ATA Unveils Sustainability Plan; Backs Truck Fuel-Use Standard

By Rip Watson, Senior Reporter
This story appears in the May 12 print edition of Transport Topics.

American Trucking Associations launched a major initiative to meet the industry’s growing fuel-price crisis, supporting for the first time national truck fuel-economy standards.
Flanked by trucking company executives and other industry officials, ATA President Bill Graves presented the association’s sustainability report and outlined a six-point plan for trucking to maximize fuel use and cut consumption.
“These steps must be taken,” Graves said. “With high diesel prices, we have a greater incentive to do something about sustainability. We are going to need some help from the government.”
Graves said rising fuel prices, now the largest single expense for many carriers, justified the creation and implementation of truck fuel-economy standards, which would be developed by working closely with equipment manufacturers.
ATA said its support is conditioned on technological feasibility and no reduction in tractor performance.
In legislation last year, Congress called for a study to begin the process of setting a heavy-truck fuel standard.
Douglas Duncan, chief executive officer of FedEx Freight, said, “FedEx has been a proponent of . . . fuel economy standards for commercial vehicles. It is up to us as business leaders to work with engine manufacturers and make this a priority.”
Based on the recommendations of ATA’s Sustainability Task Force, which the federation’s directors adopted last year, the program includes, in addition to support for truck fuel standards:
A nationwide 65-mph speed limit for all vehicles, with governors on new trucks set at 68 mph.
Reduced idling.
Road improvements to cut bottlenecks and delays, paid for with dedicat-
ed funds from a fuel-tax increase.
Encouraging the Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay program.
Moving more freight per gallon of fuel consumed by targeted truck size and weight increases.
ATA estimated that its program would save 86 billion gallons of fuel and 900 million tons of carbon emissions over a 10-year period.
The advocacy effort includes legislative, regulatory and tax changes, and Graves said, “We are going to go the key decision makers in each of these areas and sell them on our program.”
He and Chris Lofgren, chief executive officer of Schneider National Inc., met May 8 at the White House to discuss the plan with Keith Hennessey, a member of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers and director of the National Economic Council.
Earlier in the week, Mike Card, president of Combined Transport Inc., Central Point, Ore., told a congressional committee that ATA backed the 65 mph speed limit.
Lofgren said the nation’s biggest truckload carrier will cut tractor cruising speed to 60 mph for solo drivers and Con-way Inc. Vice President Randy Mullett said the company’s truckload unit is cutting its cruising speed to 65 mph.
“The environmental impact of cutting speed by three miles an hour is significant,” Lofgren said. “We are committed to the ongoing pursuit of lower emissions and reduction of fuel costs.”
Schneider expects to save at least 3.75 million gallons of fuel and eliminate 41,625 tons of emissions annually. Slowing down will add 12 minutes to 20 minutes a day to transit times. Team drivers will maintain their 65 mph cruising speed in order to meet customers’ service requirements, Lofgren said.
ATA’s “Trucks Deliver a Cleaner Tomorrow” plan was unveiled on a day when oil prices peaked at $124.61 a barrel, still another record. The jump in diesel prices to more than $4 a gallon has pushed ATA’s estimate of 2008 U.S. trucking fuel costs above $140 billion.
“We must make the most of every gallon of fuel,” said Tommy Hodges, chairman of Titan Transfer and chairman of ATA’s sustainability task force. “When we began looking at this problem, we weren’t looking at $4 a gallon fuel.”
Cutting truck speeds to 65 mph from 75 mph would save about 2.8 billion gallons of fuel and reduce carbon dioxide by 31.5 million tons over 10 years, ATA estimated.
Idling, which uses 1.1 billion gallons of fuel annually, can be reduced if new steps are taken to keep drivers comfortable while they’re resting and if traffic delays are minimized.
ATA advocates a tax credit for auxiliary power units to maintain truck cab comfort with the truck engine off and relaxation of maximum weight allowances to accommodate the units.
Freight flows can be improved by congestion reduction efforts that begin by attacking 473 road bottlenecks, Hodges said. That would start a 20-year effort to increase capacity, with steps such as dedicated truck lanes.
“We are willing to pay our fair share,” Hodges said. “Our one requirement is that the money must go to fix the problems.”
Increased participation in SmartWay could boost fuel savings above the 554 million-gallon reduction that has been estimated for 2008 by current carrier and shipper participants, ATA said.
On size and weight issues, Graves said, “We don’t want bigger and heavier everywhere.”
ATA is focusing in the West, where harmonization of state size and weight rules could create a network for trucks to move current freight volumes with less equipment. Weight limit increases to 97,000 pounds and longer trailer combinations would be employed in that network.
To provide added information about the sustainability effort, ATA unveiled a new Web site,