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April 11, 2011 6:45 AM, EDT

Shippers Expanding In-House Fleets on Growing Demand, NPTC Says

By Daniel P. Bearth, Staff Writer

This story appears in the April 11 print edition of Transport Topics.

The head of the National Private Truck Council said shippers are beginning to expand and upgrade their in-house fleets in response to improved business conditions and in anticipation of possible shortages of freight-hauling capacity and higher fuel costs in the year ahead.

“There is a great deal of optimism on the supplier side and the fleet side,” NPTC President Gary Petty said during an interview in advance of the group’s 2011 Education Management Conference & Exhibition, which is scheduled for April 17-19 in Cincinnati.

“Private fleets are embracing technology and expanding and upgrading equipment, especially in ways of tracking driver performance,” Petty said.

He said he expects attendance at the meeting to exceed 1,000 people, making it the largest conference in more than five years.

At the conference, Tom Nartker, vice president of transportation for Safeway Inc., is slated to speak about his company’s use of technology to manage deliveries to 1,725 stores in North America, while also reducing the company’s use of fuel and emissions. Safeway ranks No. 21 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest private carriers in the United States, Canada and Mexico, with 1,021 tractors and 4,149 trailers.

The meeting also will feature a benchmarking summit, in which fleet managers can compare operating results with similar fleets.

Petty said shipper-owned fleets “need to prepare to take on more transportation capacity” as for-hire carriers cut back on service and raise freight rates.

Proposed changes in hours-of-service rules for commercial truck drivers also pose a challenge for private fleets by making it harder to maintain present delivery schedules, Petty said.

Under a proposal by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, maximum on-duty time would be reduced to 13 hours from 14 hours each day, and drivers would be required to take two rest periods between midnight and 6 a.m. before restarting their weekly work cycles. The agency also is considering reducing the maximum driving time in each work period to 10 hours from 11 hours.

Petty said the new rules would force companies to put more trucks and drivers on the road, increasing the chances of accidents and adding to congestion.

NPTC, in comments filed with FMCSA, urged the agency to wait 18 months before taking any action on hours-of-service to allow time to assess results of a new safety en-forcement program called Compliance, Safety, Accountability.

“There is more interest in safety,” Petty said, “and technology is allowing companies to see early warning signs, even among drivers that have had no accidents, and to prescribe a course of conduct for drivers before there is an accident.”

Former FMCSA Administrator John Hill, who now works as a safety consultant, also is scheduled to speak at the NPTC conference.