States to Begin Collecting Fees Under New System

FMCSA Finalizes UCR Registration Program to Replace SSRS
By Sean McNally, Senior Reporter
This story appears in the Sept. 3 print edition of Transport Topics.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration cleared the way for states to begin collecting registration fees under the new Unified Carrier Registration system, effectively bringing the curtain down on the widely disliked Single State Registration System, despite a recent extension of the program by Congress.
The fee structure FMCSA published Aug. 24, originally proposed by the UCR board of directors, calls for a six-tier system of fees ranging from $39 a year for companies with two or fewer trucks to $37,500 for companies with more than 1,000 rigs.
Publication of the fees in the Federal Register was the last major hurdle to implementing the system, which Congress established in 2005 to replace SSRS.
“It’s the biggest piece of the puzzle,” said Bob Pitcher, American Trucking Associations’ vice president of state laws and vice chairman of the UCR board. “It’s pretty much up to the states now and the industry members on the board to coordinate, rather quickly now, the collection of those fees.”
For-hire trucking companies disliked the SSRS system because they were the only ones who paid. Under UCR, private fleets, freight forwarders and brokers also would pay; as a result, most for-hire fleets would pay less, Pitcher said.
The fees are to be distributed to states participating in the UCR system, and they use the fee revenue to conduct safety programs.
FMCSA Deputy Administrator David Hugel said that the states “are very anxious to begin” collecting fees and he’d be surprised if “the states don’t start billing some time in September or early October.”
Capt. Robert Powers, commander of the Michigan State Police motor carrier division, told Transport Topics the state was “planning to send out the billings shortly after Labor Day.”
Bill Leonard, director of motor carrier compliance for the New York State Department of Transportation said the state would begin issuing its bills “the second week of September at the very earliest and going into early October.”
Pitcher and Leonard, who also sits on the UCR board, said the group planned to meet late last week after press time, to discuss what steps needed to be taken.
Leonard said that some sort of mass mailing would have to be sent out to “somewhere in the neighborhood of 720,000 entities across North America, with 230,000 companies located in jurisdictions that are not part of the program.”
UCR, and SSRS before it was set up, collects fees from carriers involved in interstate commerce, even if those carriers are based in states not participating in the program. Thirty-eight states participated in SSRS, which Congress eliminated in 2005, and 37 will participate in UCR.
Though the SSRS program officially ended in January, Congress revived it in August, leading the trucking industry to fear double-taxation if both systems operated simultaneously (7-30, p. 1).
States in the program had agreed not to go forward with SSRS if the UCR fees were published by the end of August.
Dick Henderson, director of government affairs for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, said he expected states would not to go forward with SSRS. He described the legislation temporarily reviving it as “a Band-Aid approach.”
“We can now take the Band-Aid off and throw it away; the wound has healed,” he said.
“I think the legislation may have had something to do with forcing the rule to come out, and if that’s the case, so much the better,” Henderson said.
Pitcher said, “We can only hope” that final publication of the UCR fees would truly mark the end of SSRS.
Brokers and forwarders, who operate no trucks, would pay the $39 fee.
Under the new system, Pitcher said, “nearly all national carriers will be paying less, whatever their size — in many cases much less — since, for the most part, the size of a carrier’s SSRS bill depended on how many, and which, SSRS states it traveled in, and the UCR fee depends not at all on travel but only on fleet size.”
“From conversations I’ve had, the states feel much more reassured that they don’t have to fall back onto SSRS,” said Hugel. “The states and certain segments of the industry were not looking forward to that. A lot of people feel they are in a better position, now that the final rule is out.”
Powers said he hoped the fee publication was the end of SSRS, once and for all.
“I think everybody agrees that it’s time to move on and that the SSRS is history,” he said.
However, Leonard cautioned that some states may still try to use it this year.
“If I were a betting man, I would say expect the UCR notice to be in the mail,” he said, “but I can’t rule out that the single state notice may be in some people’s mailbox, too.”