Skip to Content

Monthly Archives: July 2017

Uber’s Going Big Into Trucking Business, and Nowhere Bigger Than Texas


One of the biggest technology disruptors when it comes to shuttling people is now trying to transform the way goods are moved around the country.

This spring, Uber launched Uber Freight, an app that matches truck drivers with loads of goods to pick up and deliver. Texas played a key role in the San Francisco-based tech giant’s inroads. Routes between Dallas, Houston and San Antonio served as its test ground before the app’s launch.

Texas’ large trucking business made it an obvious place to start, said Jeff Ogren, head of driver community and partnerships for Uber Freight. 14% of U.S. freight comes in and out of Texas, he said.

The state has continued to play a vital role in Uber’s young business. About 70% of Uber Freight’s loads and drivers are based in Texas, Ogren said.

The new business comes at a time when tech companies are exploring the future of trucking and automation. But analysts warn that Uber will need to offer something new to an industry that already has squeezed out greater efficiency and prove itself to truck drivers who may be skeptical of an unfamiliar player.

Mike Ramsey, a transportation and mobility analyst for Gartner, said Uber’s new app is a way to leverage the technology that underpins its ride-hailing and food delivery business. It is also a way to learn a new industry, so it can explore ways to boost efficiency in the future with tools like automation, he said.

“What they are now is a technology company,” he said. “Their aspiration seems to be a transportation company.”

Ramsey said Uber has an edge with brand recognition, talent and capital, but he cautioned that its major leadership shakeup could shift business priorities. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigned in June after months of reports of workplace discrimination, sexual harassment and practices that flouted law enforcement.

And he added that the Uber Freight app isn’t as pioneering as the ride-hailing one. “They’re trying to offer a better mousetrap for a mousetrap that exists,” he said.

Crowded Field

With its foray into trucking, Uber must compete with logistics companies, freight matching websites called load boards and other apps.

Similar to the ride-hailing app, Uber Freight allows truck drivers to pick up extra work when they want to. They also can find a job that fills up their truck on the way home.

For Sam Carrillo, an Arlington resident and independent truck driver, apps have made work simpler and more lucrative. For nearly two decades, he’s relied on brokers to match him with freight from electronics to bottled water in his truck. Now, he gets almost all of his business from two apps — one of which is Uber Freight.

Before, he had to wait a month or longer for payment. Now, he said he receives it in seven days — and without docked broker fees. He said he ends up making $200 to $400 more per trip.

And the apps are a quicker way to find jobs. “Press a few buttons, and you’re set,” he said.

Ogren said there’s an appetite for new tech in the trucking industry. Before working for Uber, he worked at Trucker Path, a navigational app that took off in popularity with truck drivers.

“These guys are looking for tools to better empower their lives,” he said. “They’re away from their family 200 days a year. If you can develop tools, they are going to buy in.”

Ogren said Uber wants to stand out from load boards and brokers through better customer service and faster pay. It plans to offer perks, such as reserved parking spots, passes that allow them to skip weigh stations, and discounts on fuel and tires. He said the company also may add a guide to truck stops and rest stops for drivers.

He declined to give the number of active users in Texas or the United States, but he did say that a recent party drew about 100 current users — both drivers and fleet owners — to Dallas. It featured free barbecue, shirts and hats, and allowed drivers to get their questions answered.

“We plan on continuing to do things like that because we know we have to earn their trust,” he said. “We want to eliminate any skepticism and show them we’re here for you.”

He said the apps could make the industry more appealing for younger people as truck drivers age and start retiring. “They want to be heard. They want to be treated with respect,” he said. “We want to make trucking attractive again.”

Texas Traffic

Texas’ central location and large workforce makes it a major player in the trucking industry. Nearly 10% of the nation’s truck transportation workforce lives in Texas. The Lone Star State has about 137,300 people in the industry, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Dallas-Fort Worth area has the third-highest number of tractor-trailer drivers, trailing only New York and Chicago, according a recent study by Dallas consulting firm Site Selection Group.

For the tech company, the new model cuts out the middleman — the trucking broker — and could lower the price for smaller companies that don’t want a long-term contract or need additional pickups.

Uber has shown interest in trucking before. About a year ago, it bought self-driving truck company Otto. The startup now has been wrapped into a research group focused on autonomous cars and trucks.

Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, an advocacy group that represents professional truck drivers, is watching the apps closely to see if they benefit members, said its spokeswoman, Norita Taylor.

She said she’s not surprised tech companies have recognized the money that can be made in the trucking industry. “The question is ‘Can they offer something that benefits independent truckers or not?’ ” she said. “And I don’t have an answer to that yet.”

0 0 Continue Reading →

Government Watchdog Criticizes FMCSA’s Information Technology Systems

A government watchdog has issued a searing review of some of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s most critical information technology systems used to monitor the safety of motor carriers.

In an audit made public in early July, the Government Accountability Office said that the agency has failed to create effective information technology modernization or strategic plans and has fallen short in establishing the processes needed to ensure that some of the systems meet user needs.

“The agency lacks adequate visibility into and oversight of IT investment decisions and activities and cannot ensure that its investments are meeting cost and schedule expectations and that appropriate actions are taken if these expectations are not being met,” the audit said.

Portions of the IT audit underscored some of the observations made by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in a study in June of FMCSA’s Safety, Accountability, Compliance program methodology.

“IT systems and infrastructure serve as a key enabler for FMCSA to achieve its mission,” the GAO audit said.

The agency reported spending about $46 million for its IT investments in fiscal year 2016, according to GAO.

The four IT systems that play a part in assessing the safety of the more than 550,000 active carriers were audited by GAO from April 2016 to July 2017. Those systems included:

  • The Motor Carrier Management Information System, or MCMIS, that captures data from field offices and is the authoritative source for inspection, crash, compliance review, safety audit and registration data.
  • The Safety Enforcement Tracking and Investigation System, or Sentri, a system used to facilitate agency and state safety audits, primarily those involving new entrants and CSA. As of May, officials with the FMCSA’s Office of Information Technology stated they have stopped the development of Sentri 2.1.
  • Aspen, a desktop application that collects commercial driver/vehicle inspection details and creates and prints a vehicle inspection report.
  • The Unified Registration System not yet fully developed that will replace existing registration systems with a single comprehensive, online system and provide a more efficient means of submission and manipulation of data pertaining to registration applications.

“FMCSA had not fully ensured that the selected systems — Aspen, MCMIS, Sentri 2.0 and URS — were effectively meeting the needs of the agency. Specifically, none of the program offices conducted the required operational analyses for the four systems,” GAO said.

To modernize its inspection systems, FMCSA began planning in 2014 to develop Integrated Inspection Management System, which is intended to provide inspectors with a single system to perform checks. However, as of May, the agency still was in the planning stage of the effort, as it was assessing the current state of its inspection processes and data management systems, and planning to issue a report detailing actions the agency needs to take, the audit said.

The audit said MCMIS program officials did not assess current costs against life cycle costs, perform structured assessments of schedule and performance goals or identify whether the investment supports business and customer needs and is delivering the services it was designed to, including identifying whether the system overlaps with other systems.

“This is particularly concerning given that all seven users we interviewed stated that the system does not interact well with other systems and users have to access other systems to gather information that they cannot obtain in MCMIS,” the GAO audit said.

The June National Academies of Sciences study also said that FMCSA needed “increased efforts to acquire better data,” adding that “much of the information provided by police reports is not represented on MCMIS.”

“FMCSA should continue to collaborate with states and other agencies to improve the quality of MCMIS data in support of SMS,” the study said. “Two specific data elements require immediate attention: carrier exposure and crash data.”

FMCSA said it concurred with the GAO’s recommendations to improve the systems.

“We will provide a detailed response to each recommendation within 60 days of the final report’s issuance,” FMCSA wrote.

0 0 Continue Reading →

ELD Provision in Transportation Bill Missing Crucial Support in Congress

A provision in a House funding bill that would delay implementation of electronic logging devices for carriers that serve the agricultural sector faces an uphill battle and drew immediate criticism from the trucking industry.

Language in the same bill that would pre-empt state laws for meal and rest breaks for truckers faces a clearer path forward, however, as it already has backing in the Senate.

A report accompanying the 2018 funding measure, advanced by the House on July 17, includes a provision that would require a study of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s mandate for adoption of ELDs, but it has not gained traction among House leaders and senior senators. Lacking such endorsements just a few months before the mandate’s Dec. 18 implementation hurts the chances of any changes to it reaching the president’s desk.

The report directs FMCSA to provide Congress with a study within 60 days of the bill’s enactment into law that would outline options for delaying the mandate. If the legislation is reported out of the chamber, any provisions different from what Senators approve in their bill would need to be reconciled before a final bill reaches the president. If the ELD provision clears those hurdles and the bill is signed into law, FMCSA would then have two months to deliver the report to Congress.

“Many carriers have delayed purchase and installation of ELDs until they can be certain the technology will be compliant,” according to the bill’s report. FMCSA strongly backs the ELD mandate, as do industry stakeholders, including American Trucking Associations.

With carriers already preparing for the mandate, the House provision might raise alarm within the industry. However, ATA Executive Vice president for Advocacy Bill Sullivan told Transport Topics in a July 19 interview that the narrow exemption sought by a small sector of the agricultural industry is not a delay of the ELD mandate.

“Concerns about ELD compliance from some quarters of the industry, we believe, are wrongly directed at electronic logging, when they’re in fact concerns about hours-of-service rules,” Sullivan said. “The electronic logging device was a rule mandated by Congress. … Congress is who brought this to the attention of the agency. Congress is going to back it up.”

The House bill would not fund in fiscal 2018 enforcement of the mandate for carriers transporting livestock and insects. The report explained that lawmakers sought to address concerns raised by livestock haulers by calling on FMCSA to continue using its “regulatory tools to grant relief that appropriately reconciles highway safety with the unique needs of these carriers” and the livestock.

The scope of the meal and rest break provision is more far-reaching and benefits from a companion provision in a Senate aviation reauthorization bill. That provision is sponsored by Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), chairwoman of the Surface Transportation Subcommittee, which oversees trucking regulations.

The legislation calls on a “state, political subdivision of a state, or political authority of two or more states” to not enact or enforce a law having to do with meal and rest break requirements. ATA is among the groups supporting the provision and noted to its membership that it would clarify a requirement in a 1994 aviation law to block a California law signed in 2011.

The California law requires employers to provide a “duty-free” 30-minute meal break for employees who work more than five hours a day as well as a second “duty-free” 30-minute meal break for those who work more than 10 hours a day.

An attempt by Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) to strip the meal and rest break provision from the bill was rejected along party lines.

The panel also rejected an amendment by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) that would have restored the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants in fiscal 2018. The House bill would cancel the TIGER grants, for which Congress authorized $500 million in fiscal 2017.

Other trucking provisions tucked into the bill included prohibiting FMCSA from proceeding with a safety fitness determination rule until the DOT’s inspector general issues certain certifications required under law.

The measure, which would fund the U.S. Department of Transportation through fiscal 2018, was reported to the House floor on a 31-20 vote, mostly along party lines.

It would provide $17.8 billion for the DOT’s discretionary budget for the next fiscal year. The request from the Trump administration came in at $16.2 billion for the department.

The bill also would provide FMCSA with $758 million, a $113.6 million increase over fiscal 2017. Nearly half that funding would go toward safety assistance programs. Also, $31.8 million would go for a commercial driver license implementation program, and $43.1 million would be earmarked for high-priority activities.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would receive $927 million, which would be $15 million above the fiscal 2017 level, and the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration would receive $268 million, which would be $3.7 million above the fiscal 2017 level.

“We have targeted funding in this bill to essential investments in safety, infrastructure and housing assistance for our most vulnerable populations,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), the chamber’s top transportation funding leader.

“Safety is also a priority in this bill, with responsible increases provided for DOT’s various transportation safety programs and essential funding maintained for rail safety,” Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) said.

0 0 Continue Reading →

Buying – and Riding – American

American manufacturing jobs are getting a boost thanks to the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Buy America provisions.  Grounded in federal law, Buy America ensures that when U.S. taxpayers invest in public transportation, American workers in communities big and small benefit. The law requires that when federal taxpayer dollars are used for public transportation projects, the iron, steel, and manufactured products used must be “Made in America.” For instance, all rail cars and buses must be assembled in the U.S., and more than 60 percent of a new transit vehicle’s parts by cost must be American-made. Next year, the percentage of U.S. content required increases to 65 percent, and by FY 2020 it will rise to 70 percent. Many manufacturers already exceed that minimum, creating and supporting jobs at suppliers across the country. Just think of all the parts that go into a typical bus: besides the chassis and engine, there’s also wheels, brakes, seats, auxiliary power systems, air conditioning, windows, doors, instrumentation, and much more.

To help make this effort successful, the FTA works to bring final manufacturers and potential suppliers together. In June, more than 60 attendees took part in FTA’s Buy America Transit Supply Chain Connectivity Forum in Baltimore, Maryland, presented in partnership with the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership. The attendees represented manufacturing firms and participated in speed networking with larger transit equipment. The next such gathering will take place during the American Public Transportation Association’s Annual Meeting and Expo[external link], October 8-11, 2017, in Atlanta, Georgia. The goal of these events is to bring manufacturers together and help make the domestic supply chain of U.S. transit systems stronger and more robust.

Public transportation not only connects Americans with jobs and services, it also supports our nation’s manufacturing sector. Buying American means riding American, too.

0 0 Continue Reading →

Bill to delay ELD mandate two years filed in House

A bill has been filed in the U.S. House to delay the compliance date of the federal government’s electronic logging device mandate two years, to December 2019. The change, if enacted, would give owner-operators two additional years to switch from paper logs to an electronic logging device.

The legislation was introduced Tuesday and referred to the House’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Texas Republican Rep. Brian Babin filed the ELD Extension Act of 2017. Babin’s introduction of the bill came a day after a House panel recommended that the U.S. DOT study whether a “full or targeted delay” of the mandate is needed. Both developments signal that efforts to engage Congress on the issue have gained traction. In a report issued Monday, members of the House cited the burden placed on smaller carriers, like owner-operators, and questions surrounding enforcement and “technological concerns” as reasons to delay the ELD mandate.

For Babin’s ELD delay bill to become law, it must be passed by the House and Senate and signed by President Trump.

Other than passed as a standalone bill, the legislation could also be attached to broader legislation, such as the DOT appropriations bills currently in the works in both chambers of Congress.

Lawmakers have used the DOT funding bills as avenues to enact trucking policy reforms in recent years, such as the reversal of some of the hours of service changes implemented in 2013.

0 0 Continue Reading →

US transportation infrastructure to end 2017 on high note

Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. surface infrastructure sector is on a growth track for the rest of the year, despite uncertainty around President Donald Trump’s much-touted $1 trillion infrastructure plan, according to Logistics Management, citing a mid-year report from Fitch Ratings.
  • The financial research company said airports and ports should continue to experience strong activity through the end of 2017. Toll roads will see a more modest boost in revenue due to toll increases and will continue to face resistance from groups opposed to tolling.
  • Despite enthusiasm for public-private partnerships in some quarters, state and local governments remain hesitant to explore the structure for infrastructure projects due to the lack of funding sources and misconceptions about how P3s work. Most public agencies will continue to finance such projects through traditional lending mechanisms.

Dive Insight:

Increased traffic through airports and ports has helped to drive related construction spending on upgrades and expansions.

For example, in May, the Broward County (FL) Board of County Commissioners authorized a $437 million expansion of Port Everglades, in Fort Lauderdale, FL. The expansion will allow the port to better accommodate the larger post-Panamax ships through the installation of new berths and the tripling of existing deepwater turnaround areas.

Port Everglades processed more than 1 million 20-foot shipping containers in 2016, bringing in $163 million in revenue.

The Federal Aviation Administration allocates money to airports across the country for infrastructure improvements like runway upgrades and repairs as well as changes to marking, signage and lighting. However, major terminal-replacement projects must be financed by the local governing authority through traditional loans or bond funding, a public-private partnership, or a mix.

Los Angeles International Airport is the second-busiest airport in the U.S., and it is currently undertaking a $14 billion overhaul. The huge spend includes the $5 billion Landside Access Modernization Program and the $1.6 billion Midfield Satellite Concourse. The new concourse will connect passengers to the airport’s main terminal by way of an underground tunnel; it will be able to service jumbo airliners from two of the 12 new gates included in the project.

The joint venture of Turner Construction and PCL Construction will build the Midfield concourse. A $2.7 billion, 2.25-mile-long people-mover included in the Landside program is expected to be delivered through a P3 but the consortium has yet to be named. That portion of the project is facing legal pushback regarding its environmental review.

0 0 Continue Reading →