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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, some of this stuff is getting redundant

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Oh, man, it’s column time again.

You know what? I’m going to have to be straight with you. There isn’t a darned thing I feel like talking about this time around. This is one of those “slow news” periods you hear about, and there really isn’t a whole lot going on in the trucking universe these days, at least nothing to write a column about. Things almost always slow down around the holidays. And now the midterm election is over and done with. In the weeks leading up to it everyone was playing the “What could it mean? What could it mean?” game. Then for a few weeks everyone played the “What will it mean? What will it mean?” game, which all adds up to a whole lot of nothing.

Speaking of which, the other day we had a meeting – boy, I’ll tell you what, that is one thing I envy you drivers for, you don’t have to sit in on staff meetings. Especially teleconferences, those are the worst. Half the time what they are talking about has nothing to do with you, and so you just have to sit there – it’s excruciating. The only good thing with teleconferences is, unlike traditional conferences around a table, you don’t have to even look like you’re paying attention.

I swear, there are times you can get up after an hour thinking, “Wait, did we decide on anything, about anything, aside from when the next meeting will be?”

But this wasn’t a teleconference. This meeting had a purpose. We were trying to figure out our editorial game plan for the near future. For inspiration, we looked at the just-released annual ATRI report on top industry concerns to see what we could tackle that we hadn’t covered lately.

We went down the list of carrier concerns, then the list of driver concerns.

Whaddaya know? We’ve done them all. Some of them repeatedly,

If anything, going over the list only emphasized how many issues there are in trucking that never seem to go away. Week after week, month after month, year after year, sometimes for decades, they are talked about and talked about. Studies are done. Programs and legislation are proposed. Then someone objects to the proposal and alternate programs and legislation are proposed. Then it stalls out, so someone decides to do another study.

These issues may evolve, but they’re never resolved, and we get stuck covering them, every misstep and false step and backtracking step of the way.

For instance, with the election over, everyone’s back to talking about infrastructure. I was hearing about “our crumbling infrastructure” long before I ever thought about writing about trucking, for at least 30 years. Elected officials come and go, and everyone everywhere agrees something needs to be done about it. They’re saying this might finally be the time we get something done.

Uh, huh, I’ve been hearing that for 30 years, too. Tell you what, when you figure something out and the steam shovels start rolling, give me a call.

And I’ve had enough of the autonomous vehicle stories, too. Talking about self-driving vehicles at this point is like talking about a manned mission to Mars. Folks are working on it, great. And they want to make a lot of noise about how they’re working on it. Of course, they do, and that’s largely because they know it will take a long time to convince the public it’s a good idea.

But I don’t think they’re nearly as close as some of the hype would lead us to believe. I’ll go on record saying it’s about 50-50 humans will at least orbit Mars before fully automated vehicles go mainstream.

The lack of truck parking is another issue that makes the ATRI list every year, at least among drivers. For some reason trucking executives never rate it as high, go figure. We keep hearing it’s bad, we keep hearing it’s getting worse. We keep hearing something must be done about it.

So, what’s keeping something from being done about it? The solution is simple. If you need more parking, build more parking. The question is, who’s going to foot the bill?

At the risk of rendering much of trucking journalism moot, that’s why many of these issues have the lifespan of a giant tortoise and move about as quickly – money, plain and simple.

Which brings us to the perpetual driver shortage. Carriers have gotten scared enough that they’ve dynamited their wallets open and started giving raises, to which drivers have responded by saying there’s more to life than money, to which has followed a wave of public soul-searching about trucking culture.

And now it’s popular to beat the drum about opening interstate trucking to 18-year-olds and rolling out the red carpet for veterans. There are some proposals out there, some pilot programs, but of course, it’s going to take a couple years of studies and data crunching to determine how much good these moves will do to relieve trucking’s labor shortage.

More talk, still not much in the way of results, and it gets boring to write about.

Another bold prediction: It’ll help a little, but not that much and not nearly enough.

What would be interesting would be to get a cross-section of industry analysts and try to break down exactly why trucking seems to be perpetually stuck with some of these problems.

Wait a minute – that’s it! That’s what we decided to do at the last meeting! OK, now that could be a cool topic for conversation. Now we’re getting somewhere.

 

 

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The Nation

CVTA releases guidance publication for new ELDT regulation

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The compliance guide contains best practices developed by the committee, comprehensive forms to assist with mandatory documentation, and an expansive overview of the new curriculum and reporting requirements. (Courtesy: CVTA)

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA) is releasing a three-part guidance publication “Entry-Level Driver Training: Compliance Guide” to provide member schools the knowledge and support needed to comply with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) regulation.

The program captures the lessons learned from CVTA’s ELDT Pilot Program Committee, which has been testing ELDT since September 2018, according to CVTA President Don Lefeve.

To aid schools in navigating the regulation, the compliance guide contains best practices developed by the committee, comprehensive forms to assist with mandatory documentation, and an expansive overview of the new curriculum and reporting requirements, he said.

“CVTA has been a leader in working across the industry and with key government stakeholders to build robust training requirements that support safety and develop high quality commercial truck drivers,” Lefeve said. “This compliance guide ensures our schools will have the tools to implement the new regulation and set up their students for future success.”

As a result of the new regulation, which takes effect on February 7, 2020, anyone that provides training to new commercial drivers must adhere to federal theory and behind-the-wheel curriculum requirements intended to increase highway safety and driver proficiency. The new rule was designed to ensure all entry-level drivers are properly trained prior to sitting for their CDL skills exam.

The compliance guide is complimentary for CVTA members and CVTA leaders will work with member schools to effectively implement the new regulation.

Further ensuring CVTA member organizations remain at the forefront of the training industry, the association will begin a voluntary ELDT compliance program for its members beginning on July 1.

This program will offer members the ability to assemble and submit requisite documentation in order to prepare for ELDT’s implementation date.

“Our voluntary compliance program will give members the opportunity to identify and modify any gaps in their curriculum, work through any administrative issues, and ensure they are well prepared in advance of the real compliance date,” Lefeve said.

Finally, CVTA will require its members to submit certain behind-the-wheel and other documentation once members apply for the Training Provider Registry.

The Commercial Vehicle Training Association is the largest association representing commercial truck driver training programs in the United States. CVTA members represent over 200 training locations in 42 states, who collectively train over 50,000 commercial drivers annually. Advancing the interests of trucking’s workforce providers and employers, Lefeve said CVTA advocates for policies that enhance safety through commercial driver training, enabling students to secure employment within the trucking and bus industries, thus further advancing driver professionalism.

For more information visit www.cvta.org.

 

 

 

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The Nation

Keep those comments coming, folks — well, some of those comments, anyway

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For almost my entire adult life, and that’s a lot of living, I have been a consistent gym-goer. Staying fit, and studying how to stay fit, has always been an interest of mine. Very few of you have seen me in person, so let me assure you, I look like a classic Roman statue.

But before I digress, way back at the very first gym I ever joined, there was a trainer who told me, if you want to learn, say, how to build big shoulders, watch the guys who have big shoulders and see what they do.

It isn’t a foolproof strategy, but I’ve always followed the gist of what the trainer was saying. To this day, I pick up training methods I’ve never seen before just by keeping my eyes open at the gym. And then if I see someone with a move that’s intriguing enough, I’ll ask the person about it, and if I’m still intrigued I’ll give it a try. One thing most dedicated gym rats have in common, they love to share their knowledge. I’ve probably learned as much that way over the years as I have reading books and magazines.

Once I got old enough to understand what they mean by “nothing new under the sun,” I learned that I hadn’t invented anything innovative with this strategy. In fact, this is fairly common advice. You can’t be an expert in everything, so surround yourself with people who are, that’s the way I read it in one of those Dale Carnegie, “How to Be a Success at Everything” type books. But you don’t need to rely on experts.

Just like at the gym, wherever you are, you are surrounded by people who have at least a little knowledge about something that you don’t. And just like at the gym, most people like to be the smart one in a conversation, all they’re waiting for is the invitation to share their knowledge.

That’s one of the ways I’m so disappointed in the so-called Information Age. True, the internet has brought the potential to put the accumulated knowledge of mankind at our fingertips. But it’s also opened the door for the collected but unsolicited babblings of untold, anonymous idiots, cranks and just plain nut jobs.

This is especially true in that most insidious of inventions, “reader comments” at the end of news stories. Of course, the practice was invented to create a sense of “interactive reader engagement.” And in theory, the potential is there for the kind of constructive intellectual exchange I’m sure they used at the first pitch meeting when someone was trying to sell the idea of reader comments.

Instead, what do we usually get? Barely intelligible ramblings from people who either didn’t read the article or misunderstood every word of it. Other folks who want to fly in and unload on whatever personal agenda that has nothing to do with the story. And then there are the hardheads whose minds aren’t open to anything they don’t already believe.

And don’t forget the one inevitable idiot who writes “I’m only here for the comments,” like he’s expecting it can get a laugh for the millionth time.

But I have to say, compared to the world at large, the comments I see from truckers on our website and others tend to stay more on point and be far more insightful than the you on the internet at large. I was reminded of that recently after we ran a story about that young driver who lost control of his truck near Denver and caused a 28-vehicle pileup.

That story occurred late in the week, and I recall someone commenting early on how they’d love to get some follow-up on exactly what happened to cause such a horrific crash. I told myself that when I came back on Monday, I’d do that follow-up and report on what had been ascertained over the weekend.

The first place I stopped was our own website, where I found several of our readers had beaten me to it. They’d been following every report they could find, and in the reader comments they were sharing the information, along with their own insights based on experience. In minutes, they brought me up to date and then some. They gave me perspective I’d have never gotten from a news release.

Now, that’s what reader comments should be like.

I’m not saying we don’t occasionally get comments that go off the deep end. Even among rational commenters, I get a sense that if someone could harness the untapped anger that runs through this industry, we could abandon diesel, electric and hydrogen tomorrow and run America’s trucks on pure rage.

Still, I have found that the trucking community is similar to gym culture in that when you open the floor to discussion, there is a lot of insight to be had. I have found that online, and I have found it to be the case in person.

There are endless studies and analyses done about trucking, and I have access to some of the most brilliant minds to dedicate themselves to this profession. Their expertise is been invaluable, but it’s what I pick up from drivers that fills in the cracks the experts and company officials leave behind.

When you watch sports, who has the most interesting things to say, the play-by-play announcer who’s entire sports experience has been in the broadcast booth, or the color commentator who used to play the game? It’s the boots-on-the-ground people who will always have a kind of expertise that comes from living it instead of studying it.

Yeah, some of it is just a bunch of noise, but I’d rather filter through a few of those than some 50-page report analyzing why freight tonnage changed two-tenths of a percent.

So, in case you’re a commenter or have thought about being a commenter and you’ve wondered if anyone is paying attention, keep reading, and I’ll do the same.

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The Nation

At the Truck Stop: This expediter’s loads are light and so are his spirits

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Seeing Ray Shamel standing in line at the Petro truck stop off Interstate 40, exit 161, near Little Rock, Arkansas, you could almost mistake him for a professional truck driver. He looks the part. And he’s obviously at home at a truck stop.

Then again, he’s got a little more pep in his step, he’s a little less bedraggled than most truckers are as they take care of business and life’s necessities. He’s quick to smile and to start a conversation wherever he finds one. He’s relaxed rather than weary.

There’s a simple explanation for the similarities and the differences, and he’s happy to reveal it.

“I’m an expediter,” he said with a wide grin, as though he had just revealed a plot twist to a mystery. He’s a professional driver, all right, but instead of a big rig, he drives a sprinter-style van for Barrett DirectLine Expedited Service, based in Bentonville, Arkansas.

“I haul small freight,” Shamel said. “I can haul up to three skids.” When someone has a small load that has to get somewhere quickly, that’s the niche expediters like Barrett fills, anywhere in the Lower 48, although, “usually we stay in the freight lanes, normally east of the Mississippi, mostly.”

Shamel has been driving for Barrett for about a year. Before that, he’d driven a straight truck near his home in Davison, Michigan, a suburb of Flint about 65 miles north-northwest of Detroit.

“I always liked driving, but my kids were young and at home, so I stayed at home and worked local until my kids were grown,” he said. “So now I decided to get out and see the country, drive and make money doing it.”

The way Shamel describes it, with expediting, he enjoys the best aspects of long-haul driving without a lot of the headaches. Take all that angst about Hours of Service, especially since ELDs became mandatory. Shamel has been following the issue, though none of it applies to him.

“We manage our own time, so we’re more able to stop where we want,” he said. When it is time to stop, he doesn’t have hunt for parking like he would with an 18-wheeler. His van has a pulldown bed, so he can get a room or just park somewhere.

“If I want to pull into a roadside park and get some sleep, a truck may not be able to get in, but I can do that.”

Ask almost any driver about the best aspects of being an OTR driver, and they will tell you it’s the chance to see the country.

“In a van, you can get more places that you want to see,” Shamel said. “Let’s say I’ve got a delivery near Niagara Falls, and I’ve always wanted to see it. Once I drop that, I go out of service for a day or 12 hours or whatever, I can go, take a look, take some pictures, enjoy myself, enjoy my day.”

Or suppose he’s out West and wants to take a short detour and see the Grand Canyon. Would he be able to maneuver those narrow, winding national park roads in a semi?

No driver likes to deadhead, but with his fuel costs being just a tiny fraction of what it would be driving a tractor-trailer, it’s not as big a deal if he decides he doesn’t want to wait to get home.

Like any driver with a family, being away from home can be the most depressing downside of the job. Shamel is out on the road for three to four weeks at a time. But he and his wife have more quality time now that he’s on the road.

“When I was working a regular job at home, I was driving long hours,” Shamel said. “I’d get home, my wife worked third shift. I’d get home either right after she left for work or right before she left. And then she’d be gone all night. We had to fight for moments to have time together.

“Now that I’m an independent contractor running through a carrier, I’m able to come in and go out of service whenever I want. If my wife says, ‘I have a two-week vacation in June, do you want to do something?’ we can book a cruise. I’m able to work it round her schedule now so every moment that she has off, I’m able to be there with her.”

Expediters have a tight community out on the road. Shamel belongs to Facebook group called Transportation Life: Wheels, Wings and Rudders, They number about 3,000 members.

“It’s like having this huge extended family of fellow expediters,” he said. So even though you’re away from home, you have friends that are out here. We’re able to meet up, you know, have dinner somewhere.”

It’s a nice feeling to pull up somewhere and see a couple of vans. “There’s a lot of women out here who are solo,” he said. “If they’re in an area with other members of the community they might feel safer.”

Then he added, honestly, it’s comforting even if you’re a guy to know you’re among friends.

Shamel had been sitting in Little Rock and had just gotten a call. In just a couple of minutes he’d be heading out to pick up a load to take to Louisville, Kentucky.

After that? Who knows, but that’s part of the fun.

 

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