WILL THIS BE THE YEAR OF THE 33 FOOT TWINS?

Two years ago, several LTL and parcel carriers urged Congress to pass legislation that would have allowed the use of 33 foot twin trailers on the nation’s highways. Although the proposal had a fair amount of backing in Congress, the legislation did not make it to the President’s desk. The new law, had it been enacted, would have allowed the use of the longer trailers, in lieu of the 28 footers now in use, allowing about 18% more volume and requiring fewer trailers to move the same amount of freight.

This year, with a new administration and a new Congress in place, Fred Smith, Chairman of FedEx. Is leading the charge to get this legislation passed. FedEx, joined by UPS, Amazon, YRC, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, and others have formed a group called Americans For Modern Transportation. According to its press release, the group was established with the intent to improve infrastructure and transport policies in order to “more efficiently address the needs of the industry.” In explaining this central goal, the group went on to say: “To continue moving America forward, infrastructure investment cannot simply be improved roads and bridges. We need to lay the groundwork for a modern transportation system. Central to this goal is combining infrastructure enhancements with efficient trucking and policies, as well as incentives for better safety and fuel technology.” Not surprisingly, the group’s major initiative is to seek approval of the 33-foot legislation.

Since truckload carriers use 53-foot trailers, the movement is spearheaded by the LTL and parcel carriers who use the twins, but the Truckload Carriers Association has opposed the adoption of the new rules, citing competitive disadvantage, issues with TOFC equipment designed for 53 and 28 foot containers, and other concerns. (Frankly, these and their other arguments seem weak.) Other groups have expressed safety concerns with the longer rigs on the highways. In fairness however, 33 foot twins already are allowed on portions of highways in 20 states, without disruptions to the marketplace of safety problems.

AMT commissioned a study to determine the feasibility and economics of operating the longer trailers, and the conclusions published last week were very positive. The consultants concluded that in 2014, widespread adoption of the 33 foot trailers would have resulted in 3.1 billion fewer vehicle miles traveled, 4500 fewer truck crashes, $2.6 billion saved in shipper costs, 53.2 million fewer hours saved due to less congestion, 255 million fewer gallons of fuel, and 2.9 million ewer tons of CO2 emissions. The 19 page report explains these conclusions and also addresses specifically each of the concerns of the TCA.

If one takes this report at face value, and so far, there is no reason not to, it would be difficult for legislators to ignore these positive impacts on infrastructure and environment. No doubt, there will be lengthy discussions, but at this point, the prospects of passage look good. In addition, with the lobbying power of the AMT membership, and the new president’s apparent bias against regulation, my prediction is that the proposal will be approved during this session of Congress.

Written By: Clifford F. Lynch