Hours on the Waterfront

Hours on the Waterfront

Maritime and intermodal industry officials are raising alarms that the proposed federal hours-of-service rules for domestic U.S. truck drivers could complicate movement of international maritime freight through U.S. ports, railyards and terminals.

Shortening the hours U.S. truckers may drive each day and lengthening their weekends would put more trucks on the road around ports during congested daytime hours, bringing more pollution and higher costs, the Waterfront Coalition said.

The Intermodal Association of North America sounded a similar warning, saying the proposed rule-making would crimp intermodal drayage operations that handled between 38 million and 39 million highway movements last year.

Neither group believes the proposed rules would improve highway safety. In fact, they say the rules would increase the potential for truck accidents, an argument also made by the American Trucking Associations and other industry groups.

The warning from the maritime and intermodal industries underscores how a regulatory proposal aimed at reducing crashes and deaths on U.S. highways could have major off-road repercussions and affect transoceanic supply chains. The proposed rule released last month has drawn heavy criticism in the trucking world, but the attacks have come mostly from the long-haul trucking business, where truckers most often bump against the driving limits.

Short-haul drivers may not be concerned with cutting the current 11-hour driving day limit to 10 hours, but industry officials say the far more complicated proposed “restart” provision to give drivers a fresh clock would cut into the nighttime hours that many public policy advocates want to highlight for truck operations near ports. Shorter driver hours would impose “costly and burdensome challenges” to moving international freight through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Waterfront Coalition Executive Director Robin Lanier said in comments on the proposed rule.

“The proposed changes could complicate the ability for our manufacturers to receive inputs for domestic markets while reducing highway safety and air quality in one of the most congested regions in the country,” Lanier said in her comments. Proposed changes to the provision that lets truckers reset their weekly clocks after 34 hours off-duty would upend years of effort to get trucks off the road during the day and into off-peak operations.

“The unintended consequence would be a significant influx of additional intermodal trucks and drivers on America’s roads during the heavily congested Monday-Friday workweek,” resulting in slower traffic and more pollution, IANA said.

Changes to the 34-hour restart that would require any restart period include two midnight-to-6 a.m. periods are shaping up to be the most unpopular part of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s controversial hours-of-service proposal.

The proposal could lengthen the restart period from 34 to as many as 53 hours — cutting a full workday or more from a truck driver’s 60- to 70-hour week. A truck driver who goes off-duty at 11 p.m. Friday could start a new workweek at 10 a.m. Sunday, but a driver who goes off-duty two hours later, at 1 a.m. Saturday, would have to wait until 6 a.m. Monday to get back behind the wheel.

If that change were put into effect, IANA predicts a “cascading effect” on local traffic that could create major backups on highways and roads in cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Memphis, St. Louis and New Orleans.

The two midnight-to-6 a.m. periods in the proposed restart rule would “basically create a nationwide start time of 6 a.m. on any given day, with Monday and Tuesday being the heaviest of those days, since many intermodal drivers would lose their ability to restore their hours over the normally recognized weekend,” IANA said.

In Southern California, that would “seriously undermine the effectiveness of the PierPass program to separate truck and commuter traffic and reduce cargo delays for cargo owners,” the Waterfront Coalition told the FMCSA.

Since 2005, PierPass has diverted about 60 percent of all Southern California drayage movements to off-peak hours, from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. There are approximately 10,000 port drayage trucks in Los Angeles and Long Beach.

“Given the off-peak gate schedule, drivers could not work Thursday night and Saturday day under the two consecutive complete nights of rest proposed requirement,” Lanier said. “More trucks would need to be deployed in daytime.”

As a result, more shippers would be hit with the $100-per-movement fee charged for moving containerized freight through the California ports during peak hours, she said. “This is an expensive cost of doing business in the region,” Lanier said.

“More troubling to exporters and importers is the great potential for cargo delays resulting from an inability to use all of the off-peak gates,” she said, noting the restart proposal likely would eliminate Saturday as an off-peak day.

IANA sees more congestion further along the inland supply chain, as containers are trucked to railyards for intermodal transfer. Trucks could converge on intermodal facilities “within the same time window,” exacerbating delays, the association said.

Intermodal drivers operate under different conditions than long-haul truck drivers, IANA said, saying most intermodal drivers are home every day and receive adequate rest before reporting for off-peak or early morning duty shifts.

The association found something to like about the proposed rule: the exclusion of time spent resting in a tractor-trailer from on-duty time. Under existing rules, time spent with the truck, even when not working, is considered on-duty time.

“There are multiple situations where the driver’s activity is controlled by multiple factors beyond the power of the driver or the motor carrier,” IANA said, arguing drivers should be allowed to log time resting in their trucks as off-duty time.

Contact William B. Cassidy at wcassidy@joc.com.