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Today’s Pickup: High-tech and low-tech at ATA; more tariffs on China on the way

ATA president Chris Spear ( Photo: ATA Twitter feed )

Good day,

Coming back from the American Trucking Associations’ annual Management Conference & Exhibition in Austin earlier this week, what is striking is how low tech and high tech the industry is at the same time. The exhibition floor is filled with some very low-tech exhibitors (want to reward your drivers for a job well done? Give them Omaha Steaks!) and high-tech. The latter tend to fall into the category of finding endless new ways to pull together telematics to aid drivers and produce efficiencies. But the low-tech aspect of it remains the person behind the wheel. You can put all the technology you want into training, into safety development, intro tracking trailers, and you can talk about the long-range promises of automated driving. But for a long time to come, the biggest task will be putting somebody’s butt in the driver’s seat. And while technology will aid that, that ultimately is a pretty low tech issue: reliance on human beings, with all their flaws and all their strengths.

Did you know?

Intermodal volumes saw 4.7% growth in the third quarter, according to the Intermodal Association of North America . IANA says domestic equipment saw slightly better growth of 5.1% versus international marine containers seeing growth of 4.4%. In the domestic segment, trailers on railcar saw volume growth of 12.1% for the quarter.


I think things are still pretty good. We’re not seeing anything in any segment that is particularly concerning or setting off any alarms.” 

Saia chief executive Rick O’Dell, responding to a question on freight activity at start of fourth quarter.

In other news:

Another $267 billion in goods targeted

Trump administration looks to double the amount of Chinese goods facing U.S. tariffs.(Bloomberg)

Maersk touts instant freight booking

World’s largest shipping introduces container booking as easy for customers as booking a flight ticket. (Seatrade Maritime)

Gary, Indiana seeking intermodal site

Local leaders look to take intermodal traffic away from neighboring Chicago (The Times of Northwest Indiana)

MSC, Maqta Gateway trial blockchain

The second largest global shipping company in the world, plans blockchain trial at Abu Dhabi ports (Maritime Standard)

JAXPORT on track for record year

Port of Jacksonville sees third record year for container imports (Jacksonville Port Authority)

Final Thoughts

The American Truck Associations’ annual meeting was notable for what brought a solid round of applause twice: criticism of the California requirements on rest breaks for drivers. According to the Shouse Law Group, under the law “non-exempt employees must receive a thirty minute lunch or meal break if they work more than five hours in a day. Employees who work more than ten hours in a day are entitled to a second 30-minute meal break.” The problem is that the federal Hours of Service rule requires only one 30-minute break, and even that is under consideration for change.  At one of the meeting’s first sessions, FMCSA administrator Raymond Martinez said he generally didn’t like state laws that conflicted with federal regulations; he received rousing applause.  In the speech by ATA President Chris Spear, he said much the same thing as Martinez, though was more pointed; again, lots of applause from the audience. With so many issues, it seems like this one wouldn’t be that high on the list of important ones that the industry would focus on, but clearly, that is not the case. It’s viewed as establishing the limitations of what a state can do to the industry that might be in violation of federal rules, so in that regard, it is a very big deal. ATA has a petition in with FMCSA seeking to have the agency find the California rules are in conflict with federal law. Based on the brief but unambiguous remark made by Martinez, the FMCSA administrator may have the trade group’s back.

Hammer down everyone!

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John Kingston

John has an almost 40-year career covering commodities, most of the time at S&P Global Platts. He created the Dated Brent benchmark, now the world’s most important crude oil marker. He was Director of Oil, Director of News, the editor in chief of Platts Oilgram News and the “talking head” for Platts on numerous media outlets, including CNBC, Fox Business and Canada’s BNN. He covered metals before joining Platts and then spent a year running Platts’ metals business as well. He was awarded the International Association of Energy Economics Award for Excellence in Written Journalism in 2015. In 2010, he won two Corporate Achievement Awards from McGraw-Hill, an extremely rare accomplishment, one for steering coverage of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the other for the launch of a public affairs television show, Platts Energy Week.