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At the Truck Stop: This expediter’s loads are light and so are his spirits

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Seeing Ray Shamel standing in line at the Petro truck stop off Interstate 40, exit 161, near Little Rock, Arkansas, you could almost mistake him for a professional truck driver. He looks the part. And he’s obviously at home at a truck stop.

Then again, he’s got a little more pep in his step, he’s a little less bedraggled than most truckers are as they take care of business and life’s necessities. He’s quick to smile and to start a conversation wherever he finds one. He’s relaxed rather than weary.

There’s a simple explanation for the similarities and the differences, and he’s happy to reveal it.

“I’m an expediter,” he said with a wide grin, as though he had just revealed a plot twist to a mystery. He’s a professional driver, all right, but instead of a big rig, he drives a sprinter-style van for Barrett DirectLine Expedited Service, based in Bentonville, Arkansas.

“I haul small freight,” Shamel said. “I can haul up to three skids.” When someone has a small load that has to get somewhere quickly, that’s the niche expediters like Barrett fills, anywhere in the Lower 48, although, “usually we stay in the freight lanes, normally east of the Mississippi, mostly.”

Shamel has been driving for Barrett for about a year. Before that, he’d driven a straight truck near his home in Davison, Michigan, a suburb of Flint about 65 miles north-northwest of Detroit.

“I always liked driving, but my kids were young and at home, so I stayed at home and worked local until my kids were grown,” he said. “So now I decided to get out and see the country, drive and make money doing it.”

The way Shamel describes it, with expediting, he enjoys the best aspects of long-haul driving without a lot of the headaches. Take all that angst about Hours of Service, especially since ELDs became mandatory. Shamel has been following the issue, though none of it applies to him.

“We manage our own time, so we’re more able to stop where we want,” he said. When it is time to stop, he doesn’t have hunt for parking like he would with an 18-wheeler. His van has a pulldown bed, so he can get a room or just park somewhere.

“If I want to pull into a roadside park and get some sleep, a truck may not be able to get in, but I can do that.”

Ask almost any driver about the best aspects of being an OTR driver, and they will tell you it’s the chance to see the country.

“In a van, you can get more places that you want to see,” Shamel said. “Let’s say I’ve got a delivery near Niagara Falls, and I’ve always wanted to see it. Once I drop that, I go out of service for a day or 12 hours or whatever, I can go, take a look, take some pictures, enjoy myself, enjoy my day.”

Or suppose he’s out West and wants to take a short detour and see the Grand Canyon. Would he be able to maneuver those narrow, winding national park roads in a semi?

No driver likes to deadhead, but with his fuel costs being just a tiny fraction of what it would be driving a tractor-trailer, it’s not as big a deal if he decides he doesn’t want to wait to get home.

Like any driver with a family, being away from home can be the most depressing downside of the job. Shamel is out on the road for three to four weeks at a time. But he and his wife have more quality time now that he’s on the road.

“When I was working a regular job at home, I was driving long hours,” Shamel said. “I’d get home, my wife worked third shift. I’d get home either right after she left for work or right before she left. And then she’d be gone all night. We had to fight for moments to have time together.

“Now that I’m an independent contractor running through a carrier, I’m able to come in and go out of service whenever I want. If my wife says, ‘I have a two-week vacation in June, do you want to do something?’ we can book a cruise. I’m able to work it round her schedule now so every moment that she has off, I’m able to be there with her.”

Expediters have a tight community out on the road. Shamel belongs to Facebook group called Transportation Life: Wheels, Wings and Rudders, They number about 3,000 members.

“It’s like having this huge extended family of fellow expediters,” he said. So even though you’re away from home, you have friends that are out here. We’re able to meet up, you know, have dinner somewhere.”

It’s a nice feeling to pull up somewhere and see a couple of vans. “There’s a lot of women out here who are solo,” he said. “If they’re in an area with other members of the community they might feel safer.”

Then he added, honestly, it’s comforting even if you’re a guy to know you’re among friends.

Shamel had been sitting in Little Rock and had just gotten a call. In just a couple of minutes he’d be heading out to pick up a load to take to Louisville, Kentucky.

After that? Who knows, but that’s part of the fun.

 

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Report says raising fuel tax won’t adequately, fairly pay for future road needs

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A Competitive Enterprise Institute report on highway funding suggests that states be given increased procurement and operating flexibility by eliminating federal restrictions on tolling state-owned Interstate Highway System segments. (©2019 FOTOSEARCH)

WASHINGTON — Raising the federal fuel tax won’t adequately and fairly pay for future roadway infrastructure needs, argues a new Competitive Enterprise Institute report released Tuesday.

“Our interstate highway system is crucial to promoting commerce and Americans’ quality of life, and lawmakers must decide how to direct $1 trillion in needed rehabilitation and enhancement of that system over the next two decades,” said Marc Scribner, CEI senior fellow and author of the report. “With rising vehicle fuel economy and declining fuel tax revenue per mile traveled, a new approach is needed to support roadway investments.”

The report also highlights the fact that motor fuel taxes are regressive, because lower-income Americans tend to drive older, less fuel-efficient vehicles and thus pay more to drive the same distances.

“Instead, Congress should eliminate barriers to state, local, and private investment, re-evaluate what transportation infrastructure projects truly merit federal support, and transition away from per-gallon taxation toward per-mile road usage fees,” Scribner said.

The report urges Congress and the administration to support crucial reforms for the next federal surface transportation reauthorization, also known as the highway bill. The current law is set to expire at the end of September 2020.

Specifically:

  • Reconsider federal priorities. Continue funding highway freight corridors — major roadways used by heavy trucks — but stop funding roadways that are used mostly by state and local residents not engaged in interstate commerce.
  • Change how roadways are funded. Instead of a federal fuel tax, switch to a system of mileage-based user fees whereby users are directly charged based on the distances (and perhaps weight of the vehicle) they drive.
  • Promote local self-help. Give states increased procurement and operating flexibility by eliminating federal restrictions on tolling state-owned Interstate Highway System segments.
  • Harness private investment. Empower states and localities to seek private partners by eliminating the $15 billion lifetime volume cap on private activity bonds used in surface transportation.
  • Remove red tape. Take a hard look at procurement, labor, and environmental rules, and eliminate the policies that drive up costs and create delays for no or trivial public benefit.

CEI recommendations are counter to the beliefs of the American Trucking Associations, the Truckload Carriers Association and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association that an increase in the fuel tax is needed to sustain the Highway Trust Fund.

The report drew the immediate praise of Patrick D. Jones, executive director and CEO of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, the worldwide association representing toll facility owners and operators and the businesses that serve them.

“The CEI’s report calling on Congress to embrace alternative sources of transportation funding like tolling and a mileage-based user fee is a welcome addition to the growing chorus of voices speaking out in support of new ways to invest and fund our nation’s infrastructure,” Jones said. “The Highway Trust Fund is insolvent, and Congress continues to use billions of dollars in general purpose funds to keep it limping along.  The gas tax is unsustainable and continues to fall well short in paying for our roads, bridges and tunnels. Our underfunding and under investment in our nation’s infrastructure is showing in degraded roadways, deteriorating bridges on the 60-year-old interstate system and other highways across America. If we continue to do nothing, or do not properly invest in our infrastructure, the U.S. economy and drivers will continue to suffer, slipping further behind as a world leader.”

According to the organization’s website, CEI is a non-profit public policy organization dedicated to advancing the principles of limited government, free enterprise and individual liberty. CEI said its mission is to promote both freedom and fairness by making good policy good politics.

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Deadline for top military vet rookie driver set June 25

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KIRKLAND, Wash. — As the June 25 deadline for nomination approaches, Kenworth, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring our Heroes Program and FASTPORT will look to find America’s top rookie military veteran who is driving for a commercial fleet after retiring from the U.S. Armed Forces.

Under the “Transition Trucking: Driving for Excellence” recognition program, Kenworth will again provide the top award – a Kenworth T680 fully loaded with a 76-inch sleeper and the PACCAR Powertrain, which includes the PACCAR MX-13 engine, PACCAR 12-speed automated transmission, and PACCAR 40K tandem rear axles.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for fleets to recognize and nominate veterans that have excelled in their transition to working in the trucking industry,” said Kurt Swihart, Kenworth marketing director. “A well-deserving veteran will receive the keys to a Kenworth T680 as America’s top rookie military veteran in the industry.”

The program is entering its fourth year of providing military veterans, now driving for a commercial fleet the opportunity to become an independent contractor.

To be eligible to win the Transition Trucking: Driving for Excellence Award, candidates must meet all of the following criteria:

  • Military veteran or current or former member of the Newsal Guard or Reserves.
  • Graduate of a PTDI-certified, NAPFTDS or CVTA member driver training school, and a current CDL holder.
  • Employed by any for-hire carrier or private fleet trucking company that has pledged to hire veterans through the Trucking Track Mentoring Program (https://truckingtrack.org).
  • First employed as a CDL driver in trucking between January 1, 2018 and June 25, 2019.
  • Legal resident of the continental United States.

Full criteria and online nomination forms can be found on the “Transition Trucking: Driving for Excellence” website (www.transitiontrucking.org).

An expert panel of judges will determine the top rookie based on criteria in the contest rules, including availability of loads, on time delivery, highway safety performance, customer relations, work record, military service record, and non-job related activities/community service.

The Hiring our Heroes program runs throughout the year, with hiring fairs slated at military bases, truck industry events, and at venues near military bases.

For more information, visit the websites of FASTPORT (www.fastport.com) and Hiring Our Heroes (www.uschamberfoundation.org/hiring-our-heroes).

Past Transition Trucking: Driving for Excellence Award Winners: Where They Are Now

TROY DAVIDSON

2016 Winner: Troy Davidson

For Troy Davidson, the inaugural “Transition Trucking: Driving for Excellence Award top military rookie driver in 2016, earning the honor has completely changed his life. Davidson, who was nominated by Werner Enterprises for the award, now has 350,000 miles under his belt in his truck. Davidson is currently leased on with Wenger Truck Lines.

“I’m having a great time. It’s incredible how many opportunities have opened up for me,” said Davidson, a former crew chief with the famed Blue Angels. “I’ve visited all the states in the continental U.S. I constantly meet people on the road who recognize me from the Transition Trucking program, which helps me build connections in the industry.”

2017 Winner: Gregg Softy

For Gregg Softy, retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and the 2017 Transition Trucking: Driving for Excellence Award winner, life on the road has never been better. Since being nominated for the award by Stevens Transport, Softy continues to work with the company as an owner-operator. On average, Softy will tack on 10,000 to 12,000 miles a month.

Transitioning to life after the military can often be a difficult time for veterans as they seek out what to do in the next stage of life. After retiring from the military, Softy knew he wanted to pursue a career in the trucking industry, since he had experience operating heavy equipment.

“I have always been fascinated by heavy machinery. I thought becoming a truck driver would be a natural transition. Many veterans believe they can do well in the trucking industry. If you work hard, you can excel as a driver. Of course, I wouldn’t be where I am today without the great support from my family, friends, and those I’ve met in the industry. I feel fortunate to have won the Transition Trucking: Driving for Excellence Award,” said Softy.

“I can’t speak highly enough about the support from Stevens Transport. Winning this award opened so many doors for me in my career. The people I’ve met and the connections I’ve made, as well as the financial opportunity I have working as an owner-operator, is something I only dreamed of when I first started in the industry. The Transition Trucking: Driving for Excellence recognition program provides an incredible opportunity for us new drivers in the industry, as well as to share the stories of amazing veterans,” Softy said.

QUINTON WARD

2018 Winner: Quinton Ward

Quinton Ward, former U.S. Army mechanic, instructor, career counselor, and top military rookie driver in 2018, appreciates the opportunity the Transition Trucking: Driving for Excellence program offers veterans.

“Transitioning into any new career field can be difficult and for veterans coming out of the service, that challenge can be even greater,” said Ward. “Nominating military rookie drivers not only shows a company’s dedication to its service members, but it also allows those military rookies the opportunities to network within the industry.”

According to Ward, the truck he was awarded has tacked on more than 47,000 miles since he received the truck in December 2018. The truck operates under Werner Enterprises and is a part of the Operation Freedom fleet, which consists of nine military themed trucks, piloted by veterans – used to honor and recruit military members. Ward’s truck honors military service dogs with his special commemorative wrap.

“My service dog, Kirra really helped me in my recovery process after medically retiring from the military due to injury,” said Ward. “The truck is a big hit on the road. The Kenworth T680 garners a lot of attention from drivers at truck stops who like to take photos and chat about the meaning behind the service dog wrap.”

 

 

 

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FMCSA seeks driver, carrier comments on delays loading, unloading

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Delays at shippers and receivers has long been a frustration for both drivers and carriers. Both groups have been asking the FMSCA to look into the matter. (FOTOSEARCH)

WASHINGTON — The Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration is seeking comments from carriers and driver on how much time is spent at shippers and receivers loading and unloading.

In a notice to published in the Federal Record Monday, the FMCSA said a number of studies have examined the issue of CMV driver delays in the loading and unloading process, and what their potential impact may be on roadway safety and the economy.

The agency noted that the Government Accountability Office (GAO), in its report “More Could Be Done to Determine Impact of Excessive Loading and Unloading Wait Times on Hours of Service Violations, recommended that “FMCSA examine the extent to which detention

time contributes to hours of service violations in its future studies on driver fatigue and detention time.”

In response to the GAO report, FMCSA sponsored a study among a sample of carriers which generated estimates of driver delay times.

Among the sampled carriers, the study found that drivers experienced detention time during approximately 10 percent of their stops for an average duration of 1.4 hours beyond a commonly accepted two-hour loading and unloading time.

Most recently, in a 2018 report titled “Estimates Show Commercial Driver Detention Increases Crash Risks and Costs, but Current Data Limit Further Analysis,” the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General recommended that FMCSA collaborate with industry stakeholders to develop and implement a plan to collect and analyze reliable, accurate, and representative data on the frequency and severity of driver detention.

“Although the above referenced studies estimated overall wait times, they were not able to separate normal loading and unloading times (e.g., the time it would usually take to load and unload a CMV under typical schedules) from detention time (delays in the start of the loading and unloading process which disrupt the driver’s available driving and/or on-duty time). This is a critical data gap in our understanding of the detention issue,” the FMCSA said.

Specifically, FMCSA requests information that addresses the following questions:

  • Are data currently available that can accurately record loading, unloading, and delay times?
  • Is there technology available that could record and delineate prompt loading and unloading times versus the extended delays sometimes experienced by drivers?
  • How can delay times be captured and recorded in a systematic, comparable manner?
  • Could systematic collection and publication of loading, unloading, and delay times be useful in driver or carrier business decisions and help to reduce loading, unloading, and delay times?
  • What should FMCSA use as an estimate of reasonable loading/unloading time? Please provide a basis for your response.
  • How do contract arrangements between carriers and shippers address acceptable wait times? Do these arrangements include penalties for delays attributable to a carrier or shipper?
  • What actions by FMCSA, within its current statutory authority, would help to reduce loading, unloading, and delay times?

To submit a comment online, go to , put the docket number, FMCSA-2019-0054, in the “Keyword” box, and click “Search.” When the new screen appears, click on the “Comment Now!” button and type your comment into the text box on the following screen. Choose whether you are submitting your comment as an individual or on behalf of a third party and then submit.

 

 

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