July 1, 2008

As fuel prices soar, truckers push conservation agenda

Although the trucking industry intends to do what it can to promote fuel economy and ease the situation, it's also looking for a little help from policy-makers.

By Peter Bradley

The trucking industry knows firsthand the pain of rising fuel prices. And though it intends to do what it can to promote fuel economy and ease the situation, it's also looking for a little help from policy-makers.

In May, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) called on Congress to support the industry's efforts to reduce fuel consumption and lighten the financial burden on carriers. Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit on behalf of the ATA, Mike Card, president of Combined Transport, described the impact of rising fuel prices on truckers. Card said his company alone expects to spend nearly $22 million for diesel fuel in 2008 to run its 400 trucks, an increase of 26 percent over last year. The ATA estimates that nationwide, motor carriers will spend $141.5 billion on fuel this year—$29 billion more than in 2007. The price run-up is taking a toll on the industry. According to the ATA, 935 trucking companies with five or more vehicles failed in the first quarter of 2008.

Among other measures, Card urged Congress to establish a 65 mph national speed limit and eliminate the 12-percent excise tax on auxiliary power units. These power units allow long-haul drivers, who essentially live for days at a time in their tractors, to heat and cool their rigs without idling the main truck engine.

He also asked Congress to provide greater support for the Environmental Protection Agency's SmartWay initiative. Under that program, carriers and the EPA are collaborating to develop and implement practices that improve fuel efficiency and reduce pollution.

A cleaner tomorrow
While Congress considers the ATA's requests, the trucking organization is forging ahead with its own plan. In May, it announced a set of six proposals to promote greater fuel efficiency. According to the ATA, its "Trucks Deliver a Cleaner Tomorrow" initiative will help reduce fuel consumption as well as carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

The six proposals are:

  • Set speed governors on new trucks to cap speeds at 68 mph and set a national speed limit of 65 mph;
  • Reduce engine idling;
  • Encourage participation in the Environmental Protection Agency's SmartWay Transport Partnership Program;
  • Reduce congestion by improving highways, which could mean accepting higher highway taxes;
  • Use more productive truck combinations, such as double and triple trailers; and
  • Support national fuel-economy standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks.

The six-part program, which ATA says represents the first industrywide environmental sustainability program, was developed by the organization's Sustainability Task Force. The task force included representatives from more than twodozen companies, among them some of the nation's largest motor carriers, truck and engine manufacturers, and Wal- Mart, which operates the largest private fleet in the country.

Details of the proposals are available at www.trucksdeliver.org. For more on how shippers are coping with high fuel prices, see "surcharge survival strategies" on page 61.

About the Author

Peter Bradley
Editor Emeritus
Peter Bradley is an award-winning career journalist with more than three decades of experience in both newspapers and national business magazines. His credentials include seven years as the transportation and supply chain editor at Purchasing Magazine and six years as the chief editor of Logistics Management.

More articles by Peter Bradley

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