that their part in the logistics system was not the cause of unsanitary or spoiled food conditions.

In the words of the FDA, “In keeping with the overarching food safety goal of FSMA, this rule now solely focuses on practices that create safety risks, rather than on those that affect its quality but don’t necessarily make it dangerous to consume.” Hmm, a fix for a problem that doesn’t necessarily exist.

“Loaders” have been added as covered parties under the FSMA. According to the Act, a loader is a person who physically loads food onto a motor or rail vehicle (rail carriers are exempted from the rule entirely; motor carriers are not. Certainly, that has nothing to do with the strength of the rail lobby).

  • Before loading a food not completely enclosed by a container (oh, you mean those sea-tossed containers of produce that were sitting next to containers leaking toxic battery acid?) , the loader must determine that the transportation equipment is in appropriate sanitary condition.

  • Before loading a food requiring temperature control, the loader must determine that each mechanically refrigerated cold storage compartment is adequately prepared for refrigerated transportation, including precooling, if necessary.

Seriously, who is a loader? A Beneficial Cargo Owner, a Shipper, an Expeditor, a Broker, Warehouse, a Lumper? Who checks the trailer – and who’s qualified to check the trailer – to determine adequate preparation?

Oddly, carriers and brokers are supposed to look to the shippers for guidance in compliance. But the onus will undoubtedly still fall on carriers and brokers.

And the learned outsiders pondering the new law provide a worthless solution: Carriers are going to have to be given notice of what the transport protocols are in order to make “decisions” about whether they want to move the loads or not.

Sure.

A broker and/or carrier is going to turn down loads because shippers don’t have protocols. It’s presently tough enough for reefer carriers to make a buck,  to be turned away at delivery, and without USDA inspection, or because the carrier didn’t show up at the convenience of the consignee, and the truck is left wandering around while shippers, brokers and carriers fight about responsibility. And it’s most often the carrier that is blamed – wrongly – and then the carrier’s insurer declines the claim for little or no reason. The FSMA is going to fix that?

Equipment must be clean and suitable for safe temperatures. No one has said what “clean” is or how often a trailer needs a washout, but records of prior loads must be kept. For criminal prosecution. As with the ELD mandate and Beyond Compliance, maybe only the better-capitalized brokers and carriers will have an easier time convincing shippers to follow protocols and force them to load those carriers with real cargo coverage that actually covers reefer loads. Ok, on second thought, no they won’t.

Then there’s the proposed Safety Fitness Determination program, a kind of pass / fail system that is to review tens of thousands of carriers based on the methodology of CSA scoring. I can attest that roadside stops are generating non-existent CSA violations because of: 1) DOT officers don’t really understand the regs (“Gee, what’s the 100 air mile exemption again? Don’t drivers have to keep logs with them?” – Ah, no. Or, this one: 2)  “You’ve crossed state lines. The 100 air mile exemption no longer applies.” Ah, yes it does). Or, this one’s popular 3) “Hmmm, your truck looks dirty, so these air lines must be chafing.”

And maybe the grandest incursions are by states into interstate commerce. It’s a tie:

  • “Owner-operators are cheated by motor carriers. They are paid so little it’s like indentured servitude.” Actually, a recent study showed OOs had almost 30% greater net income than company drivers. Presumably these small business owners pay their share of taxes. But even with proof of their State and Federal returns evidencing that, judges decide they’re really just employees.

  • FLSA wage and hour claims under the incorrect assumption that intra-state movements of cargo is not interstate commerce and thus not subject to the exemption in the Motor Carrier Act. Distilled down, the applicability of this MCA exemption depends centrally on whether the employee was engaged in interstate commerce. A driver-employee engages in interstate commerce if his delivery “forms a part of a “practical continuity of movement” across state lines from the point of origin to the point of destination, an understanding of the law that harkens back to a 1943 U.S. Supreme Court case, Walling v. Jacksonville Paper Co., 317 U.S. 564, 568 (1943).

I suppose ranting isn’t productive.

But instead of fixing non-existent problems, or developing a program of brownie points to skip real safety problems, or weeding out the very few phantom carriers, or owning up to the realization that neck size is a better indicator of fatigue, or that 24 hour sleep apnea tests are driven by the “sleep apnea industry,” why not spend money on fixing the traffic choke points and infrastructure problems that cause drivers to run over hours or become fatigued or use discretion to avoid the California break time rules, which truly affect safety and also delay loads? Wouldn’t that improve our transport system, decrease costs, and increase productivity?

The saving grace of all this is that it’s put my kids through college and I’m still off the streets.