There are several trucking legislation issues carrying forward into 2018, but there is one in particular I think will be resolved this year, provided Congress passes an infrastructure bill. Three 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.
Early last year, year, with a new administration and a new Congress in place, Fred Smith, Chairman of FedEx began to lead a 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 (AMT). 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 first major initiative was to seek approval of the 33-foot legislation.
Since truckload carriers use 53-foot trailers, the movement has been 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, safety, 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 in March, 2017, in an analysis entitled “Twin 33 Foot Truck Trailers: Making U.S. Freight Transport Safer and More Efficient”, 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 f 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 seems to be 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 partisan debates; but at this point, I think the prospects of passage look good, as part of a broader infrastructure bill. While as a stand-alone bill, passage could be a problem, slipping it into a more important and acceptable infrastructure bill should make it easier for uncertain or pressured members of Congress to justify.