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After 31 years on the road, driver sees more is lost than gained through ELD oversight

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Thomas Bast has made a good living for more than three decades hauling high-priced automobiles. He thinks ELDS have done little more than add to an industry that is “choking” in over-regulation. (The Trucker: KLINT LOWRY)

Standing at the grill counter, picking out the side dishes to his early afternoon meal, Thomas Bast seemed to be in no particular hurry. Or at least he didn’t seem like a man who felt rushed. He chatted a bit with the woman who was putting together his meal, and once he had his Styrofoam container in hand, he turned casually, in no great rush to get back to his truck.

Did he have time to talk? Yeah, sure, he could spare a few minutes. After 31 years behind the wheel, he wears his experience. You can see it in how he carries himself, taking his days in stride.

Just don’t get him going about ELDs.

Bast has seen a lot of changes to the business, and for his money there has been a decided turn for the worse in the last few years, and the reason? “This,” he said, tapping his finger on a picture of an ELD.

“These ELDs are a joke,” he said, “and they’re here to stay.”

Of course, the popular argument is that it’s not the ELDs, it’s the rules they are designed to monitor. But it’s the technology, Bast argues, that brings out the rigidity in those rules.

“The trucking industry is the most regulated industry in the country,” Bast said. “You have to be safe, that’s understood. But the more you regulate, it’s like choking” drivers who are trying to do their jobs.

“You can’t control what goes on outside your windshield,” he said. “You got roads, traffic, weather conditions. You’ve got four clocks to follow that don’t abide by any of those conditions at all.”

A prime example, he says, is the premise that he must take a 30-minute break “not before five hours and not after eight.”

“Listen, you got to be safe, right? We all know when to stop. Eleven hours is enough, a 14-hour day is long.”

Drivers know what they’re doing, Bast said, but the world doesn’t always cooperate with your schedule, and with paper logs, a driver could stretch the truth sometimes. Now, he said, the ELDs and other technology track drivers so closely it feels like a game of “Gotcha!” — a big money grab.

“They can fine you for talking to a dispatcher when you’re off duty, and they do,” he said.

“Now, what’s happening is you got truck stops filled up at 5 o’clock in the afternoon. You got guys sleeping on the side of the road. You’ve got troopers knocking on the window in the middle of the night who don’t care if they’re going to put them into violation; they got to get them off the side of the road.”

You didn’t see so much of that two years ago, Bast said. As he sees it, the emphasis on safety has actually cut into efficiency in the industry. Eventually, he said, we’ll all see the effects in higher prices for, well, everything.

“You got to be safe,” he said, “but you got to get out of the way more.” He even questions whether we’re really getting safety.

“You think this is going to slow them down?” he said. “It’s going to speed them up, because they got to get to the truck stop, got to get to that break, got to pull over.”

Bast, 52, became an over-the-road trucker at 21. He came to trucking by horse, racehorses, to be exact.

“My family was in the equine business,” Bast said. When he was young, he shoed horses. From there, he progressed to transporting them. When the family business folded, he moved from horses to horsepower, moving racecars.

Throughout his career, Bast has specialized in enclosed car transport, moving racecars, antiques and exotic cars. “Lambos, Ferraris, Bugattis … ,” he said. He’s a private contractor currently with United Routes Transport.

“I never did general freight,” Bast said. “I never ran by the mile. I always specialized, because that’s where you make good money.”

Still, the time restrictions matter. His contracts call for a percentage of the gross receipts of the truck. “When you broker a deal it’s three to five days, five to seven, or seven to 10 days. And when you don’t hit those deadlines, it comes off your gross receipts,” he said.

Being out on the road five or six weeks at a time, Bast said he’s pulling in about $90,000 a year, and he pretty much gets to call his own shots, professionally speaking, which goes a long way in offsetting his frustrations.

He’s also a little concerned about the driver shortage, or rather the reaction to it. “They’re spitting guys out of those schools that don’t know a steering wheel from a fifth wheel,” he said.

“A lot of these guys are because they were middle management, they lost their job in ’08, and this was the easiest thing to jump into. When I started, you were there because you wanted to be there.”

He still does, but after more than three decades doing it, he’d be a lot happier if there was a little more trust that he knows what he’s doing.

And with that, he excused himself. He had to get going.

 

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Diesel prices drop everywhere, and by more than a nickel in California

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The average price for a gallon of diesel nationwide fell by 3.5 cents for the week ending June 17, to currently stand at $3.07 per gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

For the second week in a row, diesel prices fell in every region of the country, with California seeing the largest drop, 5.2 cents, to stand at $4.006 per gallon. This is in contrast to roughly a month ago, when California was seeing price increases while most of the rest of the nation was experiencing a drop in diesel prices.

Overall along the West Coast, diesel fell 4.9 cents this week, to $3.666. Not including California, diesel prices along the rest of the West Coast are down to $3.23 per gallon, down 23.5 cents from a year ago.

East Coast diesel prices didn’t drop quite as far. In New England, the price dropped 3.2 cents, to finish at $3.153 per gallon. The Central Atlantic region continues t have the highest prices on the East Coast, at $3.282 following a decrease of 2.6 cents. The Lower Atlantic saw a decrease of 2.5 cents. The price for a gallon of diesel there is currently $2.964, one of three regions where diesel has fallen below $3.

With a drop of 4.5 cents, the Midwest claims the second-lowest current price for a gallon of diesel, $2.957, well off the low-price leader, the Gulf Coast region, where diesel is now $2.820 after a drop of 2.3 cents.

The Rocky Mountain region also saw a sharp drop, 4.2 cents, to stand at $3.072, which is 26.7 cents lower than a year ago, the largest year-to-year drop.

On Monday, Brent crude, the global benchmark, rose 70 cents, or 1.13%, to settle at $62.01 a barrel. U.S.-based West Texas Intermediate crude rose 23 cents, or 0.44%, to settle at $52.51 a barrel.

Click for a complete list of average prices by region for the past three weeks.

Truck Driver: A job for some, a game for others

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When people ask me about my job, one of the most common questions is where we get stuff to write about.

I wish I could say we keep our company Lear Jet on permanent standby to whisk us from Little Rock to wherever the action is.  The truth is nowhere near as cool. We get most of it right here at our desks.  Some of it comes to us in the form of press releases. We find other stuff on the news wire services, like Associated Press. A lot of the rest of it, we get from Googling.  If we see something big or breaking, or cool and weird, we look into it.

My day usually starts with a keyword search of the world. A few days ago, it appeared that one item was by far the most important thing happening on planet Earth, at least under the headings “truck,” “trucking” and “tractor-trailer.” There were about a half-dozen websites posting on it. Immediately, I refreshed my coffee, then my fingers sprang into action to investigate.

Stop the presses, everyone, the story was about a new video game called Truck Driver due to be released in September. The game is produced by a Dutch company called SOEDESCO. Personally, I haven’t played a video game since the last time I ran out of quarters at the 7-Eleven. That was 1986, as I recall, so I couldn’t tell you if SOEDESCO is a major player in the game design world, but the press release and preview video for the game had apparently set the gaming world agog.

Apparently, this new game is going to put all previous truck driving video games to shame. “Really?” I thought. “There’ve been others?” I checked. Yes, there have — several, in fact. But this one promises to be the most realistic trucking experience available.

According to the official literature, some of the most exciting aspects of Truck Driver is you get to (and this is word for word): “Enjoy a trucking experience focused on your career as a truck driver, build stronger relationships with the local community with each job, customize your truck with tons of parts and tune it to your liking, explore a vast open world and watch it progress with you, navigate through beautiful landscapes and fully explorable cities.”

All without leaving mom’s basement.

I watched the preview video and read the literature. The premise of the game is that you’ve inherited a truck from your uncle, and the game is to become a successful independent owner-operator. You have to “interact” with fictional “customers,” building “relationships” by successfully hauling loads. The game features fun-filled challenges like backing up, hitching a trailer and pulling up to a fuel pump, and then traversing artificial highways and byways without crashing into stuff.

The first thing you do is pick your avatar. You can be male or female, white or black. All the choices are young, good-looking and incredibly fit, you know, just like real truck drivers.

I started to wonder if the game’s realism might be overstated. I had some questions the promotional video didn’t address. Does the game include being stuck at a shipper for hours on end? Do the challenges include finding parking for the night? How many braindead four-wheelers do you have to share the simulated road with?

Given the addictive tendencies of some of these gamers, is there a penalty for HOS violations?

On one of the websites that was sharing this major announcement, someone commented they looked forward to playing this game, right after they get done with “Hanging Sheetrock” and “Ditch Digging.” My reaction had been similar. Granted, as I said, when I left video games behind, they consisted of shooting space bugs, apes who threw things at you and round things trying to eat other round things. I know video games have gotten much more sophisticated and diverse and immersive.

Still, when I think of interactive fantasy play, hauling logs is never the fantasy.

I wasn’t sure how real truck drivers would react to this game. Would they find it ridiculous, maybe even insulting that their profession has been packaged into an oversimplified, sanitized game? Or that some of these passive dolts will think they now know all about trucking because they reached Level 4, or whatever?

If they really want to know what being a truck driver is like, hey, there are plenty of jobs available. They can pry their butts out of the La-Z-Boy and come find out.

Then again, it’s kind of flattering. Truckers often complain how disrespected they are, how people look down on them. The mere existence of a game like this shows that on some level, the opposite is true. Now, as always, the truck driver holds a certain mystique to outsiders. People are fascinated and intimidated at how you handle those enormous vehicles. You represent the romance of the open road. You’re mysterious in a cool way, kind of like a cowboy.

OK, maybe the game doesn’t show what it’s really like to be a truck driver. Maybe that isn’t the point. It’s about fantasy.

I looked to see if I could find any “pretend you’re a journalist” video games out there. Not a one.

If there is, I doubt I’d recommend it

Split Michigan House OKs plan to shift fuel taxes to roads

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposed road plan includes a 45-cents-a-gallon gasoline and diesel tax increase, establishing a blueprint that would eventually boost transportation spending by roughly $2 billion annually. (The Trucker file photo)

LANSING, Mich.— Sales taxes collected at the gas pump would be shifted to road repairs under a budget plan approved Thursday by the Michigan House, where majority Republicans called it a first step in response to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s call for higher fuel taxes to fix deteriorating transportation infrastructure.

GOP lawmakers said they structured their blueprint so schools and municipalities, which now get most of the sales tax on fuel, would be held harmless. But Democrats were skeptical, saying the spending bills would not do enough to improve the roads and ultimately would create new fiscal problems for education and local governments.

Michigan spends less per capita on transportation than many states but has fuel taxes that rank among the country’s highest. That is because it assesses a sales tax on gasoline — which is rare — while the revenue primarily helps fund education and local governments.

“People expect when they pay at the pump that every penny paid in taxes at the pump is a penny that is going to go toward roads. That is what we just accomplished with this budget while funding our roads at a record level without raising taxes one cent,” said Republican House Speaker Lee Chatfield.

The House action was the latest move in what appears likely to be a protracted budget process that that will extend into the summer months. Whitmer in March proposed her plan, including a 45-cents-a-gallon gasoline and diesel tax increase, while the GOP-led Senate passed its proposal in May. Her blueprint would eventually boost transportation spending by roughly $2 billion annually, while the Senate proposal would spend an additional $132 million earlier than planned.

Under the House budget, the state would gradually direct $850 million more to roads a year — though Chatfield characterized it as a “first step” and said there will be further talks with Senate leadership and the Whitmer administration.

Democrats opposed the transportation budget, K-12 budget and other spending bills that were passed Thursday. The measures would increase funding for schools and universities but less so than Whitmer wants. They also would cut public transit — shifting the money to roads — reduce information technology spending across state government and not include water infrastructure improvements proposed by the governor.

“We can do better. We have an obligation to do better,” said House Minority Leader Christine Greig. “House Democrats are ready to work with our colleagues on a budget that fixes our problems and not on one that creates new ones.”

Also Thursday, the House GOP backed after critics said the way the transportation budget was changed in a committee Wednesday could have halted or slowed the construction of a new bridge between Detroit and Canada. Canada is paying for the project entirely, but Republicans had concerns about transparency regarding reimbursements to the state for its expenses.

They reinserted a provision to let the state do work that is reimbursed, while adding new requirements so spending reports are submitted to legislators.

 

 

 

 

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