Other than driving, the trucking industry is all about logistics. As instigators of the flow of materials from point of origin to point of use, trucking managers have a lot on their plates. Transportation logistics management requires intensive planning and perfect control, and it deals with an immense amount of information. Scheduling, deadlines, and the wellbeing of employees all weigh heavily on the management of any company. For trucking companies, whose workspace is the open road, they can seem to weigh many tons more.
When your customer is a store that needs to restock its goods twice a week to stay out of the red, one late shipment can destroy their business. Other than air traffic controllers, almost any other job allows some room for error, but transportation logistics management requires perfection. Food can rot; electronics can break down in heat; and defense materials can keep soldiers and citizens alive. So much depends on flawless logistics, and all the information concerning roads, scheduling, and employees can be too much for mere humans to bear.
Recent software developments have allowed the most technical, mundane, yet still critically important information to become automated. Machines and computers can’t make executive decisions or help employees in times of crisis, but they can organize and monitor a lot of the data that transportation logistics management requires. Having software automate much of the workflow allows something closer to perfection, which relieves managers of a lot of stress. They still control the flow of materials, and they still work with unhappy and anxious customers, but when deadlines, orders, and routes are automated, the process streamlines much more easily.
A few years back, when gasoline prices were hitting the four-dollar mark for the first time ever, some grassroots movements began campaigning to remove fuel taxes to alleviate citizens. For some people, this was the first time they’d heard of a tax on gasoline and other fuels; for anyone in the transportation industry, it was old news. The Federal Gas Tax is set at 18.4 cents per gallon. Levied on gasoline that’s already $4.23 a gallon, the federal tax seems a bit insignificant, but additional fuel taxes by state vary widely. In no state do taxes create the bulk of the cost, but for truckers, it can help to know where the prices will be higher.
Alaska pays its citizens to remain citizens, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that it imposes the least significant fuel taxes by state in the nation: eight cents per gallon on gasoline and diesel, with less on marine and aviation vehicles. On the other side of the country, the Northeast sees some of the highest taxes: 32 cents per gallon on gasoline in New York, 35 on diesel in Pennsylvania. California has a reputation for high gas prices, but just looking at its numbers, 18 cents per gallon on both major fuels, this seems marginal—even lower than most states. Its reputation, though, stems from invisible additions. Every fill up costs at least an extra 7.25% in sales tax (plus local impositions), which most states ignore for fuels, and a 1.2 cents per gallon state UST fee. When filling up a huge truck, those extra percentages can really add up, which explains the high cost of driving through the state. A few other states have secret costs, but California imposes the most.
Years ago, every state had its own regulations and mandates regarding fuel tax reporting, but most have now become members of the IFTA. An acronym for the International Fuel Tax Agreement, the system works to standardize many of the varied and (occasionally) contradicting rules that many states used to create. Some may retain additional requirements for their fuel tax reporting, but the process has become a lot simpler now that many have adopted this more universal standard.
Registering a base state. Because most trucking companies operate all over the country, or at least across a wide region, it can be difficult to know in which (or even in how many) states to register as a base. The IFTA does not set absolute standards for these, so you will need to contact the local register if you have a place of business in a state, maintain mileage records, and/or register your vehicles there.
Qualified vehicles and fuels. Here the IFTA is a little more specific with its fuel tax reporting requirements. To be qualified, a motor vehicle must travel in at least two IFTA jurisdictions, and: must weigh over 26,000 pounds, or have three or more axles on the power unit, or (less applicably to truck companies) be a bus that can carry at least 20 passengers. To be licensed for tax reporting, these vehicles must use diesel, propane, or natural gas—though some jurisdictions will require even gas-powered vehicles to be licensed.
Applications. Every vehicle belonging to a carrier must apply for an annual license—which is validated with two decals (to be placed on either door). You must contact your local department of motor vehicles for an application for a new vehicle, but the IFTA will send renewal applications automatically for the following years. Once approved, every qualified vehicle must carry a copy of the distributed licenses.
Fuel tax reporting. A fuel tax report must be submitted four times a year that covers all of a carrier’s qualified vehicles. Scheduled in quarters on the calendar year, a check must accompany each report to cover any tax payment due—usually made payable to the base state’s Secretary of State. Reports will reveal that you have accumulated a tax credit from tax-paid fuel. If this number exceeds whatever you owe, a refund or additional credit to cover future payments will be given.
Receipts. In order to receive those refunds or tax credits, receipt information from tax-paid purchases must also accompany each quarterly fuel tax report. These receipts must include: the date of purchase, fuel type, seller’s name and address, purchaser’s name, vehicle registration number, total amount of sale, and number of gallons purchased.
Records. In addition to keeping up with fuel tax reporting, all registered carriers must maintain records of individual vehicle mileage reports—to be summarized monthly—as well as information of all fuel bought at service stations.
These fuel tax reporting requirements are specific and can be at times aggravating, but compared to the hassle of complying with multiple states’ standards, the universality of IFTA’s regulations is a welcome thing.
Any company fears inspections, but with new fines and safety measures, an FMCSA Compliance Review can especially terrify a trucking outfit. Governmental regulations and standards are in place to protect employees and companies, but even the most dutiful businesses will falter at some point of implementing rules. They just have to hope those moments don’t coincide with a review. Since excessive fines are the primary method of enforcing standards, the companies who want to keep their money should know a bit of what to expect.
Companies who should fear compliance reviews the most are usually the ones who need them. Most FMCSA compliance reviews are only imposed on companies that already report dangerous histories and excessive crashes. The carriers that exhibit clean records and passing inspections usually have nothing to worry about—but random reviews still take place. In all instances, during inspections carriers are best served by showing clear concern for the safety of their employees and other drivers on the road.
It’s important to know that FMCSA compliance investigators are not FBI investigators: they don’t have authority to rummage through all company documents or to force a trucking carrier to admit guilt about some violation. That said, during a compliance review, a rebellious attitude never goes well. If a carrier refuses to show documentation, the investigator will probably assume the company is hiding something—and is guilty. If he finds a violation, he’ll then be much more likely to impose the harshest fines possible. Maintaining a compliant, peaceful attitude, on the other hand, will make inspectors much more forgiving. They know every company will inevitably make mistakes, and as long as a carrier shows that he’s committed to fixing problems and keeping his company in compliance with safety measures, a lot of fines can be avoided.
Is it time to add trucks?
Trucking companies are always trying to figure out when it is a good time to add trucks to the fleet. If you are an owner operator or the owner of a small trucking fleet then I think that you are in trucking at the right time. Every industry has it’s ups and downs and the trucking industry is no different. Actually I think that the trucking industry is affected the most when the economy moves. If freight counts are down then the economy will probably be headed down soon. We all remember how bad things were in 2009 when the economy was tanking. A lot of companies big and small went out of business because they could not survive the economic down turn.
Currently I think that there are great opportunities to start a trucking company or add trucks to the ones you have. Even though the economy is not as great as it once was I do believe that it has stabilized a great deal. Because so many trucks were downsized in 2009 the demand for trucks today is high. Rates are strong in many trucking segments right now, and freight counts have been consistently higher this year than last year. All indicators point to a stable growing trucking industry.
TruckingOffice is key to success
As we grow our trucking businesses to meet the demands of the expanding tucking industry we need to remember the lessons that we learned in the downturn of 2008-2009. It is very important to monitor your bottom line. As you build up and buy new trucks always remember the economy could take a downward turn. You need to know what your expense per mile is when you are bidding on new freight. What is your average revenue per mile? Which freight lanes are the most profitable from your location? There is more to it than just buying trucks. Trucking company management software is a must. TruckingOffice is ideal for monitoring your bottom line as you grow your trucking business.
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In today’s trucking industry it sure seems like the cards are stacked against you as an independent owner/operator. It always seems like freight rates are going down and expenses are going up. In today’s troubled economy it seems tougher than ever before to turn a profit. Fuel prices are high, DOT (Department of Transportation) is performing more roadside inspections than ever before, insurance costs are high, and then you always have to worry about the DOT compliance review. I am not telling you anything you don’t already know though, right?
The FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) recognizes the fact that 85% of all motor carriers in the U.S. have 5 trucks or less. They also realize that all of these smaller carriers do not have the resources that the “big guys” have. They don’t have a full time staff for safety and compliance professionals, and they often times don’t have the resources to go out and buy brand new equipment. Because they recognize this problem they are targeting the smaller independent carriers more than ever before. It is not their intention to drive them all out of business; however they do want to weed out the bad ones. It is important to understand this fact and stay sharp in order to succeed in today’s trucking industry.
TruckingOffice is the answer…
As an owner of a small fleet of trucks you often times have to wear many hats. You have to be the dispatcher, the accountant, the safety manager, the human resource manager, and often times a driver too. With all this responsibility and only so many hours in the day you need a way to manage all your efforts. TruckingOffice will help you in many ways. By entering all of your loads into TruckingOffice as dispatches you will gain a much better understanding of where your most profitable lanes are, who your best customers are, and which trucks are the most profitable. You will have all of you customer information at your fingertips. You will learn what your revenue per mile is and your average revenue per load. You will be able to see your profit per mile as well. And that’s just the beginning, if you use TruckingOffice for six months you will wonder how you ever got along without it.
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If you’re in the trucking industry, you know you have to adhere to CSA2010 compliance, the new compliance program from the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration)—but you might not know what that entails. Given that it’s a new program, not everyone has heard all of the implications, and very few companies have even seen it in action. Some may view the whole process as another instance of “Big Brother” government oppression, but the system works as just an effort to keep companies functional and their employees safe.
The complete CSA2010 compliance system is actually termed the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program, or CSA for short. Those who administrate it work by maintaining standards, reviews, and procedures—details that truck companies rarely have to see. Their main interaction with CSA, however, is in another acronym, the SMS: Safety Measurement System.
Actually the heart of CSA2010 compliance, the SMS is a system that collects data from all inspections and crash reports. These findings are placed into seven safety factor categories: unsafe driving, fatigued driving, driver fitness, controlled substances (alcohol), crash involvement, cargo, and vehicle maintenance. Not all crashes lay blame on truck drivers, and this range of categories takes that into account. With these ratings, the FMCSA can determine which companies most closely adhere to standards—and are, therefore, the most reliable and trustworthy to customers. Because the CSA reports are made public, potential customers can observe the histories and reviews of each trucking company and determine then which one to choose. It works as full accountability for the companies; in doing so it creates safer roads for truckers and non-commercial drivers alike.