Hours of service
Proposed rulemaking would also impact productivity, executives say.
Proposed changes to rules limiting on-duty time for drivers could also have a significant impact on the nation's freight delivery system, trucking and logistics experts say.
A proposed rulemaking from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration would trim the driver's workday by an hour to 13 hours by injecting a one-hour break period into the 14-hour day, and set limits on the use of the 34-hour restart period.
Under current rules drivers are limited to driving 60 hours in a seven-day period or 70 hours over eight days, with the weekly clock restarting after 34 consecutive hours of down time.
The FMCSA has also indicated that it is leaning toward reducing behind-the-wheel time from 11 to 10 hours, but has not decided whether to make the change.
Logistics executives say the rule will make drivers less productive, requiring more drivers and equipment to move the same amount of cargo. Transportation stock analyst Donald Broughton of Avondale Partners predicted highway carriers will be forced to use more trailers in drop-and-hook operations to maintain tractor utilization, and in the process incur additional communications expenses for wireless trailer tracking.
Industry groups argue that the current hours-of-service rules already represent a reduction in driver work time from several years ago and have contributed to the annual improvements in fatalities despite increases in total mileage driven. They are fighting further changes that they say do not increase safety and would wreak havoc with all the successful operational changes made to implement the previous round of work rules.
The National Private Truck Council recently stated that the proposed rule could translate into a 5 percent to 7 percent cut in driver pay and a 15 percent decline in fleet productivity.
Another FMCSA proposal issued in January would require long-haul interstate carriers to install electronic onboard recorders to track drivers' compliance with hours-of-service. It would automatically calculate, log and transmit their location, miles driven and on-duty hours to the company, thereby decreasing the ability of drivers who are paid by the mile to falsify their existing paper logs and exceed the maximum allowable hours.
The agency aims to finalize the rule by mid-2012 and then give carriers three years to incorporate the technology. Several large trucking companies, including Schneider, already use electronic logs in many of their trucks.
Some logistics executives say that adoption of the hours-of-service rule may force companies to add distribution centers to their supply networks because drivers won't be able to reach customers that are farther away.
A significant percentage of industrial real estate became functionally obsolete for high-throughput customers after hours-of-service rules were changed in 2005, Neil Doyle, executive vice president for infrastructure and transportation development at CenterPoint Properties, told American Shipper.
'The importance of your DC location to the port or intermodal terminal has just been amplified in its importance. The striking distance to get to a location and back in a day under the allowable hours of driving is the challenge, so certain locations that seemed prudent 10 years ago are no longer,' he said, adding that the inability to make as many trips in a day can lead to late pickup fees for containers left at the port.
The rules enacted six years ago increased the importance of shippers and warehouse operators loading trailers ahead of time because wait time now counts against the driver's daily limit. But many warehouses were built during the past two decades to maximize square footage available for lease and don't have adequate parking space to accommodate a trailer drop-and-pick up system, with yard hostlers shuttling trailers to and from the loading dock.
CenterPoint, a major developer of logistics parks and inland ports, has positioned properties near transport hubs and with an almost unlimited number of trailer spots, Doyle said.