Archive for February, 2009|Monthly archive page

Put taxes where they belong

I thought we were supposed to be getting tax cuts, not increases.

The children’s health bill that was just passed by our democratic congress, and signed by our democratic president is raising the federal tax on cigarettes 61 cents a pack.  That’s a pretty big increase.

Ok, I’ll even go along and say that the bill was necessary, and had to be funded somehow.  I think there’s a more appropriate thing to tax in order to raise the revenue.

What do you think about taxing something that:

  • Is marketed (heavily) to children.
  • Is known to cause health and behavioral problems in children (often severe).
  • Provides no useful nutritional or other value to children.
  • Contains a powerful addictive drug.
  • Has more of this drug added by manufacturers to increase it’s addictive qualities.
  • Causes particular problems among the poor.

Wow. Sounds like pretty nasty stuff, huh? Did you guess what it is yet?

I’ll give you a hint — there’s probably some in your refrigerator right now.  You were probably hooked on this stuff while you were young, making you a lifelong customer, and helping pass this addiction to your own children.

Did you get it yet?

It’s those heavily promoted, carbonated, caffeine loaded cans of soft drinks in your refrigerator.

Numerous studies have found strong links to childhood obesity (from all the sugar and high fructose corn sweetener), and behavioral problems from the caffeine.  The “energy” drinks are even worse, having levels of caffeine that approach dangerous levels.  Among the poor, where child nutrition is often borderline (or worse), these have a particularly severe impact.

The sales of these fizzy fatteners are enormous.  Taxing them at even a penny a can would generate an enormous amount of revenue — and revenue that’s not likely to decrease the way cigarette taxes do.  Every time cigarette taxes are raised, more people quit smoking, revenues fall, and cigarette taxes get raised again; a never ending cycle.

A further danger is bootlegging.  People will only tolerate just so much in taxes.  Continued increases will eventually get them to the point where it’s sufficiently profitable to begin smuggling them in from lower tax jurisdictions.  This happened in Canada a few years ago after they put a large tax increase on cigarettes.  As a result, smuggling took off, and Canada was forced to lower the taxes.

Let’s put the taxes where they rightly belong.

Comments welcome.

Flying Ice From Trucks

This post is a duplicate of one I posted to:

http://stcloud.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/flying-ice-from-trucks-should-something-be-done-about-it.aspx

Ice and snow are problems with ALL vehicles – not just trucks.  The question is, what can be done about it? The answer is, not a whole lot; at least not in practical terms. There are scrapers that will remove snow, but ice is generally stuck on too tight for them to be effective. The only truly effective way of dealing with this would be electrically heated trailer roofs, sides, and bottoms.  The cost of operating such a trailer would be prohibitive, not even including the cost of equipping a trailer.

It’s unlikely that truck drivers are even aware that they have an ice buildup on their trailers. In a short space of time, trucks can go through rapidly changing weather conditions. Mountainous terrain is a particular problem area for ice buildup and shedding.  Go up a mountain, rain changes to snow, and freezes on the trailer. Go back down, and it melts some, and falls off.

So, what do you do?

The best solution, is to stay well away from ANY vehicle likely to shed ice. If you’re passing, get out in the other lane well in advance of overtaking. When you pass, do so expeditiously. Not only can trucks shed ice from their roofs, they can also pick up chunks between dual tires, and throw them out.  Mud flaps catch much of that, but a big chunk coming out at just the wrong time can bounce under the flap, or even rip a mud flap right off it’s brackets.

Parking in Brundidge, AL

In a previous post I mentioned the difficulty that truckers experience in parking.  I was recently in Brundidge, Alabama, which is a texbook example.

Brundidge is a nice little southern town — that is, if you don’t drive a truck.

Open the following link in another tab or window — you’ll have to cut and paste it into your browser:

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&q=31.720000,+-85.829167&jsv=145d&sll=31.719634,-85.828328&sspn=0.006653,0.00957&ie=UTF8&geocode=FUAC5AEd0Vni-g&split=0

Make sure you’re looking at the aerial view. Click the satellite button if not.

If you’ll zoom in a bit, you’ll see an intersection with a few buildings to the right.  The building at the northeast corner is a truckstop.  The one in the southeast corner is a fast food chain. The one immediately south of that is another truckstop.

Both truckstops and the fast food are posted “No Truck Parking – Violaters Will Be Towed”.  Just to the east of the fast food is a small lot with room for maybe 8-10 trucks.

Are you with me so far?

Now, zoom out a bit. You’ll see to the southwest of the intersection a very large warehouse complex, owned by “a large national retailer” . This facility gets probably at least a hundred trucks a day – probably more.

Let me pause here a moment and explain about the types and timing of deliveries.

There are two basic types of unloading — “live unloads”, and “drops” (aka “drop & hook”).  Live unloads can be further broken down into customer unloads, and driver hand unloads.  I’ll discuss loading and unloading trucks in a future post.

There are three basic types of timing. Deliveries can either be a “by”, “window” or “appointment”. “By” deliveries are what the name implies: have the freight there by a specific date and time.  Windows are similar, except there will be a “not earlier than” time and a “not later than” time.  Some places are *very* particular about not wanting their freight early.  The final basic type is the appointment.  Most places give a 30 minute window around the appointment time, although some are more, and a few are less.  Missing a delivery appointment is one sure way for any driver to end up deep in the (insert noxious substance here).  For busy warehouses, it might take 3 days or more to get another delivery appointment. (Unless they really want whatever it is, in which case they’ll work you in).  For some manufacturers, missing a delivery appointment that causes their production line to shut down can result in chargebacks to the carrier that can be enormous. (I’ve heard of one auto manufacturer that charges back $6000 a minute – that’s $100 a second).

Even if a customer doesn’t charge back for late or missed deliveries, most still track on-time service.  Particularly in these bad economic conditions, competition in truckload freight is cutthroat. As customers scale back shipments, a carrier with a higher percentage of late or missed deliveries is at a distinct competetive disadvantage.

Now, throw into this mix, the federal hours-of-service (HOS) regulations.  These regs are very specific about when and how long a driver can drive.  Violations can result in anything from fines on up.  I’ll explain these regs in detail in a future post.

As we can see from this discussion, there are many constraints on truck drivers delivering freight.  Drivers also have to allow extra time for traffic, scales, fueling, etc.  Ideally, for a morning delivery, drivers like to arrive (or at least get close) the night before.  This gives you the maximum available hours to run after making your delivery.

The problem is then, finding a place to park near your delivery.  In the case of Brundidge, Alabama, parking is effectively non-existent. The “large national retailer” won’t let drivers park there. At all. Ever. Doesn’t matter if you’re out of hours and can’t legally drive out on the road. Still can’t park there. Don’t even bother asking.

If you’ll look back on the map window you have open, you’ll see that the warehouse of that “large national retailer” has lots and lots of space.  They could let all the trucks that go in and out of there on a daily basis park there, and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference to them — except they just don’t want to do it.

Now, open another browser window and cut and paste the following link in:

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&q=42.698611,+-84.641667&jsv=145d&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=48.374125,78.398437&ie=UTF8&geocode=FXOHiwIdfXj0-g&split=0

This link takes you to the Lansing, Michigan distribution center of a large regional retailer — Meijer, based in Michigan. At all of their warehouses (at least the ones I’ve been to) they have what is known as a “bullpen lot”; in other words, a place for trucks to park, so drivers can take their mandated 10 hour breaks.  If you zoom in a bit, you can see it’s quite a large lot that they provide to drivers delivering to their warehouse. Kudos to Meijer for being good corporate citizens, and being more truck-friendly than most.  If they can do it, why doesn’t the “large national retailer”  (with probably 100 times their profits) do it?

Personally, I think it’s because they just don’t care.  It wouldn’t cost them much to do it,  it would improve their delivery service levels, as well as make it easier for drivers to comply with the HOS regulations.  Then, instead of saying “*&^* large national retailer”, drivers would just say “large national retailer”.

I could understand it if they just didn’t have the room, but they do, and they still won’t.  Even their security guards on the gates have told me they wish they would.

This is why there needs to be some regulatory relief put into place that would mandate companies with adequate space to allow truck parking.  If you’re a regulator, or safety lobbyist and you’re reading this post, how about making something happen?

Comments and questions welcome.

Freight still sucks

I’ve had a moderately entertaining week…NOT!

I’ve been sitting 12 hours or so after every load waiting to get  something else.  I will say that the loads have been generally decent when I do get them.  I even had a reasonable (2800 mile) week last week.  The only thing is, when freight was good, that would have been 3500+ miles.  At least my truck is paid for.

It’s been wild weather this week.  It was 15 below zero at the house when I left.  I delivered a load in San Benito, TX, and it was 85 degrees.  I have to look at my thermometer before I get out of the truck.  What other job lets you go from blizzard to summer in 24 hours? 🙂

I’m getting ready for tax time. I’ve got all of the stuff sorted out; now I just need to get it into the computer. I might take 34 hours off in the next couple of days and get it all put in.  My accountant has given me an “A+” every year for having stuff so well organized — it makes her job relatively easy.

I’ve been working on writing a page about sharing the road with trucks.  If you have any questions that you’d like to see answered, please leave a comment, and I’ll see about including it.

Comments and questions welcome.