California nears plan to charge drivers by the mile

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor

The California Legislature approved a bill to change how the state raises revenue for transportation work.State senators voted 23-11 to sign off on changes to a bill that would set up a task force to develop a voluntary program to test a new way to get money from highway users.   SB1077 now awaits Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature.   Assembly lawmakers already approved it on a 46-26 vote.  

Specifically, the bill would authorize a pilot program in the state to assess the practicality of taxing truckers and other drivers based on vehicle miles traveled in the state. The VMT tax could replace the state’s fuel tax as people are driving vehicles that get better mileage.  Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, says the excise tax is “not a long-term viable funding solution.”   He describes his bill as “a critical first step toward California considering a mileage-based fee” as an alternative to the excise tax on fuels.  Oregon and Washington are testing similar programs.

DeSaulnier has said his proposed pilot program is a reasonable approach to address the impending fiscal cliff for transportation funding.  “We have to look at these kinds of things as Oregon and Washington have in anticipation of this cliff we’re about to go off,” DeSaulnier told Senate lawmakers prior to a floor vote.  The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is on the record as opposing the VMT tax.   The Association sent communication to California lawmakers conveying the concerns of professional truckers.  OOIDA Director of State Legislative Affairs Mike Matousek told lawmakers the Association supports investments into transportation infrastructure.  “However, if additional revenue is needed, increasing the fuel tax is the most equitable and efficient option, so long as the generated revenue is used for its intended purpose,” he said.

Colorado River

PHOT0060.JPGColorado River

Recently, I found a little camera I used to carry with me when I went out west. I put the memory card into my computer and found 127 pictures on it. One of them was of the Colorado River. The Colorado River is located on the state line between Arizona and California. Goose Lake, Willow Lake, Beal Lake, Topock Bay and Lost Lake, all is connected to the Colorado River, which drains into Lake Havasu. Sometimes when we would cross, the water would be very green, on this trip, it wasn’t. We would stop at the truck stop about 2 miles into Arizona. Its a beautiful area and everyone needs to visit if in the area.

The California challenge

May 27, 2013

California’s aggressive regulatory climate provoked this sentiment, which has circulated online in different forms.  Chris Thomas, leased to Minnesota-based Autumn Transport, made stickers of this version he planned to offer up to anyone who wanted one.  He’s also set up a page on eBay to sell them here.If your current truck is not California Air Resources Board-compliant – meaning (among other things) that you do not have a diesel particulate filter – devise a strategy now if you plan to operate in California.  With few exceptions, most Class 8 trucks operating in California will need to have some sort of approved DPF installed by Jan. 1, 2014, to meet CARB regulations.   (Find a full list of upgrade-requirement schedules by engine model year in this story.)  If you derive only a small percentage of your revenue from California, consider no longer operating there.   This may sound drastic, but weigh the costs and risks associated with having a CARB-compliant truck.  Engine-related problems are frustrating to get repaired and many times cause a loss of fuel economy, on top of the costs for repair and downtime.   Some of the most common calls I receive on my radio show are complaints about loss of fuel mileage due to an emissions-related issue that shops can’t fix.   If your truck is model year 1996-2006, you potentially can add a DPF to achieve compliance; CARB-certified filters cost $15,000 to $20,000.   On top of that, you will see a loss of fuel economy – as much as a half-mile per gallon – due to the increased back-pressure created by the DPF; that will add $3,000 to $5,000 in annual fuel costs.   Periodic DPF cleaning will cost several hundred dollars every year or two.   Most DPF installations require hookups to both the electronic control module and fuel supply, which can lead to even higher maintenance costs and downtime.   More technology, more problems With every new round of emissions technology, emissions-related engine problems get more common and the engines more expensive.   Here are the latest results from a J.D. Power survey of owners of heavy-duty engines that meet 2010 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations.   The study finds that 46 percent of owners of trucks that are one model-year old report an engine-related problem, up from 42 percent in 2011.  The most commonly reported problems involve electronic control module calibration (23 percent of owners), exhaust gas recirculation valve (20 percent) and electronic engine sensors (16 percent).   In addition, the average number of engine- and fuel-related problems has increased to 81 problems per 100 vehicles from 71 in 2011.   You would need to generate $30,000 of revenue from California loads just to break even in the first year, and at least $5,000 of revenue from California to break even every year after that.   Would you want to spend that much money and take that much risk just to break even?   Your other option would be to upgrade to a 2007-09 or newer model truck, which would require no further emissions-equipment investment until 2023.   In addition to your upfront trade cost, expect higher maintenance costs and downtime on newer trucks.   In my experience, it’s not hard to operate a pre-2004 truck for 6-8 cents per mile in maintenance.   I’m finding that the 2007 and newer trucks are costing 12-14 cpm in maintenance.   Those who need to operate in California might have some other options.   If you go there only to satisfy a good customer, is it possible to set up a rental arrangement for a CARB-complaint truck?   Leased operators should ask their carrier about plans for California. I have talked with carriers that plan to have some CARB-compliant trucks and allow other owner-operators to stay out.   We have little data on the effects of a DPF on a pre-EGR engine.   We have some data available on the costs of operating a 2007 or newer truck, but we don’t have a lot of long-term numbers as far as engine life and rebuild cost.   If you can avoid rushing out and spending thousands of dollars to become compliant, you will gain time and the likely advantage of learning more about options and outcomes.   In the meantime, evaluate your own situation, and do what’s best.

DOT Inspections

DOT Inspections

It has been noted that there are several states that are doing way more inspections on trucks than other states.  An article written in the Overdrive magazine, a magazine geared towards the trucking industry, has published this fact.  The article, Inconsistent enforcement: CSA’s heat index, compares each state and their rate of inspections per lane mile.  The state at the top of that list is Maryland, which has conducted over 32 inspections per lane-mile.  Idaho is at the bottom with only 2 inspections.  Depending on what state and what the inspector is looking for, determines where the state stands on the list.  The state of Ohio is on top for lighting inspections, they have written more citations for lights on each vehicle than any other state.

I feel that it is unfair for some drivers to be inspected every time they cross into a certain state.  If you live and operate in one of the states with a high inspection ranking, you would stand to be inspected everyday.  The second highest ranking state is California, with its weigh stations being very active in inspections.

These and other inspection stations use electronic equipment to detect overheating of tires and brakes.  The use of portable scales can be found on roads that do not have permanent weigh stations an can be moved anywhere.  Most of these type scales are located near companies that haul flatbed, logs, wood chips, and dump trucks because these vehicles have been noted to carry heavier loads than normal.  In some cases, these drivers are weighed and inspected up to 3 times a day.

Granted truck inspections are a good tool to catch those with trucks not up to standards but can be a hindrance to those trying to make a living.  No one is saying get rid of inspections, just make it consistent with every state.  There should be a standard of how many inspections each state should conduct, no more no less.

Pyramid Lake

Pyramid Lake

My first trip across the U.S. to California was in a 18-wheeler. My team driver and I had a load to Compton, CA that we picked up in Linden, NJ and had to be delivered 4 days later. It was a long but good trip. I finally got to see things, places and people I only dreamed of seeing. Once we arrived in California, as we traveled along I-5 we came to the area where Pyramid Lake is located. That day the air was a little cool but nice. I captured this picture with a little 3.0 megapixel digital camera I purchased 2 weeks prior, from the window of our 2009 Volvo 780. I had no idea the pictures would come out as good as they did. I have several pictures of the lake and surrounding mountains as well as several other cities I will publish later.