Long road to roadability

Long road to roadability

When truckers, railroads and ocean carriers presented Congress with an industry compromise on intermodal chassis "roadability," it looked as if the issue was finally ready to be settled.

But as anyone familiar with Washington knows, it's not that simple. Two years after passage of the SAFETEA-LU bill, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is still struggling with details of regulations needed to implement the law's roadability provisions.

Roadability legislation was tacked onto SAFETEA-LU, the 2005 transportation funding bill, after industry officials realized that federal legislation was the only way to avoid a hodgepodge of conflicting state laws. The federal law makes equipment providers primarily responsible for chassis safety and roadworthiness.

Since publishing its proposed roadability regulations last December, the FMCSA has conducted hearings and gathered public comments. Curtis Whalen, head of the American Trucking Associations' Intermodal Conference, said he expects issuance of final rules by year-end.

Speaking to the Association of Bi-State Motor Carriers last week at Port Newark, Whalen said he thought the regulatory process should have gone more smoothly, considering that the roadability legislation represented a consensus by the ATA, the Association of American Railroads and the Ocean Carriers Equipment Management Association. He said three sticking points have emerged:

-- Equipment identification. The legislation calls for providers of intermodal chassis to label the equipment with USDOT numbers similar to those used by commercial trucks or to develop an alternative system. Whalen said ocean carriers and railroads, the two groups that control most chassis, have talked of a system incorporating their existing ID codes, but nothing has been developed.

-- Pre-trip inspection. The ATA wants drivers to be told within 10 minutes whether a defective chassis they're given can be repaired, and that any repairs be made within 30 minutes. Equipment providers are resisting any time limits. Whalen said this should become less of an issue if the new rules succeed in improving the quality of chassis, but that in the meantime, truckers need a reasonable standard in the rules.

-- Implementation date. The ATA originally asked that the new rules take effect within six months, but later agreed to nine months. Whalen said OCEMA is asking for up to two years before the new rules take full effect.

Whalen acknowledges that the new law will necessitate an adjustment period, but he says truckers are eager to get the new rules in place. He says that if the final rules aren't ready by the end of the year, the ATA may ask Congress to revisit the issue. "There's so much in this new law that would help everybody - ultimately, including the public," he said. "That's why we want these rules in place sooner rather than later."