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Strict trucking regulations add costs for firms

Keywords: Tags  aluminum, AMM Aluminum Summit, PLS Logistics, Jacque Morrow, John Lapides, united aluminum, trucking, freight everdeen mason

NEW YORK — More-stringent freight and trucking regulations have made the United States less competitive for many industries, including metals, and the newest limitations on truckers could cause a 5-percent drop in deliveries, according to executives in the transportation and logistics sectors.

The newest trucking regulations—which require drivers to have longer breaks between trips and log their own hours—compounded by an overall driver shortage, have contributed to the recent lack of freight availability, PLS Logistics Services Inc. director of national accounts Jacque Morrow said at AMM’s Aluminum Summit in New York.

John Lapides, president of North Haven, Conn.-based United Aluminum Corp., agreed. Stricter trucking regulations have "raised rates and now there is significantly less supply," he said. "The restriction of drivers’ availability makes it harder to hire drivers. This is a critical issue for aluminum."

There is currently more product that needs to be delivered than there is the capacity to deliver it due to the lack of truck drivers, too-low weight limits for trucks and the need to reduce congestion on major roads, Lapides said, noting that industry leaders need to rally and contact local government representatives to try to influence decisions on trucking restrictions.

Lapides said that one bill in particular the industry might want to weigh in on is the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act, which sets policy for the country’s highway, bridge and transportation system.

The newest version of the legislation includes a provision that would increase the current weight limit on trucks from a five-axle vehicle with an 80,000-pound capacity to a six-axle vehicle with a 97,000-pound capacity, according to Lapides. If passed, the higher weight limit would reduce congestion and save metal companies money by allowing them to load more material onto a single vehicle, he said, noting that the use of larger trucks would effectively halve the number of trucks currently making deliveries on the road.

"It cuts into bridge service costs and ups the maintenance life, but that’s a small price to pay to get goods to the market," he said.

Congestion and the ratio of lane capacity to deliveries on the road are so bad that if one particular bridge in the Northeast were shut down, it would make the region completely inaccessible to shippers, Lapides said.

Congress and the U.S. Department of Transportation are expected to undertake a study on the effects of the heavier trucks, with results due by 2014, he said.

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