Lowers Outlook Slightly for Crude Oil, Gasoline
The Department of Energy held its diesel price forecast for 2009 steady at $2.46 a gallon, but bumped its projection for next year by a nickel from a previous forecast.
Trucking’s main fuel will average $2.84 in 2010, DOE said in its monthly short-term energy outlook released Tuesday — up slightly from the $2.79 it forecast last month.
In its latest weekly pump-price survey released Monday, DOE said the national average price of diesel was $2.625, the highest price since late November.
Diesel averaged $3.80 last year, peaking on July 14, 2008, at a record $4.764 a gallon.
Gasoline will average $2.34 this year, down slightly from the $2.36 predicted last month, DOE said. Monday’s weekly survey showed a 9-cent increase to $2.647.
This year’s prices are well below last year’s $3.26 average, a record. The single-week record high for gas was $4.114 a gallon, set on July 7, 2008.
DOE also lowered its forecast for crude oil, saying it will average $59.94 a barrel, down slightly from the $60.35 it projected last month. The 2010 forecast was unchanged at $72.42.
Oil averaged $99.57 per barrel last year and set a New York Mercantile Exchange closing-price record of $145.29 last July.
By Transport Topics
There were no surprises in the new federal rule designed to improve the braking power of a standard, fully loaded, tractor-trailer by almost one-third.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration worked with the industry on a shorter stopping distance, and the final rule, issued July 24, will not force truck operators to adopt disc brakes if they don’t want them. It does not require installation of electronic brake systems, nor does it attempt to regulate brake “fade” (loss of effectiveness) in prolonged applications.
Brake makers last week said they would be able to meet the new stopping standard with larger, “enhanced” drum brakes, based on familiar technology.
Some fleets, of course, freely choose disc brakes and EBS for their tractors.
By setting a maximum stopping distance of no more than 250 feet from 60 mph, starting with 2012 models, NHTSA cut the standard by more than 100 feet. Early tests did not instill confidence in the agency’s mind that brake drums could do the job. NHTSA favored air-powered disc brakes, and even considered a “hybrid” mix of discs and drums on the tractor.
In the 1970s, NHTSA was eyeing a stopping distance of 216 feet from 60 mph, which proved technically infeasible. But the effort eventually led, over a stormy and circuitous route, to the anti-lock brake mandate.
The draft of this latest rule was unveiled in 2005, and many fleets immediately said they did not want to be forced into discs. They argued disc brakes on the tractor and drum brakes on the trailers — the norm for trailers — would create compatibility and balance problems. They said they would face additional costs in stocking parts for two different brake systems and would need to train technicians in both.
Fleets also were concerned that new brake requirements would overlap the arrival of engine emission systems in 2007 and 2010.
NHTSA’s recognition that bigger drum brakes can do the job means adapting to the new rule “should be pretty smooth,” American Trucking Associations said. That’s the best no-surprise of all.
Also, NHTSA acknowledged that truck operators still have equipment changes coming their way that will add cost and weight to trucks. We can’t help but agree that the resulting accident reduction will justify the expense in the long run.
We see this new rule as another positive for an industry that keeps getting safer, as shown by the steep, 12% drop in truck-related highway fatalities last year.
CONWAY BEAM LEASING
'Jason's Law' Introduced in Senate
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer has introduced companion legislation in the Senate to a bill in the House that would implement a pilot program to address shortages in safe parking for commercial motor vehicles on the National Highway System.
The House bill, H.R. 2156, was introduced last week by New York Rep. Paul Tonko. The bill is S.971 in the Senate. Both bills, titled "Jason's Law," are named after New York truck driver Jason Rivenburg, who was shot to death during a robbery attempt on March 5 while resting at an abandoned gas station in South Carolina.
This legislation allows the Secretary of Transportation, in cooperation with appropriate State, regional, and local governments, to allocate funds to improve rest areas that serve the National Highway System.
Referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, "Jason's Law" would provide grants for the following initiatives:
- Constructing safety rest areas that include parking for commercial motor vehicles.
- Constructing commercial motor vehicle parking facilities adjacent to commercial truck stops and travel plazas.
- Opening existing facilities to commercial motor vehicle parking, including inspection and weigh stations and park-and-ride facilities.
- Promoting the availability of publicly or privately provided commercial motor vehicle parking on the National Highway System using intelligent transportation systems and other means.
- Constructing turnouts along the National Highway System for commercial motor vehicles.
- Making capital improvements to public commercial motor vehicle parking facilities currently closed on a seasonal basis.
- Improving the geometric design of interchanges on the National Highway System to improve access to commercial motor vehicle parking facilities.
The American Trucking Associations issued a statement in support of the bill.
"ATA supports this critical legislation and urges quick action in Congress," said Bill Graves, ATA President and CEO. "The parking shortage for commercial motor vehicles comprises the safety of drivers out on the road and requires a comprehensive solution involving all interested parties."
The creation of more long-term truck parking has been a longstanding issue within the trucking industry and was an ATA Safety Task Force Report recommendation released in 2008.
Lt. j.g. Stephanie Young, a Coast Guard spokeswoman, said TSA decided two weeks ago to allow entry to truckers and port workers without a TWIC because a recent system failure had caused a backlog in issuing the credentials.
To gain entry without a TWIC, a worker must present a photo identification card and proof that his or her TWIC has been printed and is ready for activation, according to an April 2 Coast Guard statement. The fact that a TWIC is ready for activation proves the individual has successfully completed a law-enforcement background check, Young said.
The alternative method of entry will be in effect only until May 13. After this date, only individuals with a valid TWIC will be eligible for unescorted access to facilities regulated by the Maritime Transportation Security Act, the Coast Guard said.
As of last week, TSA said that nearly 1.1 million port and dockworkers, truckers and others at ports across the nation had enrolled for the card, but only 890,000 cards had been issued.
On average, TWICs have been ready for activation three to four weeks after initial enrollment, primarily because of the time re-quired for the background checks, TSA said.
“We encourage all workers that, once we let them know their card is ready to be activated, to come in and do so,” said Greg Soule, a TSA spokesman.
Plagued by a number of technological and other glitches, TSA’s security system contractor, Lockheed Martin Corp., has been playing catch-up in TWIC enrollment for the past year.
Port workers originally were required to have the TWIC by Sept. 25, 2008, but the deadline was extended to April 15 in May last year.
The TWIC was developed in response to legislative provisions of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001, which Congress passed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The actual national compliance deadline is April 15, but Coast Guard officials at the last five ports to begin requiring the TWIC — Los Angeles/Long Beach, Guam, Houston/Galveston, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Port Arthur, Texas — actually will begin requiring the credential beginning April 14, Soule said.
Besides the estimated 1.2 million workers who will need the biometric security credential to gain unescorted access to secure areas of the nation’s maritime transportation system, all Coast Guard registered mariners will need the identification card.
Soule said TSA is still uncertain how many port workers will apply.
“It’s a transient and seasonal population,” Soule said, “so it’s hard to nail down exactly how many people will need a TWIC.”
The TWIC enrollment process has been the target of congressional criticism and was faulted for delays in a Government Accountability Office report last year (9-29-08, p. 3).
Soule said that TSA expects workers to continue enrolling employees after the mandatory compliance date.
To meet last-minute demand, the agency recently added a “surge of new resources,” opening new activation centers in Houston, Los Angeles/Long Beach, New Jersey and Baton Rouge, La.
When Dan Bartochowski was laid off from his job at a tire retread shop in Griffith after 18 years, he had an inkling what he might do next.
"I have all kinds of contacts in the industry because I was always working with guys who drive trucks, who own trucks, so it's something I thought I could do," he said.
But it wasn't easy getting there. The 46-year-old single dad was out of work for more than half a year before securing a work force retraining grant for classes at DriveCo, a truck-driving school in Gary.
With the unemployment rate at 9.9 percent and 33,228 people out of work in Northwest Indiana, legions of others have been doing the same as Bartochowski this year -- learning new tricks for new trades in order to land jobs.
Recently, Bartochowski was practicing parallel parking a cab and 48-foot trailer under the watchful eye of DriveCo instructor John Spoonhour. He would be taking his CDL test within a few days.
"You're never to old to learn something new," Bartochowski said.
The Center of Workforce Innovations reports that in the past six months, 458 jobless workers have enrolled in government-sponsored retraining programs that it administers. The center oversees WorkOne employment offices in the region.
Many more workers, both unemployed and employed, are paying for retraining using their own funds, school financial aid and loans, said Bill Thon, economic development and work force director at Ivy Tech Community College.
Ivy Tech Community College's Northwest Indiana region campuses have seen enrollment increase 17 percent this spring semester as compared to the spring semester of 2008, according to the college's figures.
Some smaller training schools also are seeing enrollments surge.
Enrollment for the three-week Certified Nurses Aide (CNA) course at Med Ed Inc. has doubled in the past year, Med Ed owner Pat Christoff said. Enrollment in the two-month course to become a Qualified Medication Aide have tripled.
Whether an unemployed worker is thinking of paying for retraining themselves or looking for a government retraining grant, they will need help sorting it all out, Thon said.
"Anyone dislocated or unemployed, the first thing they have to do is go to the WorkOne office," Thon said.
There, they can take tests, meet with a counselor and begin to figure out how to get the training they need, Thon said.
The Center of Workforce Innovations staffs the WorkOnes with counselors and contracts with colleges and vocational schools, like DriveCo, to provide work force training.
Bartochowski said he was required to write research papers and interview employers about his chances of landing a job before his $4,000 training grant was approved.
"I was one of the lucky ones," Bartochowski said. "A lot of people can't get them."
Back to school
Enrollments at some Northwest Indiana institutions of higher learning have increased significantly during the recession and are holding steady at others.
Ivy Tech Community College
Spring 09 enrollment: 7,167
Spring 08 enrollment: 6,110
Indiana University Northwest
Spring 09: 4,656
Spring 08: 4,447
Spring 09 enrollment: 3,790
Spring 08 enrollment: 3,697
Purdue University Calumet
Spring 09 enrollment: 8,944
Spring 08 enrollment: 8,962
Calumet College of St. Joseph
Spring 09 enrollment: 1201
Spring 08 enrollment: 1200
Sources: Ivy Tech Community College; Indiana University Northwest;
Purdue University Calumet; Valparaiso University; Calumet College of St. Joseph
Truck driving schools say they're seeing a rush of people wanting to get behind the wheel. CNN's Ed Lavandera reports.
ARMADA -- In this uncertain economy, Andrew Tanghe is hoping for a career that lasts for the long haul.
So Tanghe, who is unemployed, stopped by an open house Monday sponsored by Baker College's Center for Truck Driving that gave prospective drivers a taste of what it's like to drive a big rig -- from the seat of a high-tech, $150,000 simulator.
The simulator is like an Xbox 360 driving game on steroids. It features three large video screens that serve as a big rig's windows, a realistic instrument panel, driver's seat, steering wheel and gear shift lever.
Turns out it wasn't easy to drive the virtual rig -- Tanghe blew out a tire and drove through a fence.
"I don't want that to ever happen to me for real," said Tanghe, 26, of Casco Township in St. Clair County, who is hoping to sign up for Baker's program.
Interest in truck driving schools like the program offered through Baker College of Port Huron is on the rise, said Mike O'Connell, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association in Washington, D.C.
Dan Kenny, vice president of admissions for Baker, agrees. "There's no doubt the economy is driving interest and enrollment in all of our courses," he said. Baker offers a truck driving program at its campuses in Allen Park, Cadillac, Cass City, Flint and West Branch.
The school offers two truck driving courses each year, one in the spring and one in fall. The school has already signed up 14 students for this year's 20-week-long spring course, he said.
Truck driving appeals to those who are looking for work because it's a good, stable job, O'Connell said.
"The average driver still starts between $38,000 and $40,000 a year with benefits," he said. "It only goes up from there."
"And it's one of the few jobs in America that can't be outsourced," he said.
The sputtering economy has somewhat dampened demand for truck drivers as large freight movements have slowed, but good, experienced drivers can always find work, he said.
"If the economy is functioning at all, anything you buy has moved by truck on average five times," O'Connell said.
"The industry is about 7 percent of the gross national product and largely invisible, except when things aren't there."
New York-based L-3 Link Simulation & Training, which specializes in aircraft simulators, created the simulation machine used for Monday's open house, said Carl Vogler, one of Baker's truck driving instructors. The program has used the machine to train future drivers for the last four years, he said.
A computer enables instructors like Vogler to put a student driver in dozens of different types of trucks and situations. Instructors can configure different shift patterns for the transmissions of everything from a tractor-trailer to a municipal dump truck.
Vogler can make the simulated trip a pleasure drive down the highway on a summer day, or he can make it a jaunt so grueling over icy roads that it'll turn the driver's knuckles white.
Just ask Kevin Dunn, 50, of New Baltimore, who took a buyout from Ford Motor Co. last year and is looking at starting a second career as a truck driver. Vogler put him through the paces and Dunn ended up jackknifing his rig and sliding across an interstate highway.
"I wish I could spend more time on it," he said after a quick trial. "It seemed very realistic. I wish I could get one for my home."
April 6-10 marks the 10th anniversary of National Work Zone Awareness Week. The national campaign is conducted every year at the start of the construction season to attract national attention to drive carefully through highway construction and repair sites. Each year, approximately 1,000 people are killed in roadway work zones and, with the recent enactment of the President’s economic recovery package which supports a good deal of highway repair and construction funding, 2009 could be one of the most active highway repair seasons in recent memory. The national kick- off media event takes place Tuesday, April 7 at 10 a.m in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. The slogan for the 2009 event is “Drive To Survive – Our Future Is Riding On It.” To view activities from past years events, click here .
To view the 2009 National Work Zone Awareness Week Poster, click here .
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