To help operators stay current, The NATSO Show Advisory Council tapped a number of trucking industry experts and truckstop operators to speak during The NATSO Show 2013 in Savannah, Ga. The experts said everything from driver health concerns and hours-of-service regulations to increased fuel efficiency and changes in the length of haul are changing the way they operate.
Hours of Service
Truckstop operators and carriers alike are waiting to see how upcoming changes to the hours-of-service rule will affect them. Changes are slated to take effect on July 1, and will restrict how drivers can use the optional 34-hour restart to reset their weekly driving limits of 60 hours in seven days, or 70 hours in eight days. Drivers will be able to use it only once every seven days, and it must include two periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. The new regulation also requires drivers take a half-hour rest break before driving more than eight hours.
Operators and trucking executives said the mandatory 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. rest periods could create parking challenges and additional traffic congestion as drivers hit the road at the beginning of rush hour.
Due to a number of concerns, the American Trucking Associations is challenging the rule and asked the federal government to delay implementing changes until three months after the group’s current legal challenge ends.
“We’re arguing the case on March 15. The compliance date is July 1, so that doesn’t leave a lot of time for carriers or law enforcement to prepare if the court overturns or changes the rule,” said Prasad Sharma, vice president and deputy chief counsel of American Trucking Associations, while addressing attendees at The NATSO Show. ATA anticipates that the court wouldn’t issue its decision until late May or early June.
Despite ATA’s position that the delay would reduce confusion and unnecessary law enforcement training in the event that the rule changes, FMCSA denied the appeal.
Chris Stephens, director of pricing for Bigg G Express, said driver health is a top priority for the carrier and he would like to see truckstops and travel plazas become more health conscious. The carrier holds weight-loss contests for drivers, giving cash prizes to those who lose the most weight in an eight-week period.
“We have an on-site exercise facility for our drivers. We have also changed out our vending machines to healthy food and beverage choices. We think that is a big issue for this industry,” Stephens said, adding that the carrier would promote locations where drivers could exercise or walk outdoors if they wanted to. “We do have drivers that will run and that may be something they could do in a designated area at a truckstop,” he said.
Length of Haul
The average length of haul for carriers is changing, which is also shifting drivers’ needs. “The average length of haul used to be 750 miles, now it is 500 miles and all of you make money from selling fuel to those people,” said Bob Costello, chief economist at American Trucking Associations, during his keynote presentation at The NATSO Show.
Costello said that shorter lengths of haul mean that most freight will not be converted to the railroad despite the railroads’ efforts to gain market share. “Trucks and trains compete on a very, very limited basis. Truck freight is not going to be converted to the railroads if it doesn’t go at least 500 miles and there are people out there who say it needs to go closer to 750,” Costello said.
For truckstop operators, Costello said one of the most important figures to look at is the number of miles being driven. “Miles driven by large truckloads were down in 2012. I think that will pick up as the economy picks up,” he said.
Operators looking to benchmark their sales against the trucking industry should look at non-seasonally adjusted data, Costello said. “The data reported is seasonally adjusted and takes into account weather, increased factory production, harvests, back-to-school sales... However, it is harder to benchmark against that because I’m talking about seasonally. You need to look at the non-seasonally adjusted data...and the trucking industry’s miles,” Costello said, adding that he releases those figures along with the seasonally adjusted data.
In addition to shorter lengths of haul, carriers are becoming more fuel efficient due to diesel exhaust fluid and new aftermarket equipment, such as trailer skirts. As a result, Jimmy Haslam, chief executive officer of Pilot Flying J, said, growing gallons may be a challenge. “I don’t know how much the pie is going to grow and I think it is going to shrink a little bit,” he explained, adding that it is crucial to control costs.
Haslam recommended his fellow operators focus on their niche. “If you have one to two stores, what is your niche? Maybe you’re in an oil field area where things are growing quickly. It could be that you have an all-star restaurant or a great shop. Maybe you’re in a state where you have gaming,” he said. “I think it is really important to find your niche and determine what you do better than anyone else.”
Pete Pantusso, chief executive officer, American Bus Association, said bus travel is on the rise, which can result in increased business for truckstop and travel plaza operators. “The bad economy over the last few years has been good for the bus community,” he said. “The industry has historically grown 5 to 7 percent a year.”
Pantusso said that when busses are out on the road, one of the things that attracts them to a travel plaza is passenger amenities. “Whether it is a Burger King or Subway or clean restrooms or a maintenance shop that does small minor repairs, those are the things that appeal to them. They also like if you have easy access in and out of a major metropolitan area,” Pantusso said.
Photo Credit: Jowdy Photography/NATSO
This article originally ran in Stop Watch magazine. Stop Watch provides in-depth content to assist NATSO members in improving their travel plaza business operations and provides context on trends and news affecting the industry.
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