February 20, 2012 8:00 AM, EST

Letters: Exporting Fuel, Recruiting Drivers, Trailer Size

These Letters to the Editor appear in the Feb. 20 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

Exporting Fuel

After reading the Jan. 16 article titled “Gasoline, Other Fuels Top U.S. Exports” (p. 24), it occurred to me to ask why we — the United States — are exporting gasoline and other fuels with the obvious demand that is domestic.

The article stated that fuel worth $88 billion was exported in 2011, and the trucking industry put back $64 billion into the economy via fuel surcharges in 2011. U.S. refineries exported 117 million gallons per day of gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel, up from 40 million a day a decade ago.

In 1997, we paid 97 cents per gallon for diesel fuel. Today we pay $3.65 or more for diesel fuel.

American Trucking Associations says the trucking industry transports 68.8% of all the tonnage of freight that is hauled in the United States. Our trucks are more fuel-efficient than in 1997, when the fuel surcharge was 3 cents, but the cost of a new unit is up 131% from $97,000 in 1997 to $127,000 in 2011. Fuel is up a minimum of 376% from 1997 costs.

If there is such a demand domestically for this product, why is there a need to export any of it? All this expense is passed on, that is, 128 billion miles driven in 2007 by the trucking industry times a 50-cent surcharge is $64 billion passed directly to the American consumer.

How can we import crude more cheaply than we can produce it domestically? How can we export the finished refined product more cheaply than we can sell it here?

All the emissions equipment we pay for has done its job, and our units are much more fuel-efficient, but every bit of this and more is lost in increased fuel costs and the equipment.

ATA estimates that by 2020, 18.8 billion tons of freight worth $1.3 trillion in revenue will be generated, representing a 68.5 % increase over 2008 revenues of $749.9 billion. To me, this obviously exposes an extreme demand in the future.

My question at the end of the day is why are we exporting a product that has such a devastating effect on our economy when there is obviously a demand for it domestically? Could we not refine this product and sell it domestically and pass those savings on to our citizens and our economy?

Robert Bearden

President and CEO

Robert Bearden Inc.

Cairo, Ga.

Driver Recruiting

The Opinion column, “Driver Recruiting Against the Odds” (2-6, p. 7), written by Thomas Clark, describes, in my opinion, a successful training strategy for the future. What I would like to add to this strategy is my answer to one of the questions he asks and provide an equally important strategy to the process.

First, to answer the question — “How do we entice the next generation of truck drivers to enter the business?” — I believe that enticing people to drive over-the-road is the easy part of the equation. Money is the enticement to get them in the door, but treatment is what keeps them.

Over the years, I have read study after study that says while money is important, it is seldom the reason drivers leave.

Leaders know that drivers are what brings revenue in the door of an organization; everyone else represents a cost — an important and necessary cost, but a cost.

Leaders need not be afraid to communicate this reality to drivers. Companies with successful retention programs have created a culture where leaders and drivers work in an environment based on respect and mutual trust.

There is an age-old question asked in many military leadership courses: “What’s more important, the men or the mission?” The textbook answer is that the men are more important — until their welfare affects the accomplishment of the mission.

Make that question more industry specific: “What’s more important, the driver or his load?” The answer might be that the drivers’ needs are most important until those needs adversely affect successful delivery of the load.

An ineffective retention culture is one where drivers believe the load takes precedence over their needs. Neither question is intended to be taken literally but is the basis for a good retention process.

Jimmy Tinnin

Terminal Manager

Paschall Truck Lines Inc.

West Memphis, Ark.

Weighty Questions

As a regular reader of Transport Topics from the other side of the Atlantic, I am following closely the debate in North America concerning permitted maximum weights and dimensions of heavy trucks.

Many of us in Europe are puzzled by the way tractor-trailer length limits are imposed in the United States. Your laws seem to be concerned only with trailer length; there seems to be no limit on the length of the whole combination, which must surely be the most relevant dimension from a safety and maneuvering perspective.

Clearly, any legal constraint on the distance from the front of the trailer to the front end of the tractor would inhibit the size of the cab sleeper/living-quarters that feature so prominently in longhaul American rigs. But such considerations ought not to encroach on safety issues.

On the allowable weight question, the proposal to permit 6-axle rigs grossing up to 96,000 pounds corresponds almost exactly to European legislation affecting what we call articulated rigs, where in most countries, including the United Kingdom, a maximum all-up weight of 44 tonnes (97,000 pounds) is allowed on six axles.

Though there was some initial resistance to higher weights in Europe, the legislators were satisfied that braking distances, road wear and road accident statistics would not be compromised — and that confidence has been borne out in practice.

Alan Bunting


Hertfordshire, England