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Transportation news: Obama transport officials defend “aggressive” enforcement agenda

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
June 11, 2010

ARLINGTON, Va.—The transport business community often bristles when Democrats control the White House and Congress because regulations and, at times, red tape increases.

Four top Obama administration officials strongly defended their increased policing and regulatory enforcement, compared with the rather lax enforcement some transport officials say was in place during the George W. Bush administration. That can be seen just in the number of regulations affecting shippers and motor carriers coming out of Washington.

All four federal regulators spoke at the NIT League spring policy forum on June 10 outside Washington.

The four regulators installed by President Barack Obama say these regulations are necessary because of the forecast boom in freight once the economy fully recovers. Already, carriers are reporting robust demand in freight levels. But as that current uptick in freight traffic occurs, so does the exposure for accidents because more trucks are on the highways.
 
“As an agency, FMCSA has issued more rules in the first five months
than in all of 2009—we are on a roll,” said Anne S. Ferro, administrator for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
 
But Ferro said it’s not just issuing the number of regulations that is important. “We have to be sensible about it,” Ferro said.

She said she wants to continue the decline in the truck fatality rate, which currently is at historic lows as determined by vehicle miles traveled. Nevertheless, there were more than 5,000 truck-related fatalities last year, which Ferro said was not sustainable.
 
Ferro said FMCSA has three core missions:
1-Raising the bar to enter the trucking industry.
2-Maintain a high standard of staying in the trucking industry.
3-Ensuring shippers, employers and law enforcement have the tools to remove unsafe operators from the highways.
 
Along those lines, Ferro is implementing the CSA 2010 initiative, which is scheduled to be rolled out later this year. CSA will change the way truck drivers are rated, and is expected to toughen driver standards and weed out “bad apples” from the industry. Some experts say CSA also will exacerbate the driver shortage, especially as the economy continues to improve.
 
Ferro said there was a “great deal of exaggeration” regarding some forecasts of drivers who will be ineligible once CSA is fully implemented.
 
“If you’re a good motor carrier driver today, you’re going to be a good motor carrier driver under CSA 2010,” Ferro said. “CSA 2010 is designed to set up a warning system to someone who is trending toward unsafe driving behavior. The warning process and data it gives carriers is the same process I think motor carriers should be using to identify high-risk behavior.”

CSA 2010 “puts accountability on the motor carrier to improve their own practices,” Ferro said. “Everybody has a role in improving safety.”
 
She urged shippers attending the NIT League annual spring membership meeting to look at their own practices on their docks, scheduling and elsewhere to help improve motor carrier safety.
 
A final rule about requiring electronic on-board recorders in trucks is coming soon. “We have to make sure it’s a level playing field and unsafe carriers are targeted,” Ferro said.
 
Currently there are about 18,000 compliance reviews (12,000 by the feds, 6,000 by states) covering more than 500,000 motor carriers. Under CSA, Ferro said, the FMCSA will be doing more than 180,000 “touches,” or inspections, either in person or on the highways.
 
On the rail side, Daniel Elliott III, chairman of the Surface Transportation Board (STB), said his agency is “trying to streamline” its case load so shippers and carriers get their issues resolved faster.
 
“We’re making some progress on that issue,” Elliott said.
 
Elliott, who has been STB chairman for 10 months, also has reached out to members of the National Industrial Transportation League and other shipper groups to explain his agency’s mission.
 
Under Elliott, the STB is encouraging more dispute resolution alternatives and mediation instead bringing what can be a lengthy wait before a formal complaint at the STB is resolved. The STB has started a rail customer information group to help work issues out before the formal action of bringing a complaint before the board.
 
Richard A. Lidinsky Jr., chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission, said his agency has three leading objectives:
1-Offer economic relief from the worst year in maritime history.
2-Encourage growth in “green” jobs in the maritime sector.
3-Afford additional protection to consumers in the household good sectors and from Internet-based operators.
 
Cynthia Douglass, chief safety officer of the Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a unit of the Department of Transportation, said her agency was seeking more money for increased inspectors as part of the still-unpassed hazmat reauthorization bill.

She said one complicated issue involves shipments of lithium batteries, particularly by air. If not shipped properly, lithium batteries can catch fire, which is particularly dangerous. Douglass said she was hoping to issue a preliminary rulemaking later this year.
 
“We are committed to using 21st century solutions to some of our hazardous materials transportation problems,” Douglass said.

About the Author

Jeff Berman headshot
Jeff Berman
Group News Editor

Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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