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Press release/statement

STATEMENT: As Congress Debates Transportation Bill, New Study on Port Trucking Shows Need For New Regulations For Clean Air, Worker Safety, And Economic Stability

Washington, DC — As the United States Congress considers the Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009, which aims to establish national regulatory reforms for American ground transportation, a newly published study details the widespread failures of port trucking deregulation. Port Trucking Down the Low Road: A Sad Story of Deregulation, published by Demos, a national public policy research center, chronicles the industry's downslide since the Federal Motor Carrier Act of 1980.

The report's release arrives on the eve of the Oakland Port Commission¹s vote on a resolution calling on Congress to modernize transportation policy so that America's Port Commissions have the legal authority to set and enforce trucking industry standards to make goods movement sustainable for local communities and workers. The resolution aims to allow ports to emulate the success of the LA Clean Trucks Program, which has already reduced diesel emissions by removing thousands of dirty trucks from service, replacing them with clean-burning and alternative fuel vehicles.

Port Trucking Down the Low Road, authored for Demos' Project on Regulation by David Bensman, Professor of Labor Studies and Employer Relations at Rutgers University, provides vast evidence of the dangerous consequences of port trucking deregulation, highlighting the need for broad industry reform and a new set of regulatory protections for workers, the environment, public health and the economy.

"Port trucking carries 80 percent of shipping containers between ports, warehouses and distribution centers. It is an essential cog in the global trade system that, because of deregulation, now suffers from excessive and destructive competition that has taken its toll," said Bensman. "Because of deregulation, the national freight moving industry is broken: Highway travel is more hazardous, contributes to our environmental crisis, degrades the quality of port truck driver jobs, shifts enormous costs onto the public, and creates, overall, a highly inefficient logistics and goods movement system."

Robert Kuttner, a Distinguished Fellow at Demos who also directs the Demos Project on Regulation stated,

"With public support from members of the U.S. Congress, coalitions of trade unionists, community groups, environmentalists, and progressive local mayors have reached consensus on viable solutions and are taking steps to reduce emissions in ports throughout the country. Because ports play a central role in implementing national security goals and trucking deregulation was legislated nationally, fully reversing three decades of damage will require an act of Congress."

Key findings of the report include:

  • Highway travel has become more hazardous since port trucking deregulation: 77.8 percent of New Jersey port truck drivers reported receiving an unsafe chassis in the last 12 months; on average, 40 percent of containers at Miami's port were overweight in 2006, and in some weeks that figure reached 70 percent.
  • The port trucking system has not kept pace with advances in clean truck technologies, creating an increasing environmental crisis: Diesel emissions, especially from older trucks, cause significant harmful health impacts, releasing particles into the air that are carcinogenic and dangerous to the environment and the health of nearby residents.
  • The quality of jobs for port truck drivers has decreased substantially: Drivers are on the job five days a week, from 10 to 12 hours a day, earning an average annual income of $28,000 in 2008. As "independent contractors", they do not receive health care or any contributions to a retirement fund and are responsible for all collateral maintenance, taxes, insurance and other costs.
  • Deregulation has shifted significant costs to the public, costs previously shouldered by the shipping industry: Diesel emissions cause significant harmful health impacts, estimated by one study to cost the state of California $20 billion annually. More than 25 percent of New Jersey port drivers surveyed rely on public clinics or emergency rooms for health care.
  • The goods movement system in the U.S. has become increasingly inefficient. Business logistics expenses for the port trucking industry increased for a fourth straight year in 2007, by $91 billion over the 2006 total. The system does not incentivize warehouse companies to build facilities closer to ports or distribution centers, and a poor communications infrastructure hinders incoming and outgoing container movement.
  • The failure of the deregulated port trucking system has also been recognized by three separate North American port agencies that have taken some action to mitigate the problems caused by the Federal Motor Carrier Act of 1980.

Port Trucking Down the Low Road includes a series of reforms and policy recommendations, including:

  • Improve quality of trucking jobs by cracking down on employer abuse of misclassifying port truck drivers as independent contractors in order to avoid compliance with employment laws;
  • Improve air quality and reduce public health hazards and associated costs by establishing stricter federal diesel emission standards;
  • Protect the driving public by enforcing highway safety standards, including weight restrictions and the new 2008 chassis standards for container trucks.

"As Bensman demonstrates, re-regulating the terms of port trucking could reverse the vicious circle. Raising standards and certifying only carriers that met them could turn the drivers back into regular employees and create incentives for carriers to modernize their equipment," said Kuttner.

David Bensman added that "as Congress and the Obama Administration debate the timing and contours of updating our nation's laws and policies governing goods movement, this new study identifies key areas in desperate need of regulatory reform to ensure we create a modern, efficient, sustainable, and equitable freight transportation system for the 21st century."