Saturday, July 26, 2008

Student drivers learn why they should stay out of the 'no-zone'

It looked like all the right ingredients for an accident: a UPS freight truck with a pickup on its right, a car on its left and another behind it.

But this static gathering of usually moving metal at Mandarin High School's summer driver education course was set up to prevent accidents with trucks, not cause them.

As 30 students gathered in the steamy morning heat Monday, they learned the pickup and cars were in the truck's "no-zones" - big blind spots where another vehicle next to, behind or in front is invisible from the truck driver's view.

It all became visible when they got in a big rig to see what a trucker's mirrors show - and don't show.

"It's very hard to see what's behind and around you. It's a very large truck," said Mandarin High student Jon Scully, 15. "They can't see you. [I didn't realize that] as much as I did now being in the cab. ... I'll stay out of their way."

"I didn't realize they couldn't see that much, that the blind spot was as big as they said," added Bishop Kenny High School student Lauren Gerhardstein. "I'll be more careful and make sure they can see me."

Mandarin High offers driver's ed for its students at 2:30 p.m. weekdays during the school year. It also offered five courses this summer, open to area high school students age 15 or older for $135 each.

Normally, only the sedans used by instructors and teens occupy the driving range on Greenland Road. But Monday morning, a 60-foot-long, 10-wheel Volvo diesel truck covered in graphics depicting a truck's "no-zones" rolled in.

UPS driver Robert Foskey brings a rig to driver education programs at Mandarin High and other schools to give teens information on driving safely around them. The 20-year veteran trucker was joined by fellow UPS driver Roger Nicholson, AAA Cooper driver David Leach, Florida DOT Officer Becky Arsenault and Mandarin High driving instructor Katherine Masse.

Foskey kicked off the program in a classroom filled with posters reminding young drivers to "Move Over - It's the Law" and "Winners Don't Drink and Drive." But his own slogan was "Don't Hang Out in the No-Zone."

"It is the blind spots around the truck where you don't want to be caught," the Mandarin driver told them. "Have you ever been down the road passing a semi truck and its turn signal comes on? Shortly thereafter, he comes right over on you? You will see why now."

The biggest blind spot is in the truck driver's right-side mirror, where a passing car disappears for almost the entire length of the rig, Foskey said. A car in the left lane just behind the truck driver's door isn't visible. One following close behind can't be seen in the sideview mirrors, and neither can a car or pedestrian right in front of the grill.

Students saw films that showed what happens if they follow a truck too closely and it stops suddenly, how a car can be hit by a truck if it's turning, and how a loaded truck needs a football field worth of road to stop from 55 mph.

Nicholson told them what he's seen from his truck.

"You can't be texting on your phone or using that cell phone. You can't be watching DVDs. I see people all the time with a DVD player on the dash," he said, adding he even saw someone using a laptop computer.

Then students from six area public and private schools climbed into the truck's seat. Foskey climbed on a step next to the left-side mirror and Leach stood next to the truck, visible in the sideview mirror.

"You see David [Leach] here. A quick move three feet to the left, where a small vehicle or motorcycle would be anyway, and you can't see him at all, much less the car in front of him," Foskey told Stanton College Preparatory School student Prem Warde, in the truck seat.

Arsenault's police cruiser behind the truck was invisible to the teens, while the big pickup parked halfway down the rig's right side couldn't be seen in the right-side mirror.

In the end, Bishop Snyder High School student Matthew Cavallo, 16, said he learned a trucker sitting high up really can't see much.

"I never realized they didn't have a rear-view mirror - it never occurred to me. And the blind spots were huge," he said. "You can just go from one blind spot to another when you try to pass them."

Friday, July 25, 2008

Strickland asks DOT to investigate DHL deal

State officials issued a letter Thursday, July 24, to the U.S. Department of Transportation calling for it to investigate a plan by DHL Express' parent to outsource its domestic air cargo business to United Parcel Service, a move that would eliminate thousands of Ohio jobs.

Signed by Gov. Ted Strickland and Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, the letter to Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said pairing the two carriers would hurt both consumers and the U.S. shipping market.

"It appears likely this proposed deal between DHL and UPS is a step toward the elimination of a competitor from the express delivery market," the letter states. "Consolidation leaves consumers only two options for express delivery service — and that is contrary to the public interest."

In addition to seeking an investigation, the letter urges Transportation Secretary Mary Peters to "issue appropriate orders to stop activity that will erode competition."

Deutsche Post, owner of DHL, wants to move at least DHL's air-freight operations to UPS' hub in Louisville, Ky. If DHL moved these operations, as well as ground transport and overseas packaging operations to Kentucky, it could cost the region 8,200 jobs.

The tentative agreement between the carriers calls for DHL to hire UPS under a 10-year contract. DHL says that such a pact could stem domestic operational losses that it expects will exceed $1 billion this year.

In addition to Strickland's latest request, the state congressional delegation and state leaders have asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate whether the DHL proposal violates U.S. antritrust laws by reducing competition in the express package delivery market.

Also on July 24, Sens. George Voinovich and Sherrod Brown met with the man assigned by the Bush administration to be the point person on DHL's proposed consolidation with UPS.

The senators met with Sandy K. Baruah, assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, after asking White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten to put someone in charge of the issue.

Brown, D-Ohio, said Baruah said the goal will be to coordinate actions to fight back to preserve the jobs at risk and "if that doesn't work, to make sure (the administration) has a full-time person on the ground to help the region move forward in case jobs are lost in that facility."

Baruah is familiar with the region - Rep. Mike Turner, R-Centerville, brought him to Wilmington during the July 4 recess, not long after the DHL proposal was announced to alert him of its seriousness.

Brown said should the jobs leave, the administration has promised it will send someone to the region to help find new jobs to replace those lost - the first time the Bush administration has done so.

YRC Worldwide Spots Early Sign Of Economy 'Turning'

The head of YRC Worldwide Inc. (YRCW), the largest standalone U.S. trucking company by revenue, said on Friday that a change in shippers' behavior provided the first sign of a recovery in the domestic economy.

Bill Zollars, Chairman and CEO of the Overland Park, Kan.-based company, said the average size of its less-than-truckload, or LTL, shipments was increasing.

"That's usually an early indicator that the economy is turning," said Zollars in an interview with Dow Jones Newswires after YRC had reported a return to profitability in the second quarter.

Zollars stressed that it was too early to tell whether the trend represented a sustained improvement in economic conditions, and rivals have remained cautious about their outlook.

"We've been gathering economic data from multiple sources and have concluded that there are no indicators that point to any meaningful recovery or improvement in economic activity over the remainder of the year," said Douglas Stotlar, CEO of Con-Way Inc. (CNW) on a conference call this week.

The so-called "freight economy" is viewed as a key barometer of the broader business and consumer environment, and trucking companies have been the hardest hit by the combination of weak demand and soaring fuel prices.

The recent dip in diesel prices has helped truckers, and pricing power has improved after overcapacity eased following a spate of bankruptcies among smaller operators.

"I can't believe I'm saying this, but $100 a barrel oil would be nice at this point," said Zollars on an analysts' call Friday. "The (fuel) price levels now are manageable."

YRC has restructured its network and shed 1,100 jobs in an effort to regain profitability, and Zollars said trends among shippers could help build momentum through the rest of the year, despite the continuing fall in volume during the second quarter.

Customers are looking to shorten supply chains by sourcing materials closer to their base, as well as reducing inventories with faster and smaller shipments.

"That's right in our wheel-base," said Zollars, though he noted an opposing trend among customers to consolidate cargo on single truckloads and eliminate LTL business. LTL operators group shipments on a single truck.

"It's pretty much a standoff (between the two trends)," he said, but forecast that shippers would intensify their focus on speed of shipment as the economy recovered.

United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) and FedEx Corp. (FDX) have both been struggling with a drop in premium business as customers trade down from express delivery products.

YRC shares fell as much as 9% earlier Friday after the company reported a 35% drop in net profits after the market close Thursday. Reported net income of $ 36.3 million, or 62 cents a share, compared with $55.4 million, or 95 cents a share, a year earlier. Operating revenue dropped 3.5% to $2.4 billion.

The shares were recently trading down 7.1% at $18.85, with rivals' stocks boasting gains.

Zollars said he expected volumes to pick up in the fourth quarter after continuing falls in the period to June 30 at both its national and regional segments, which operate under brands including Yellow and Roadway.

Outside the domestic economy, Zollars said the acquisition of Shanghai Jiayu Logistics, one of China's largest truck operators, would close in August.

ABF Announces New President and COO

Arkansas Best Corporation today announced that Wesley B. Kemp will become President and Chief Operating Officer of its largest subsidiary, ABF Freight System Inc., effective August 1, 2008. Mr. Kemp will assume the duties from Robert A. Davidson, who will continue as President and Chief Executive Officer of Arkansas Best and as Chief Executive Officer of ABF.

Mr. Kemp, who is 62 years old, has held a variety of positions during his 39-year career with ABF and currently serves as Senior Vice President of Operations, with responsibility for all areas of operational execution. He joined ABF as a management trainee in 1969 after graduating from the University of Arkansas with a bachelor's degree in management. From 1985 until 2006, Mr. Kemp was ABF's Vice President of Terminal Operations following his service as an ABF Regional Vice President of Operations based in Bristol, CT. Mr. Kemp has completed the Executive Program at Northwestern University in Advanced Transportation/Logistics Management. He currently serves on the boards of the Mack-Blackwell Transportation Center and the Supply Chain Management Research Center at the University of Arkansas.

"Wes Kemp has been an important contributor to the growth and development of our company for nearly forty years," said Robert A. Davidson, Arkansas Best President and Chief Executive Officer. "He has a firm understanding of the people-centered culture, customer focus, and active ethics that have made ABF so successful.

Beginning in the early-eighties, Wes was one of the first proponents of ABF's Quality Process. Throughout the years, Wes has been a consistent advocate of the quality principles of doing things right the first time and working to identify and correct the root causes of errors in order to benefit our customers and our company. Wes has been a well-respected leader and mentor to many of ABF's best-in-class employees."

"In addition, Wes has been an innovator and pioneer who is always open to exploring new technologies and opportunities for serving ABF's customers in a cost effective manner," said Mr. Davidson. "He has overseen the adaptation and implementation of technology to customize ABF's processes to the specific needs of our customers while providing unprecedented visibility and control throughout the supply chain. Recently, Wes and his operations team have been the architects of ABF's regional freight initiative that will result in a radical reduction of transit times in over 30,000 station-to-station lanes. This will allow ABF to effectively compete and grow in the important regional transportation market while enhancing our best-in-class longhaul network."

"Arkansas Best Corporation is currently involved in a strategic review of available opportunities for future growth and potential diversification into other businesses in transportation, distribution and logistics. Our corporate officers are actively considering a broad array of options to best leverage our core competencies, financial stability, and strong balance sheet," said Mr. Davidson. "During this important time in our company's history, Wes Kemp's focused leadership of ABF will ensure that it remains the great enterprise and cornerstone of our corporation it has always been."

Restructuring returns YRC to profitability

YRC Worldwide Inc. returned to profitability in the second quarter after a restructuring of operations.

The Overland Park-based trucking giant on Thursday posted profits that were in line with previous company forecasts, earning 62 cents a share, or $36.27 million, on $2.40 billion in sales. That is down from the same time last year, when the company earned $55.37 million, or 95 cents a share, on $2.49 billion in revenues.

The performance for the three months ending June 30 included one-time gains of 39 cents a share and combined charges of 16 cents a share. Excluding those items, YRC would have earned 39 cents a share, in line with its predicted 30 to 40 cents.

YRC shares closed Thursday at $20.29, down 73 cents.

Bill Zollars, YRC’s chairman and chief executive, said the company achieved its earnings goals despite a challenging economy. In the first half of the year, YRC scaled back its regional trucking operations through terminal closings and layoffs.

“Our actions to improve operational efficiency, get our regional companies back on track and reduce overhead costs have been effective,” he said in a statement.

The company said it expects to earn from $1.05 to $1.15 a share in the third quarter. Those results will include a curtailment gain of 70 cents a share and increased union benefit costs of 15 cents a share attributed to a new contract. YRC added that the curtailment gains of the second and third quarters are related to bringing nonunion employees under the same pension plan by 2009.

Although YRC’s earnings were lower than the 2007 second quarter, the results were a marked improvement from the first quarter of this year, when the company lost 81 cents a share. YRC earned 1 cent a share in the 2007 fourth quarter before taking charges totaling $13 a share.

Earlier this month, YRC restructured operations at its three biggest subsidiaries, Yellow Transportation, Roadway and USF Holland. The new Teamsters contract provided the company flexibility on work rules that YRC expects will lead to improved delivery times for those carriers.

One analyst said YRC’s latest results are encouraging but the company needs to keep making progress.

“When you look at the quarter, YRC is heading in the right direction, but they’re still not out of the woods,” said Jason Seidl, director of equity research at Dahlman Rose & Co. “The trucking market hasn’t gotten any worse, but it has gotten any better, either.”

Safety first for truckers

Joe Clements won at the State Truck Driving Championships for the third year in a row.

Most people try to avoid accidents on the road, but for Joe Clements, it's an occupational hazard.

Clements, who drives for UPS Freight, competes every year in the State Truck Driving Championships, as well as the National Truck Driving Championships. In order to be eligible to compete, Clements must remain accident-free for 12 months, in both his personal car and UPS truck.

"That means not only accidents, but no speeding tickets, no nothing," said Clements, whose parents, Harry and Doris Clements, still live in Mathews. "It's what the competitions are all about, and why the American Trucker Association, ATA, supports us. It really makes you a better driver and a better person during the year."

Clements has been competing for 15 years in the competitions and has placed first in the last three state championships. The highest he's placed in the national championship is 11th.

"You have to place in the state championships to be able to compete in the national competition," Clements said. "There are nine classes at nationals, and each class has 47 competitors. There's a first-place winner in each class.

Classes at the National Truck Driving Championships include straight truck, three-axle, four-axle, five-axle, flatbed, tank truck, twins, sleeper and auto transporter. Last year, Clements competed in the tanker division, but this year, he will compete in the flatbed class.

"The competitions are both enjoyable, and they really help build confidence in yourself," said Clements.

During the national competition, there are four main tests for the drivers: a written exam, personal interview, pre-trip inspection and skills test/field course. The written exam tests the knowledge of the driver in the fields of general trucking knowledge, safe driving rules, first aid and firefighting. All the questions from the written exam are taken from the ATA publication Facts for Drivers.

The most challenging tests are the pre-trip inspection and field course. The pre-trip inspection challenges the competitor to find defects planted on a test vehicle within a specified amount of time. This test simulates how the drivers have to inspect their equipment before each trip.

"The pre-trip is what kept me from placing last year," said Clements. "They gave me 10 minutes to find all the defects they'd planted, and I just messed up. That's one thing about these competitions — you cannot have a bad day. You cannot be up on three of the tests and down on the other. You've got to be perfect."

All the tests are held indoors, which makes the field test even more challenging.

"They set up a course for you, something simulating what you'd have to do on one of your normal runs, like an alley dock. You have to back up to the dock, like you were going to unload something, without hitting it. But the catch is that you've got to be within 18 inches of it. If you're outside of that, you don't score," Clements said.

"By having the test indoors, it makes it even more challenging. There's no sun, so you don't have shadows to help you maneuver. It's all done through mirrors and your own merit. This is another reason why I love competing in these truck championships. You're only ever competing against yourself. I'm the only one that can do good or bad."

Clements believes the most rewarding part of what he does is the camaraderie and recognition by UPS Freight and others in the industry.

"I remember being out at one of the competitions, and as I was getting into my truck, after my wife gave me a kiss, I heard some people talking. One man asked another as I was about to drive off in my truck, 'What are you most worried about on the course,' and the man pointed up at me in my truck. He was worried about what I was going to be able to do on the course, versus what he could. It was a pretty amazing moment of recognition for me," Clements said.

Dennis Kendrick, another UPS Freight driver, mentioned the competitions to Clements, which piqued his interest and got him started.

"He just asked me about competing one time, and I decided, 'Why not?' He's got eight state titles and placed fifth at the national competition last year," said Clements. "He inspires me to do better every time I watch him. I just know I want to be like that."

In preparation for the National Truck Driving Championships — which are being held in Houston on Aug. 19-23 — Clements is boning up on the material in the ATA book, as well as setting up small practice courses containing problems he thinks might be on the course.

"When I won my first state championship title in 2006, I was elated. I didn't even think I was in the running for it. They were calling out the third- and second-place winners, and then they called my name for first. I remember looking up at them and saying, 'Are you sure?' "

After winning his first state championship, something he'd been trying to accomplish for years, Clements said he had "finally gotten his ducks in the right row."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Arkansas Best profit misses estimates, stock drops

Trucking company Arkansas Best Corp reported lower-than-expected quarterly profit on Wednesday due to high fuel costs and workers' compensation, sending its stock down 17percent.

The Ft. Smith, Arkansas-based company posted second-quarter net earnings of $16.2 million, or 64 cents a share, down 17 percent from $19.6 million, or 78 cents a share, a year earlier.

Revenue rose almost 8 percent to $498.5 million.

Analysts' average earnings forecast was 75 cents a share on revenue of $479.7 million, according to Reuters Estimates.

Operating income at the company's biggest unit, ABF Freight System Inc, fell 16 percent to $25.5 million.

Arkansas Best Chief Executive Officer Robert Davidson said the economic decline in the overall freight environment seemed to be lasting longer.

"ABF will continue to carefully manage labor costs and equipment levels to match available freight in our system until economic conditions show meaningful improvement," he said in a statement.

Since the third quarter of 2006, the U.S. trucking sector has suffered from low freight volumes due to lackluster retail sales and declining auto sales, plus the housing sector meltdown.

The industry slowdown has forced many smaller operators and some large trucking companies into bankruptcy. Analysts say as more operators leave the market and reduce the supply of trucks, the remaining operators will benefit.

Arkansas Best shares have had an impressive run this year, more than doubling from a 12-month low of $17.94 on Jan 9. The stock reached a 12-month high of $45.13 on Tuesday.

Edward Wolfe of Wolfe Research wrote in a note for clients, "We continue to believe that the (trucking) stocks are well ahead of themselves on valuation and are discounting large expected increases in pricing that will be extremely difficult to achieve during (the second half of the year and 2009) without a major improvement in the economy."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

UPS takes a hit from soaring fuel, weak U.S. economy

United Parcel Service on Tuesday reported an in-line profit that was hit by fuel costs and a weak U.S. economy, but the package delivery company's shares rose more than 3 percent as analysts said it was performing well despite multiple challenges.

UPS, considered a bellwether of U.S. economic health like its main rival FedEx Corp, said it expected the second half of the year to generate "modestly better results" than in the first half.

"In the short term, UPS faces tremendous headwinds in terms of profits thanks to fuel and the U.S. economy, but they are managing through it pretty well," said David Sandell, a portfolio manager at New York-based Leeb Capital Management, which manages assets of around $170 million. Leeb sold off its UPS shares last year but monitors the stock closely.

Sandell said UPS shares represent good value long term and when asked if it was time to invest in them, he said: "It's getting close to that point."
Fuel prices moving forward will play a crucial role in the recovery prospects of both the U.S. economy and UPS, he added.

Atlanta-based UPS reported quarterly net income of $873 million, or 85 cents per share, compared with $1.10 billion, or $1.04, a year earlier.
Analysts had on average expected earnings per share for the quarter of 85 cents, according to Reuters Estimates.

"Slow U.S. economic activity and fuel price increases hit us and our customers during the quarter," Chief Financial Officer Kurt Kuehn said in a statement.

Complete Story......

Monday, July 21, 2008

Patrol program puts spotlight on truck safety

When driving on any of the thousands of highways crisscrossing the country, it's rare not to encounter at least one commercial vehicle. These semis command a large presence on the road.

Due to their size and ability to inflict great damage in an accident, the Kansas Highway Patrol has taken steps to build a close relationship with drivers of large trucks and inform the public of the necessary safe driving habits to employ when near these vehicles.

In its second year of existence, the highway patrol's Trucks on Patrol for Safety, or TOPS, program is an effort to reduce the number of large-truck-related crashes on Kansas highways -- accidents that often result in serious injury or death.

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Deadly Tolls: Sick truckers causing fatal wrecks

Tractor-trailer and bus drivers in the United States have suffered seizures, heart attacks or unconscious spells behind the wheel that led to deadly crashes on highways. Hundreds of thousands of drivers carry commercial licenses even though they also qualify for full federal disability payments, according to a new U.S. safety study obtained by The Associated Press.

The problems threatening highway travelers persist despite years of government warnings and hundreds of deaths and injuries blamed on commercial truck and bus drivers who blacked out, collapsed or suffered major health problems behind the wheels of vehicles that can weigh 40 tons or more.

The U.S. agency responsible for cracking down on unfit truckers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, acknowledges it hasn't completed any of eight recommendations that U.S. safety regulators have proposed since 2001. One would set minimum standards for officials who determine whether truckers are medically safe to drive. Another would prevent truckers from "doctor shopping" to find a physician who might overlook a risky health condition. It's unclear whether any of the eight recommendations will be done before President Bush leaves office.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

YRC's in for the long haul

Roadway parent believes it has found solution to ever-increasing problems of trucking business

Start with national diesel fuel prices north of $4.80 a gallon. Combine with large trucks that get no more than six miles per gallon even with a strong tail wind as they regularly crisscross North America.

Drizzle heavily with a slow economy that's caused customers to cut back on shipping out finished products from the factory floor as well as bringing in fewer parts and raw materials.

And sprinkle with competitors who largely don't have to deal with higher-paid union workers and contract work rules.

Welcome to YRC Worldwide Inc.'s ever-changing trucking world.

The owner of Akron-based Roadway thinks it has come up with its own recipe for success to address industrywide transportation problems: the Velocity Network.

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