Autonomous Truck Startup OTTO Purchased by Uber Technologies

In the last issue of WTN we had an article describing the how a group of former Silicon Valley Google engineers were developing technology that would allow a truck to drive itself. While many truckers sneer at the very thought of being replaced by a computer, big money is betting this technology has a future.

On Aug. 18th Uber Technologies announced they were purchasing OTTO in a deal purportedly worth over $600 million. Both companies are based in San Francisco.

WSTA Launches Weekly e-Newsletter

To better serve our members the WSTA began publishing a weekly electronic newsletter on Aug. 8th. The e-Newsletter is a compilation of relevant news from the previous week and will be in your in-box every Monday morning.

weekly-newsletter-2016-08The newsletter will allow the association to provide you with a much wider variety of articles than we can publish in the magazine plus add timeliness to the sharing of information.

Our printed association magazine, Western Transportation News is typically limited to one issue sent per membership address. Our e-Newsletter allows you to include as many people in your company as you wish. By following this link you can add anyone to our weekly distribution list.

The e-Newsletter also allows you to forward it to anybody by clicking on the link “Forward to a friend” located adjacent to the date shown on the e-Newsletter.

The e-Newsletter is already proving to be a success. We have nearly 5,000 subscribers already.

Blue Cut Fire Destroyed CHP Weigh Station

The 2016 western fire season has scorched over 100,000 acres just in California alone. In mid-August the 36,000 –acre Blue Cut fire began along interstate 15 in Cajon Pass closing the freeway to all vehicle traffic for two days.

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Edison crews working to restore power on 8/21

The Blue Cut fire forced the evacuation of 80,000 people in San Bernardino County and destroyed nearly 100 homes.  The California Department of Forestry and Fire Information finally declared the fire to be 100% contained on Aug, 23, 2016.

One of the structures destroyed by the fire is well known to truckers traveling I-15. The California Highway Patrol weigh station located on the southbound side of the freeway just past CA – 138 was a total loss.

WSTA staff photo of “where” the scale building used to be

WSTA staff photo of “where” the scale building used to be

We posted-up the picture and news of the scale house destruction on our Facebook page and had over 10,000 views in 24 hours along with more than two dozen comments. Truckers have never been exactly a fan of this scale because of its location midway down Cajon because it forces many to maintain constant brake pressure with the accompanying “hot brakes” that result.

One comment to our picture that was liked the most by people expressed the sentiment many truckers felt about this news, “Oh boy, all the truckers are just sick over this loss, NOT!

No word when the scale will be rebuilt.

Is Citizenship A Requirement For CDL?

A recent case in the state of Maryland has brought this question to the forefront for the trucking industry—do holders of commercial driver’s licenses (CDL) have to demonstrate they are U.S. citizens or, at least be able to prove they are legal permanent residents of the U.S. in order to obtain a CDL?

At issue is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requirement that CDL holders provide either proof of citizenship or meet “federal legal presence” requirements.  This issue isn’t limited to Maryland, but covers all 50 states.

The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration issued more than 250 notices last month to holders of CDL’s across the state warning them that their licenses would be canceled unless they proved their citizenship or permanent residency within 30 days.

TPS Status Doesn’t Meet Requirement

The bulk of those letters went to Maryland residents who have work permits through a federal Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program, which shields immigrants of certain countries from deportation and allows them to work in the United States. Under the TPS program the secretary of Homeland Security can designate immigrants from specific countries as TPS-eligible if there is an ongoing armed conflict, an environmental disaster or another extraordinary condition, such as violence.

The notices were triggered by an internal audit of the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration that found the agency had erred in giving TPS permit holders — from El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua — a license to drive commercial motor vehicles requiring a CDL.

The drivers had completed the training, exams and other requirements for the license. But their temporary protected status does not amount to permanent residency and therefore does not meet the federal requirements for receiving the type of CDL they had been awarded.

MVA spokesman Buel Young said the agency is seeking clarification from the federal government as to what it did wrong and whether there is a different commercial license that other states have used that could be issued to the immigrants in question.

Feds Taking Issue Seriously

Young said that at the same time the agency was conducting an audit of nearly 188,000 CDL and learner’s permits, the FMCSA told officials about a CDL holder who did not have the proper documentation.

After the audit, the MVA sent 263 letters to license holders notifying them that they were out of compliance with federal law, stating: “During the processing of your CDL we did not receive the required U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent residence documents.”

There are different classes of CDL’s for school bus, truck and heavy-vehicle drivers that are issued for five years, Young said. Nearly all of the letter recipients are immigrants who used employment authorization documents from the Department of Homeland Security to apply, pay for and obtain their licenses. The immigrants underwent criminal background checks, but the TPS program does not confer permanent legal status and as such those CDL applicants are not allowed to have that license.

Econ 101: Why California Has the Highest Gas Prices in the Country

A recent article on the website Priceonomics.com entitled “The Mystery of California’s High Gas Prices” caught our attention this month because we have been writing about “the mystery” for some time.

On July 25th, the retail price of gasoline nationally was $2.21 per gallon according to the Energy Information Agency…and then there was California – way above the national average.

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Retail Price of Gasoline California July 25, 2016 Source: California Energy Commission

The story covered the usual suspects involved in explaining why Californians have been paying more for motor fuel than almost anybody in the nation since the 1990s…the California Air Resources Board (CARB), California fuel taxes and attempting to blame manipulation on the part of refiners and oil companies.

But, instead of just pointing fingers, author Ben Christopher, out of Oakland, takes the time to spell out how much each component contributes to the states high fuel cost, which right now is roughly 50-cents per gallon higher than the national average. This is really a lesson in market economics, something virtually ignored by politicians in Sacramento and a lesson to all nationally of the effect of one-party rule.

The Cost of Environmental Regulation

Since the mid-1990s the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has mandated a different gasoline blend than any other state, which the agency says is necessary to reduce pollution. They have changed the blend at least six times during the past 20 years, each time requiring all the in-state refiners to change their equipment and chemical additives, all of which drives up the cost at least a dime per gallon.

In the recent past CARB has imposed requirements on the refiners to either reduce carbon emissions from their operations or buy pollution credits through the state-controlled quarterly cap-and-trade auction, another 10-to-12-cent per gallon cost.

More CARB costs are in the offing, such as the “low carbon fuel standard,” which if met by 2020 is projected to raise fuel costs by as much as 50 percent according to several studies.carb-refining-market-2016-08

Lots of Taxes at the Pump

As the first chart above shows, California’s total tax take on gasoline is a bit over 54-cents per gallon…at least a dime a gallon higher than the national average. All told, from fuel standards, to gas taxes, to emissions trading, California policy guarantees that its drivers pay an extra 32 cents more per gallon.

As the Priceonomics.com article says, the rest of the price gap comes down to geography, quoting Michael Green, public relations director at AAA. Much of the country’s oil refining capacity is dotted along the Gulf Coast. When any one of California’s 17 refineries hits a production snag, imports have to make up the difference and imports aren’t cheap.

“There are no pipelines that go over the Rocky Mountains,” he says, which is why gasoline prices are predictably higher across the American West. “Maybe [imported gas] comes from Asia, maybe it comes through the Panama Canal, maybe it comes from Mexico. Either way, those transportation costs get passed along to consumers.” Basically, from a supply side, California might as well be on an island because the state either produces what it needs or must rely on pricey imports.

And that, says Green, is all there is to it. No shady dealings by money grubbing oligopolists in the refining market required.

It would be different if new refiners moved into the state, but given the environmental opposition to such a plan, citizens will continue to pay more. A new refinery has not been built in California since Jerry Brown’s first term (1975) when the state’s population was half of what it is now. It’s more of a mystery how the refiners have managed to keep nearly 39 million people supplied with motor fuel considering the obstacles regulators keep putting in their way.

 

President’s Report – August 2016

Computers, Smart phones and self-driving trucks…oh my!!!

Greetings, Greetings…hope everyone is well!!  Recently I had a situation where I left my cell phone at home and as luck would have it, I did not realize it until I was almost to the office.  Of course this was a day where I had back-to-back meetings and I was unable to simply run home and get it.  I am sure most of you have experienced this situation in one form or another, but for those of you that have not, let me tell you that it a somewhat uneasy feeling being without your lifeline.

Throughout the day I continued to be reminded of how desperately I needed my phone to perform very simple functions.  Functions such as checking my calendar, responding to an email, answering questions via text and even dialing one of the many phone numbers that I have saved in my phone that I take for granted having access to.  This got me thinking about how far we have come technologically and more importantly where we are going.

Up until a few years ago, we had a mechanic who had been with us for almost 20 years.  He was deaf and he was one of the best mechanics I ever met.  He had a very special gift in that he was able to diagnose problems of our trucks by driving the truck around the yard and by his keen sense of touch on various parts of the engine.  Now you may be asking yourself, why am I bringing up this individual?  The answer is because as I am reminded of how things used to be I also recognize that in the very near future, the days of being able to diagnose problems no matter how small will be limited to a laptop and internet connection.  And the sooner we accept that technology is our friend…the better off we will be.  Most recently I found an equipment maintenance app that cost $4.99 and tracked oil changes, tire rotation, and virtually any other maintenance item could be added and tracked via time or mileage.  All of this can be saved, tracked and viewed right from your smart phone.  And this is just where we are now…in a very short time we can expect self-driving trucks and I am sure numerous more rounds of upgrades and cleaner engine requirements.

Money, Money, Money!!!

For those of us that have fleets of 10 or fewer vehicles and need to upgrade or retrofit another truck by year end there is government funding available.  The Voucher Incentive Program (VIP) has money available and the process is very quick as long as all the paperwork has been submitted correctly.  Advertised turnaround times are around 10-14 business days from submission to approval and you can receive up to $40,000 towards the cost of a model year 2008 or newer or up to $10,000 towards the cost of a qualified retrofit.  There is only a certain amount of this money available so why not give it a shot…even if you get approved you can always change your mind, but at least put yourself in a position to accept whatever amount they offer you for your old truck.

75 years and going strong

The 75th  annual board and member meeting is right around the corner so make your arrangements now…it will be a great opportunity to network with fellow members as well as hear information from some great speakers.  It will be held at Caesars Palace on October 28th & 29th so tell your friends, make the call and come on out to Vegas!  Hope to see you all there!  Until then…take care and keep on truckin.’