US Capital

After infrastructure deal, Senate votes to take up bill

From Transport Topics.

The Senate voted the night of July 28 to begin work on a nearly $1 trillion national infrastructure plan, acting with sudden speed after weeks of fits and starts once the White House and a bipartisan group of senators agreed on major provisions of the package that’s key to President Joe Biden’s agenda.

Biden welcomed the accord as one that would show America can “do big things.” It includes the most significant long-term investments in nearly a century, he said, on par with building the transcontinental railroad or the Interstate highway system.

“This deal signals to the world that our democracy can function,” Biden said ahead of the vote. “We will once again transform America and propel us into the future.”

After weeks of stop-and-go negotiations, the rare bipartisan showing on a 67-32 vote to start formal Senate consideration showed the high interest among senators in the infrastructure package. But it’s unclear if enough Republicans will eventually join Democrats to support final passage.

Senate rules require 60 votes in the evenly split 50-50 chamber to proceed for consideration and ultimately pass this bill, meaning support from both parties.

The outcome will set the stage for the next debate over Biden’s much more ambitious $3.5 trillion spending package, a strictly partisan pursuit of far-reaching programs and services including child care, tax breaks and health care that touch almost every corner of American life. Republicans strongly oppose that bill, which would require a simple majority, and may try to stop both.

Lead GOP negotiator Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio announced the bipartisan group’s agreement on the $1 trillion package earlier July 28 at the Capitol, flanked by four other Republican senators who had been in talks with Democrats and the White House.

After voting, Portman said the outcome showed that bipartisanship in Washington can work and he believed GOP support would only grow. “That’s pretty darn good for a start,” he said.

See the complete article online at Transport Topics.

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Limiting trucks’ speeds on highways

Legal Alert from MG+M The Law Firm.

Recently, two members of the United States House of Representatives introduced a bipartisan bill that aims to limit trucks’ speeds on our nation’s highways. Rep. Lucy McBath and Rep. John Katko proposed the Cullum Owings Large Truck Safe Operating Speed Act on May 25, 2021. The exact details of the bill are not entirely clear, but the legislation would codify a long-considered “speed limiter” rule. In doing so, the legislation would instruct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to mandate that certain commercial vehicles have speed-limiting technology installed. Additionally, drivers would be required to use any pre-existing speed-limiting technology in the vehicle while operating it. Finally, the bill would require that vehicles employing the technology be limited to a maximum speed of 65 mph. Certain advanced safety technology, such as automatic emergency brakes, could allow truck drivers to increase this speed to 70 mph.

This topic has a long history of consideration. In 2006, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) introduced the idea to the NHTSA and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). These two bodies asked for public comment on the issue in 2007. Then, in 2016, NHTSA and FMCSA announced a notice of proposed rulemaking regarding the technology. No action occurred prior to the 2016 election, and the new administration decided not to pursue the issue. Finally, the bill was introduced in 2019 by two United States senators.

The bill is named after a young man from Atlanta who was killed in a collision with a truck in 2002. It was supported for a long time by Johnny Isakson, a former U.S. senator from Georgia, and has been endorsed by members of the trucking community. For example, Steve Williams, the former chairman of the ATA and co-founder and president of the Trucking Alliance, said, “Millions of motorists are within a few feet of 80,000 lb. tractor-trailer rigs each day and there is no reason why that equipment should be driven at 75 or 80 or 85 miles per hour … This legislation will reduce the severity of large truck crashes and make the nation’s roadways safer for our drivers and all of us.”

However, not everyone in the trucking community is supportive of the idea of installing speed limiters. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) has opposed installing such technology in vehicles for a long time. The group believes that speed limiters would create dangerous conditions on the roads, saying, “OOIDA is opposed to mandatory speed limiters because they are dangerous for all highway users … Highways are safest when all vehicles travel at the same relative speed. This has become more and more apparent to states that previously had split speed limits for large trucks, and they are trending toward removing such policies.”

The future of this bill, as displayed through previous attempts to enact such rules, is uncertain. With Congress handling many major legislative priorities, it is unclear whether this bill will be given attention. MG+M will continue to monitor the bill’s progress and its potential impact on trucking companies.

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The Transportation Professional Summer 2021 Issue

Have you seen the latest edition of MTAC’s magazine The Transportation Professional? Our current issue features MTAC Chairwoman Helen Brooks and her journey to becoming a senior state and local government affairs representative for FedEx.

This issue also highlights Connecticut’s recent implementation of the Truck Milage Tax that will go in to affect in 2023. The Transportation Professional is a great resource for current topics in Connecticut’s transportation industry. Make sure to check out the digital version below.

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Connecticut DMV sign

DMV to begin sending CDL downgrade notices

CT DMV officials have communicated to MTAC that they will soon begin sending CDL downgrade notices to CDL holders who do not have a current medical certificate on file. A sample notice can be seen here.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, FMCSA and DMV acted to extend expiring credentials. One such credential was medical certifications. However, extensions are no longer in effect, and medical certifications must be brought up to date if they are expired.

The DMV notice states, in part, “If you do not have a current Medical Certificate on file, or your Waiver or Variance has expired, your driving status is listed as “Not Certified”. Your CDL will be downgraded (changed to a noncommercial Class D license) or your CLP will be canceled. Your valid Medical Examiner’s Certificate must be received within 60 days from the downgrade date listed above to avoid re-applying for certain endorsements.”

If a driver receives one of these notices, they need to be examined by a Certified Medical Examiner and then submit their medical card to DMV within 60 days.

Contact the MTAC office if you have any questions.

Connecticut DMV sign

Reminder: Med Cards can only be submitted through DMV online portal

Connecticut DMV has sent a friendly reminder to MTAC and its members that Connecticut’s online medical certification system is the only way to submit medical certifications to CT DMV. The online medical certification system can be accessed at this link. This is a reminder to NOT email or fax your med cards to CT DMV, they will not be received that way.

The link works from smart phones and tablets. Users can enter the link and follow the step-by-step wizard.

As a reminder, members can use this FMCSA website to search for Certified Medical Examiners (CMEs) in Connecticut who are qualified to perform physical examinations. Once the driver has obtained medical certification, submit the medical cards (short form) through the online medical certification system.

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ATA chief economist: Driver shortage linked to lifestyle considerations

From Transport Topics.

The persistent truck driver shortage is a complicated issue that is tied in part to quality-of-life considerations, according to American Trucking Associations Chief Economist Bob Costello.

Costello reported the trucking industry needed an additional 60,800 truckers in 2018, a shortfall that is expected to grow to 105,000 drivers by 2023 unless recruitment efforts improve. Costello delivered a presentation at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee meeting on July 20.

He identified various factors that are exacerbating the driver shortage, ranging from lifestyle issues to the pandemic’s limiting effect on departments of motor vehicles and driver schools. Anecdotally, he said he hears from fleets that companies can pay drivers less as long as they get them home every other night.

Maybe there’s more to this story,” Costello said. “Maybe it’s also about lifestyle. I think this really gets to the lifestyle issue.”

Route length — and the ability for drivers to get home regularly — has a connection to driver turnover, Costello indicated. Truck driver turnover rates generally are higher for over-the-road fleets than local ones. According to Costello, large for-hire truckload driver turnover rates were 90% for OTR operations and 20% for local operations in 2020.

Turnover can be impacted by a variety of other factors, including driver treatment by shippers, receivers and fleets. Also, Costello said fleets will try to recruit each others drivers, sometimes offering recruits the opportunity to drive new trucks.

Another factor associated with the driver shortage is FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, a database containing information on commercial driver license holders’ drug and alcohol violations. ATA supports FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, but Costello noted it is having an effect on the driver pool. Many truckers who have been issued drug violations have not started the procedures necessary to re-enter the industry.

See the complete article online at Transport Topics.

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The exception to the exemption

Legal Alert from MG+M The Law Firm.

In most circumstances the Motor Carrier Act (MCA) exempts drivers from overtime wages as mandated by the Fair Labor and Standards Act (FLSA). The MCA provides that employees whose qualifications and hours of service are dictated by the Secretary of Transportation are exempt from the overtime rates set forth in the FLSA. However, there also is a critical exception to this exemption when it comes to “small vehicles.” The small vehicle exception was established when Congress passed the SAFETEA-LU Technical Corrections Act (TCA). The provision notes that the FLSA overtime provisions apply to a “covered employee,” which is defined as an employee whose work, either fully or partially, is defined by safely operating a vehicle less than 10,000 pounds on public highways in interstate or foreign commerce.

While seemingly straightforward, the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal have wrestled when applying the small vehicle exception in recent cases. For instance, the circuits are divided on how to handle mixed fleets, or those instances when an employee splits his or her time operating both heavy trucks and small vehicles. Appellate courts, including the First Circuit and the Fifth Circuit, have placed the burden of establishing that the exception applies on the employee; other circuits, most notably, the Tenth Circuit, hold that the employer should prove the exception’s applicability. Moreover, most circuits hold that the gross weight of the vehicle is the appropriate measure when distinguishing “small” and “heavy” vehicles. Yet, the Ninth Circuit, which encompasses California, has opted to use the vehicle’s actual weight. Lastly, the circuits are divided on the question of “mixed fleets.” For example, a number of circuits, such as the First, Second, and Third Circuits, hold that employees working within a mixed fleet (vehicles that are both under the 10,000-pound threshold, and over) are eligible for overtime if their work entirely, or partially, involves operating vehicles under 10,000 pounds. On the other hand, the Seventh Circuit applies a more complicated formula to assess employee eligibility for overtime if their work involves operating vehicles over 10,000 pounds.

Two examples: In Noll v. Flowers Foods Inc., the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine, within the First Circuit, placed the burden on drivers to establish if they were covered employees. Also within the First Circuit, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts maintained that split fleets can qualify for the exemption if they spend a majority of their time operating a vehicle below 10,000 pounds, or their time operating a heavier vehicle was de minimus in Botero v. Commonwealth Limousine Service, Inc. There, the court dismissed a carrier’s assertion that its employees were exempt from overtime pay because they drove large vehicles some of the time. Rather the court opined that since the majority of time the employees were operating small vehicles, they qualified for overtime pay as contemplated by the FLSA.

As the courts lack a uniform rule, it is important for carriers to note the governing law in the jurisdiction in which they operate. Otherwise, failing to provide overtime pay to qualified employees expose employers to significant liabilities such as mandatory treble damages for wage and hour violations under state wage and hour acts as well as the FLSA.

Truck Driver

MTAC hosts Inspector Certification class on Sept. 21

MTAC will host our first Inspector Certification class of 2021 on Sept. 21. Below you will find a course description and a link to sign up for the class.

Under federal law, commercial motor vehicle inspectors are required to be certified to be able to conduct federal annual inspections. Inspectors must be capable of performing inspections with a minimum work experience of at least one year, have a full understanding of the tools and methods of inspection, and have a complete understanding of the federal regulations. Inspector Certification is a self-certification by the mechanic/inspector to the employing motor carrier that he/she meets these requirements.

This Inspector’s Certification Course is designed to tie your inspector’s existing experience to the laws and standards of inspection as put forth in federal regulations. Participants in this course will be issued a management edition FMCSR book. They will be using the regulations to understand where to find and how to apply those regulations. Discussion on the legal liabilities of conducting federal annual inspections is included. Proper vehicle maintenance and service record-keeping is also part of this course. This course is designed for technicians with at least one year of experience, however, supervisors and others involved with vehicle maintenance programs are also encouraged to attend. Participants may self-certify if they meet the minimum requirements. This course will focus on the regulations pertaining to the entire vehicle inspection process. Technicians are also encouraged to take the brake training classes when available for brake specific certification requirements.

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Highway user fee signed

From CT News Junkie.

Under a bill signed Monday by Gov. Ned Lamont, the state will impose a new mileage-based fee on tractor-trailer trucks using Connecticut highways beginning in January 2023.

In an effort to support the state’s struggling Special Transportation Fund, the new law will assess a per-mile tax on big rig trucks which will scale with the weight of the vehicle. On the low end, the fee will be 2.5 cents per mile for trucks weighing between 26,000 and 28,000 pounds. The fee will scale as high as 17.5 cents per mile for trucks weighing more than 80,000 pounds.

State fiscal analysts expect the mileage tax to raise around $90 million a year, although revenues may be reduced somewhat due to a change approved by lawmakers that exempts some trucks transporting milk.

During a floor debate last month in the House, Rep. Sean Scanlon, a Guilford Democrat who is co-chair of the Finance Committee, said the bill asked large truck operations to chip in to finance road repair.

“We’re asking them to pay a small fraction on behalf of the wear and tear that they do so that we can make sure that our roads and bridges are not just in a state of good repair but that we actually can do the kind of investments that we need to do to improve our economy and grow our state,” Scanlon said in June.

However, on Tuesday Joe Sculley, head of the Motor Transport Association of CT, said comparable policies in other states have failed because they are difficult to enforce.

“You’re going to have out-of-state trucking companies either knowingly or unknowingly not pay it,” Sculley said. “That’s why it’s going to fail. We’re not going to get the money. The state is not going to get the tax revenue that they think they are and that’s going to cause a whole host of problems.”

See the complete article online at CT News Junkie.

US Capital

House funding leaders back $1.9 Billion USDOT budget increase

From Transport Topics.

A new bill from U.S. House lawmakers meant to fund the Department of Transportation through fiscal 2022 would back an operational budget increase for federal trucking safety programs and ensure the distribution of infrastructure grants around the country.

As part of an appropriations bill approved by a House panel July 12, federal transportation and housing programs would receive $84.1 billion for the next fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. The total funding reflects an increase of $8.7 billion, or more than 11% than last year’s approved level. For USDOT, it would mean a $1.9 billion increase.

House Democratic leaders, who plan to take the measure to the chamber’s floor this month, offered concerns about infrastructure networks nationwide. As Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) put it, “For far too long, our nation’s crumbling infrastructure has held America back. With this bill’s major new investments in transportation, including transit and rail, more than 125,000 new housing vouchers, and the modernization of public housing, we have made a long overdue investment in the future of America’s working families.”
Under the bill, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration operational budget would receive a slight increase. Specifically, FMCSA’s funding proposal in the House bill would include $379.5 million for its operations budget, and $506.2 million for safety grants.

Additionally, the Federal Highway Administration would receive $61.9 billion for programs funded via the Highway Trust Fund account. The funding is meant to enhance safety and long-term viability of surface transportation operations, the bill’s sponsors explained.

The legislation also would provide $18.9 billion for the Federal Aviation Administration, which would be $896 million above the fiscal 2021 level. The Federal Railroad Administration would receive $4.1 billion, an increase of $1.3 billion above year 2021, and the Federal Transit Administration would receive $15.5 billion, an increase of $459 million above the fiscal 2021 level. Amtrak would receive $2.7 billion, $700 million more than the fiscal 2021 level.

See the complete article online at Transport Topics.