Court Unanimously Confirms FMCSA’s Authority to Review State Commercial Vehicle Rules
Arlington, Virginia – Today, American Trucking Associations hailed a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upholding the federal preemption of the state of California’s meal and rest break rules as they apply to truck drivers subject to federal hours-of-service regulations.
“The Court’s ruling is a victory for common sense over bureaucracy and the plaintiffs bar,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. “When the Department of Transportation preempted California’s rules, it was a victory for highway safety, ensuring that there is one uniform standard for trucking regulations. By upholding DOT’s authority to be the sole regulator of interstate trucking, the Ninth Circuit is preventing states and trial lawyers from creating a costly and inefficient patchwork of competing rules.”
In 2018, after bipartisan efforts to enact a legislative fix failed, ATA petitioned the Department of Transportation to preempt California’s meal and rest break rule, preventing them from being enforced against interstate truck drivers, noting the rules would force those drivers to comply with two competing sets of hours-of-service rules.
Today’s unanimous ruling by the Ninth Circuit found that not only does the federal government have the authority to review and preempt state safety rules, but the three-judge panel agreed with the DOT’s conclusion that “federal regulations adequately and more appropriately balanced the competing interests between safety and economic burden,” than allowing states to impose a patchwork of competing regulations.
“We hope this ruling sends a strong message to other states that they are not allowed to impose additional regulatory burdens on interstate commerce,” Spear said. “We thank DOT and the Court for upholding the principle that federal regulatory primacy is critical for maintaining safe and efficient transportation.”
(January 13, 2021)--Summary: The Turnpike Commission raised tolls again in 2021. It did so to meet the funding mandate placed on it to pay for mass transit and road and bridge projects across the commonwealth. The commission issues debt against toll revenues to pay PennDOT $450 million per year. The commission’s debt level has reached nearly $15 billion and is likely to keep rising. ____________________________________________________________________
It’s that time of year again. No, not for making resolutions but for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) to increase tolls. It has increased tolls annually since 2009 to satisfy a funding requirement under Act 44 of 2007, which was created to provide money for public transit, roads and bridges. The commission’s annual commitment is for $450 million with $250 million going toward public transit and the remainder for road and bridge repair.
Act 44’s original intent was for the PTC to lease Interstate 80 from PennDOT pending federal approval (Policy Brief, Vol. 7, No. 59) at a price of $900 million per year (the payments increased over time from $750M in 2008 to $900M in 2010). Once the federal government denied the request to toll I-80, the payments from the PTC to PennDOT remained, although lowered to $450 million through 2057, leaving the PTC no alternative than to use existing toll revenue from the turnpike.
Even though the payments were reduced to $450 million, the PTC’s plan was to float bonds against toll revenues and pay the debt service with toll increases which were to continue annually until 2050. Act 89 of 2013 amends the earlier requirement so that the $450 million payment will end in fiscal 2022; it also specifies that $30 million of the $450 million is to come from current PTC revenues with the remainder to be funded through bond issues (PTC Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for fiscal years ended May 30, 2020 and 2019). Beginning with fiscal 2023 that payment falls to $50 million, which is to be paid from current revenues.
But as previous Briefs have documented this borrowing has resulted in deterioration of the PTC’s financial position as the debt has climbed rapidly.
When Act 44 of 2007 was passed, the PTC had $2.5 billion in total bonds outstanding with $1.66 billion in mainline bonds (67 percent of total)—the bonds financing the Act 44 payments. The remainder are bonds issued against revenues from the oil franchise tax and motor license fund. By fiscal 2011 that amount tripled to $7.7 billion with $6.5 billion in mainline bonds (84 percent). The latest CAFR shows that for fiscal 2020, which ended May 31, 2020, total outstanding debt is now approaching $15 billion ($14.96 billion) with 90 percent ($13.43 billion) comprised of mainline debt.
Mainline debt is issued against toll revenues and the ability to pay depends upon traffic. In fiscal 2007 the PTC noted that 185.4 million vehicles used the turnpike. With $1.66 billion in mainline debt, the per vehicle debt for mainline bonds stood at $8.93. By fiscal 2011 the per vehicle debt rose nearly 400 percent to $34.29 and then to $57.57 in fiscal 2019 when 214.6 million vehicles used the turnpike and the mainline debt was $12.35 billion.
The final quarter of fiscal 2020 (March, April and May) was heavily impacted by the pandemic (see Policy Brief Vol. 20, No. 17). For fiscal 2020, the PTC shows that 190.5 million vehicles used the turnpike, an 11 percent decline from fiscal 2019, for a mainline debt per vehicle of $70.51. Bear in mind that most of fiscal 2020 was over before the pandemic started.
As mentioned above, the Turnpike Commission relies on toll revenues to retire the debt. For the first six months of fiscal 2021 (June through November 2020) traffic totals are well off the pace from previous years. Using the data from the PTC’s monthly traffic reports, exit data for these months show that 64.3 million vehicles (all classes) used the system—23.4 percent fewer than during those same months in 2019 (June through November of fiscal 2020).
Traffic is broken out between passenger (class 1) and commercial (classes 2-9). According to the CAFR, passenger vehicles in fiscal 2020 paid 53 percent of the toll revenues while commercial vehicles paid the remaining 47 percent. This ratio has changed over the last few years when from 2011-2017 passenger vehicles paid approximately 57 percent with commercial vehicles paying the remaining 43 percent of toll revenue.
This is likely to change even further as the drop in passenger traffic during those first six months of fiscal 2021 is greater than that of commercial vehicles (27.3 percent vs. 1.5 percent) as more people choose not to travel for either business or pleasure. However, during the pandemic deliveries of goods to stores and factories were largely maintained while passenger traffic slowed significantly due to state ordered restrictions and fewer commuters.
And with pandemic conditions still prevalent, traffic levels are not likely to rebound in the second half of fiscal 2021 which will leave the PTC with even fewer toll dollars to meet expenditures. In fact, outside consultants have estimated that it will be a couple of years, perhaps by 2025, before traffic volumes return to pre-pandemic levels.
This is going to put more strain on the commission’s ability to pay down this debt.
The current total net position (assets minus liabilities) of the PTC is a negative $6.69 billion. Total net position was first reported for the PTC in fiscal 2012 when it was a negative $2.05 billion. The metric prior to that was called total net assets. The last positive amount occurred in 2009 ($156.48 million). The PTC has been running a negative net position for the last 11 years. At some point this will affect the commission’s ability to borrow—either through a higher interest rate or even at all.
The PTC has taken some cost-cutting measures. According to the CAFR, it “instituted a hiring freeze for both management and union positions.” But more importantly the PTC “approved a measure … to lay off approximately 500 employees, primarily fare collection-related employees.” This continues a trend. In fiscal 2011 there were 852 employees in toll collection. By fiscal 2020 that number declined to 601—a nearly 30 percent drop. An additional 500 employees will leave just around 100 employees in that function.
The CAFR also claims the PTC will be cutting “capital spending by 25.0% to include Turnpike System protection projects only.” It also states that “(t)he Commission has no legal obligation to complete the unfinished portions of the Mon/Fayette Expressway and Southern Beltway projects at this time.” We questioned the rationale and justification of extending the Mon/Fayette Expressway (Policy Brief Vol. 17, No. 27) and this project should be dropped.
The PTC has been placed in an awkward position in having to borrow against toll revenue to meet an obligation to fund mass transit and PennDOT’s road and bridge projects. The inescapable results are annual toll increases on the turnpike system. This strategy has plunged the PTC deeply into debt. The pandemic has already added to the funding difficulties and is expected to hamper toll revenues for quite a few years more. The PTC has taken some steps in reducing personnel costs that should help going forward. While it will see some relief as required payments will fall next year, travelers of the turnpike will not be so fortunate as tolls will continue to rise for the foreseeable future.
Frank Gamrat, Ph.D., Executive Director
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In the Pennsylvania Interim Vaccine Plan Version Four that was released on Friday transportation and logistics employees were listed in phase 1C.
Phase 1 vaccine administration applies when initial doses of vaccine first become available and are in limited supply (very limited supply initially) compared to demand. With this occurring, DOH, following CDC and ACIP recommendations, has divided Phase 1 into Phase 1A, 1B and 1C. The focus is on the target populations advised by the CDC to include:
Phase 1C: Pennsylvania anticipates further increases in vaccine availability. On December 22, 2020, ACIP recommended to vaccinate in Phase 1C persons aged 65–74 years, persons aged 16–64 years with medical conditions that increase or may increase the risk for severe COVID-19, and essential workers not included in Phase 1B. The populations identified in this section will be eligible for vaccination in Phase 1C unless already eligible and vaccinated under another category in Phase 1A or Phase 1B.
Phase 1C: Essential workers: Essential workers who do not meet criteria to make them eligible in Phase 1A or 1B will be vaccinated in this phase. “Essential workers” refers to the ACIP’s definition that can be found here and is based on the U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency’s guidance. This only includes workers who are essential to continue critical infrastructure and maintain the services and functions Americans depend on daily and workers who cannot perform their duties remotely and must work in close proximity to the public.
Sectors recommended by ACIP for vaccination in Phase 1C include*:
o Transportation and logistics
o Water and Wastewater
o Food Service
o Housing Construction
o Finance, including bank tellers
o Information technology
o Energy, including Nuclear Reactors
o Legal Services
o Federal, state, county and local government workers, including county election workers, elected officials and members of the judiciary and their staff
o Public Safety
o Public Health Workers
*CDC indicates an intention to publish additional information on essential workers and DOH will review and incorporate into future versions of the plan.
Harrisburg, PA – The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) announced today that expiration dates for commercial driver licenses and commercial learner's permits will be extended for Pennsylvania residents in response to statewide COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
The following products' expiration dates will be extended:
Expiration extension deadlines on non-commercial driver license, photo identification cards, learner's permits and camera cards ended on August 31, 2020.
For a list of open driver license and photo license centers and the services provided, as well as their hours of operation, please visit www.dmv.pa.gov.
Customers may continue to complete various transactions and access multiple resources online at www.dmv.pa.gov. Driver and vehicle online services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and include driver's license, photo ID and vehicle registration renewals; driver-history services; changes of address; driver license and vehicle registration restoration letters; ability to pay driver license or vehicle insurance restoration fee; driver license and photo ID duplicates; and schedule a driver's exam. There are no additional fees for using online services.
PennDOT will continue to evaluate these processes and will communicate any changes with the public.
Additional COVID-19 information is available at www.health.pa.gov. For more information, visit www.dmv.pa.gov or www.PennDOT.gov.
Yesterday, FMCSA posted on their website another extension of the CDL/CLP/Medical Certificates waiver that was set to expire on December 31st. FMCSA has cited that the extension was needed due to the potential backlogs that exist at some State Driver’s License Agencies (SDLA) across the country. In addition, the Agency noted a resurgence of stay-at-home orders and other emergency measures that may cause further economic and logistical disruptions.
This waiver becomes effective on January 1, 2021 and expires on February 28, 2021. Please read the specific provisions below, as the dates and applicability vary. Please note, SDLAs have the authority to exercise discretion in extending these dates, consistent with the outline below. Carriers and drivers should check with the SDLA to confirm their states expiration periods.
For CDL/CLP Drivers, the waiver will:
Medical Requirements for CDL/CLP and non-CDL drivers:
For State Driver License Agencies (SDLA):
DENVER – With winter officially getting underway next Monday, the Colorado Department of Transportation, in partnership with the Colorado State Patrol and Colorado Motor Carriers Association, are distributing a video to help educate truckers on the challenges and best practices for safely traveling the Interstate 70 Mountain Corridor.
The Mountain Rules video includes information on potential hazards truckers may face driving the Corridor year-round, including sudden weather changes such as heavy snowstorms, high winds, poor visibility and avalanches – along with rockfall, wildlife, and wildfires.
“Our mountains can be an immense challenge for all drivers but especially for those who drive semi-trucks. Producing this video as part of The Mountain Rules program is another tool designed to prepare in-state and out-of-state truckers for what they may encounter when driving through the high country,” said CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew. “The mantra is simple – ‘Slow, Steady, Safe for the Long Haul’ – no matter the time of year you’re traveling I-70.”
In addition to the natural hazards, the video also details other challenges truckers may encounter, including chain laws, steep grades and overheated brakes.
“Safety is our first priority and the video reiterates the necessary key practices and what the existing options are when driving the I-70 West corridor, including the availability of runaway truck ramps,” said CSP Colonel Matthew Packard. “Those ramps exist for all commercial carriers. Should your brakes fail, please save lives and use those ramps. You will not be cited by law enforcement for using them in an emergency.”
CDOT’s Freight Office and CMCA are distributing the video to numerous freight industry stakeholders, including state and national trucking companies and associations, Ports-of-Entry, truck driving schools and other educational institutions. It can be viewed at: https://youtu.be/wQNsvtUzpfk/.
"The Mountain Rules video provides an excellent framework for safe driving for truck drivers through the forever changing and unpredictable conditions that one may experience in traveling through Colorado's High Country,” said CMCA President Greg Fulton. “The video provides a great overview of the mountain terrain, geo hazards and extreme weather conditions as well as preparing drivers for snow, wind, rain, chaining up/down and navigating the steep hills to avoid overheating brakes.
We commend CDOT for their work and for partnering with Colorado State Patrol and the Colorado Motor Carriers to enhance the safe travel of Commercial Motor Vehicles in Colorado.”
CDOT, CSP and CMCA would like to thank Colorado truck driver and America’s Road Team Captain Nate McCarty from ABF Freight for narrating The Mountain Rules video.
The Mountain Rules is a strategic and comprehensive safety-focused campaign between CDOT, CSP and CMCA, designed to inform and educate in-state and intra-state trucking companies and drivers of the challenges of driving in Colorado’s mountains. I-70 is serving as the pilot corridor for implementation of new safety elements and protocols. The Mountain Rules video is a key component of the overall campaign.
Hot Brake Tips
On Dec. 1, 2020, FMCSA extended the emergency declaration exempting commercial motor vehicle drivers who are transporting supplies directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic from Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations Parts 390-399. The exemption specifically applies to drivers transporting livestock, livestock feed, vaccines and related medical supplies and equipment, supplies and equipment for community safety and sanitation, and paper products and supplies for restocking of grocery stores and distribution centers. The emergency declaration expires on Feb. 28, 2021.
In these litigious times it is imperative to develop and maintain a strong safety culture in any business. When you consider the opportunities that exist with your fleets it becomes crystal clear. At PMTA we can assist you with your compliance issues. Please take advantage of what we have to offer.
HARRISBURG - For the second year in row, Pennsylvania has been named the home of the nation’s worst “Judicial Hellholes,” according to the newly released annual report by the American Tort Reform Foundation. While the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas – long known for its plaintiff-friendly rulings - has made regular appearances on the list in the past, this year the Court is tied with the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court to nab the No. 1 spot in the yearly ranking.
“This report underscores one of the Commonwealth’s most pressing and anti-business challenges – it’s unbalanced and unpredictable legal climate,” said PA Chamber President Gene Barr. “The current state of our civil justice system has a negative impact on taxpayers and the overall economy through reduced investment, increased costs and job loss. Pennsylvania has long been a prime environment for opportunistic trial lawyers – and that situation has now been made worse by Governor Wolf’s veto of targeted COVID-19 liability protections. Already, we’ve seen significant dollars being spent on an advertising campaign to target employers with state and CDC health guidance in place with COVID-related lawsuits. Unfortunately, their actions are to the determent of small businesses, nonprofits, daycare centers, schools and universities and the medical community – who are already struggling to keep their doors open in the pandemic era.”
A Deep Root analysis of KANTAR ad occurrence data shows that the law firm of Morgan & Morgan has heavily targeted the Philadelphia media market, spending nearly three-quarters of a million dollars in seeking COVID-related cases. Additionally, law firms in the region have been promoting the creation of “vaccine practices” to go after companies who have been working tirelessly to produce the COVID-19 vaccines that are needed to get through this dark and trying time.
“The development of COVID-19 vaccines have been heralded as critical to our ability to return to a sense of normalcy,” Barr added. “Across the Commonwealth, the business community has done what has been asked of them to help combat this virus – whether that be changing operations to produce PPE, moving to completely online formats, temporarily shuttering their doors and adhering to state and CDC health guidelines. Yet, Pennsylvania’s legal environment still leaves these employers open to unwarranted lawsuits – which will hinder the state’s economic recovery and sends a red flag to any potential investment. We hope that Pennsylvania’s embarrassing status as a ‘judicial hellhole’ to employers – the same hard-working people who are critical in the effort to bring our state out of this crisis – gives federal lawmakers the impetus to do what the governor would not – and swiftly enact the targeted and temporary safe harbor protections the business community needs.”
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PennDOT has finalized its tiered program to react to winter weather conditions on the roadways.
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