Sunday, March 18, 2018

TCA letter to House panel stresses twin 33-foot trailers not solution for freight productivity

Thursday, February 2, 2017
by LYNDON FINNEY/The Trucker Staff

Truckload Carriers Association President John Lyboldt said in a letter to Congress Thursday that 33-foot trailers were not a solution to improving conditions on the nation’s roadways. (Courtesy: TRUCKLOAD CARRIERS ASSOCIATION)
Truckload Carriers Association President John Lyboldt said in a letter to Congress Thursday that 33-foot trailers were not a solution to improving conditions on the nation’s roadways. (Courtesy: TRUCKLOAD CARRIERS ASSOCIATION)

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Acknowledging that Congress and the nation together face the “tremendous” challenge of undergirding the nation’s infrastructure, lawmakers need to understand that solutions geared toward improving conditions within the country’s roadway network does not include gaining productivity through increased trailer size, a move that would only benefit a small population of the freight industry, says a letter by a major trucking group.

“As the committee embarks on this onerous task, the theory of addressing our nation’s truck size and weight provisions will surely be brought to the forefront as a productivity solution to aid in freight delivery during our time of reconstruction,” Truckload Carriers Association President John Lyboldt said in the letter sent Thursday to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The panel Wednesday heard FedEx Chairman, President and CEO Fred W. Smith revive the efforts of his company and other less-than-truckload carriers to pass legislation allowing 33-foot tandem trailers on the nation’s highways.

Smith first broached the idea of increasing the length of tandem trailers from 28 feet to 33 feet in early 2013, but to this point, has not been successful in getting Congress to pass legislation allowing the longer trailers.

Testifying Wednesday before the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s hearing on “Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America,” Smith said in prepared remarks that to continue moving America forward, “we must combine infrastructure enhancements with sound and efficient trucking policies … .”

Thus, Smith said, FedEx strongly supports a proposal to increase the national standard for twin trailers from 28 feet to 33 feet.

“The adoption of a 33-foot twin trailer standard would allow a carrier on any given lane to grow the volume of shipments before adding incremental trips,” he said, noting that the use of 33-foot twin trailers was recommended by the Transportation Research Board in its Special Report 267, first issued in 2002.

“Lauded as an opportunity to remove trucks from our roads, twin 33-foot trailers will actually have the opposite effect,” Lyboldt said in his letter to the committee. “In an effort to supplement and improve upon intermodal operations, our nation’s railroad container cars have been developed to accommodate the most prominent trailer configurations that exist within trucking today, the 28- and 53-foot trailers. You will soon realize that any change to these foundational trailer sizes will not only render existing truck trailers obsolete, but their corresponding railroad counterparts as well.”

Lyboldt said the truckload industry recognized the benefits that would be bestowed upon LTL associates by adding additional cubic feet of freight space and how those benefits add to the productivity of LTL carriers.

“However, the truckload industry would yield little, if any, advantage of the added cubic space that twin 33-foot trailers would generate,” he said. “Due to the vast differences in freight delivery models, the metric of mandating twin 33-foot trailers almost exclusively benefits LTL freight, thus putting the truckload segment of the industry at a competitive disadvantage.” 

Then there is the matter of purchasing the new equipment since TCA believes truckload carriers would have to purchase the longer trailers to be able to compete with the increased volume the LTL carriers would enjoy.

“When the trucking industry experienced a previous trailer conversion from 48-foot trailers to 53-foot trailers, the financial burden was dramatic, and any change from 53-foot trailers would be no different,” Lyboldt wrote. “Pricing models and logistics configurations would prevent the truckload segment of the industry from regaining any dollars invested in new 33-foot trailers. A shift to 33-foot trailers would be considered voluntary, and the shipping community would automatically transition to carriers with the most cubic space for their goods, rendering our nation’s fleet of 53-foot trailers nothing more than antiques.”

Lyboldt noted absent from any discussion about the longer trailers was the impact they would have on the driver population.

“As an industry that continually searches far and wide for qualified drivers to operate our vehicles, the driver ramifications of operating fleets consisting of 33-foot trailers would be severe,” he said. “The truckload industry and its long-haul operations are logistically assembled for longer trailer configurations rather than articulating smaller trailers bound by dollies. The majority of loading docks are designed to accommodate trailers that reverse into these docks. The twin 33-foot trailer configuration has proven problematic to back up and would need to be separated prior to backing, an arduous task for drivers in our long-haul world. The potential for driver injury when separating trailers and their 3,000-pound converter gear is high and would jeopardize any improvements to the health and well-being of drivers that our industry strives to make.”

TCA first came out against the longer trailers in October 2015 when the organization’s board of directors approved a recommendation from the organization’s Highway Policy Committee to go on record opposing twin 33-foot trailers.

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