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Parking Shortage: An Unexpected Problem for Truckers

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased attention on the already growing need for more truck parking as trucking advocates push for federal funding to alleviate the problem. The need for safe truck parking existed before the pandemic, fueled largely by the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate that more strictly regulates the length of time drivers can work. With traditional truck and rest stops filling up quickly, truckers find themselves now parking in abandoned parking lots, on shoulder highways, and other dangerous locations.

A Rapidly Growing Problem

A 2019 survey showed there were about 313,000 truck parking spaces across the country. This included about 40,000 at public rest areas and another 273,000 at private truck stops, numbers that increased from just five years earlier (the number of public rest area spots grew 6%, while private spots were up 11%). However, the same survey found that 98% of truckers interviewed still had trouble finding safe parking at the end of their day.

This was, of course, before the pandemic started. Some private truck stops further curtailed parking to reduce the number of people on their property to limit virus exposure, and public rest stops became crowded as more people traveled in recreational vehicles to avoid air travel and public transportation. Before the ELD mandate, truckers could simply continue to travel until they found a safe location, usually away from a major metropolitan area.

Now truckers must either commit valuable driving time to planning where they will spend their night or drive around in hopes of finding a safe space to sleep. Some truck drivers have resorted to staying in unsafe locations to avoid fines and penalties for logging too much time behind the wheel. While some mobile applications have been created to help solve the problem, the reality is there are simply not enough available spaces for truckers currently on the road.

Is There Help in Sight?

Maybe. There was initial hope that funding could be included in the upcoming $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill but that did not happen. Instead, the best hope for trucks is an infrastructure bill Congress will debate later this year.

Peter DeFazio, a Democrat representative from Oregon who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Panel, has vowed to push for truck parking when the discussion begins on a highway bill to replace a transportation bill passed in 2015 that expires this October. DeFazio included $250 million in an infrastructure bill last year to improve truck parking, but that measure never received a vote in the Senate. Other politicians, including Mike Bost, a Republican representative from Illinois, have proposed similar measures to increase parking options for truckers.

Bost, who comes from a family of truckers, introduced a measure for the COVID-19 relief bill that would dedicate $125 million to truck parking this year, a number that would increase each year through the 2025 federal fiscal year. In the end, $755 million would have been provided to help truckers. While this measure was tabled, it provides a potential outline for what relief could look like.

The Federal Highway Administration has taken note of the problem; through the National Coalition on Truck Parking, the agency will seek to obtain initiatives that will improve parking for commercial truck drivers.

Trucking advocacy groups argue that airlines, Amtrak, and other transportation industries have received billions of dollars in aid during the pandemic, truckers have largely been ignored. The goal is for funding to create additional parking areas and forbid rest areas from charging truckers to park.

The Risks of Not Expanding Truck Parking

The trucking industry seemingly has more trucks than drivers these days. While trucking has shown to be a valuable profession, especially during the pandemic, the stressful nature of the work has led to decreased driver retention.

Truck drivers already work long hours, spend days and weeks away from loved ones, and must follow strict workplace safety guidelines to keep themselves and the roads safe. While a driver may be unlikely to leave the profession over the lack of parking alone, the daily stress of finding a spot may contribute to an overall negative feeling for the job.

The pandemic has highlighted the value of truck drivers who have worked in difficult conditions to continue delivering goods. For many, they could not even use a bathroom at their distribution center for fear of spreading the virus.

Lewie Pugh, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, summed up the increasingly complicated issue from a trucker’s standpoint.   

“All truckers want is a place to take a nap,” he said, according to Roll Call.

How the PRO Act Could Affect Owner/Operators

How the PRO Act Could Affect Owner/Operators

In early February, Democrats in both the House and Senate reintroduced the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, an ambitious pro-employee and pro-union bill that could dramatically impact the trucking industry.

In what has been called the most “significant [piece of] labor reform” in the United States since the end of World War II, the PRO Act would, among other provisions, increase the number and size of fines against organizations that violate workers’ rights, give employees more power to strike, weaken right-to-work laws, and offer independent contractors increased protections.

The PRO Act passed the House in 2020 but did not receive a vote in the Senate. While this year’s version is expected to again find success in the House, it is unlikely to get the 60 votes needed to acquire a vote in the Senate. Even though it may not immediately become law in its current form, the PRO Act illustrates the Democratic Party’s renewed emphasis on labor issues.

What Impact Would the PRO Act Have on Truckers?

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has come out strongly against the PRO Act, arguing that it would force trucking companies to abandon the traditional owner/operator model. The bill, if passed, would implement what is known as the ABC test, which was expanded and codified in California under state law AB5.

The test requires all workers be considered employees of a company unless three factors are established:

  1. That the worker is free from the control and direction of the hirer in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact.
  2. That the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.
  3. That the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as that involved in the work performed.

At odds for owner/operators is section B as they perform the same service as the companies hiring them. OOIDA argues that this broad classification has been created to determine if independent contractors should be classified as employees for the sake of unionization. This law could make it so trucking companies could not hire owner/operators at all.

Looking for a Safe Middle Ground

The trucking industry has fought back against California’s bill, similar state bills in places like New Jersey, New York, Washington State, as well as federal action. Advocacy groups argue that the ABC test unfairly classifies owner/operators who exist in a more nebulous middle ground. While these laws primarily focus on gig economy workers, looking to provide additional workplace rights for independent contractors at companies like Uber and Lyft, they would also impact truckers who operate under a completely different business model.

The California Trucking Association has brought temporary relief, winning an injunction in U.S. District Court in January of 2020—just days after AB5 was enacted—to momentarily stop enforcement of the new California law. The CTA argues that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act prohibits states from passing laws “related to price, route, or service of any motor carrier” and would preempt all state laws.

The organization also argues that the California test would impose a significant burden on interstate commerce as an owner/operator theoretically would not be able to drive through California under this ruling, or any other states that pass similar legislation. This would be in addition to other challenges recently put on truckers and the trucking industry.

What is the Current State of Things?

The injunction has put a momentary hold on the law’s enforcement and is awaiting an appeal in the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. While federal passage of the PRO Act still appears a long shot, these state laws, and in particular the CTA’s appeal, will provide insight into how the legal system views the owner/operator system and how it fits into larger labor disputes.

Numerous groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the International Foodservice Distributors Association, and Teamsters General have voiced opposition as well. While not mentioning truckers specifically, these organizations argue the PRO Act could hurt job growth, limit self-employment, and serves and overly empowers unions that do not work in the best interest of workers.

Looking Ahead: The Possible Changes in 2021 Resting Hour Requirements

It’s looking like 2021 could be a year of significant change for the trucking industry. New presidential leadership, advancements in technology, and a shortage of drivers create a unique landscape conducive to exciting industry updates. The start of these changes began in early January, when the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration launched a pilot program to study the impact of new updates to long-haul driver resting hour requirements. Not sure what this means for you as an owner/operator? Find out below.

What is a Sleeper Berth?

For drivers who are new to the industry, “sleeper berth” refers to the amount of time a driver must be off-duty or not driving within a specific work period. Simply put, sleeper berths are the mandatory daily rest periods for long-haul drivers. Currently, truckers can drive for 11 consecutive hours during a 14-hour working period. Once drivers have reached their 14-hour working limit, they are required to take a mandatory 10-hour break. To increase flexibility, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) allows drivers to break up their sleeper berths into two parts, providing drivers with various options for scheduling their required rest breaks:

  • 10-Hour Sleeper Berth: Following 14 consecutive hours working, drivers must have a 10-hour rest period.
  • 8/2 Sleeper Berth Split: Drivers can rest for eight hours during a 14-hour working shift and two additional hours at the end of the shift for a cumulative total of 10 resting hours. 
  • 7/3 Sleeper Berth Split: Drivers can rest for seven hours during a 14-hour working shift and three additional hours at the end of the shift for a cumulative total of 10 resting hours. 

The added flexibility gives drivers the ability to better plan and schedule their time on the road to meet their individual needs. 

Proposed Changes to Rest Requirements

The FMCSA recently proposed a pilot program to study the impact of new sleeper berth scheduling. The proposal will allow drivers to split their resting periods up, requiring both rest periods to be a minimum of four hours long. This means drivers will have the ability to break their resting hours up into either 6/4 or 5/5 split segments. Former Deputy Administrator of the FMCSA Wiley Deck stated the proposed pilot program is designed “to explore ways to provide flexibility for drivers while maintaining safety on our roadways.” 

Not everyone is on board with the proposed changes, though. The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety expressed concern that reducing the mandatory number of consecutive rest hours would lead to increased driver fatigue. Cathy Chase, president of the advocacy group, asserted the pilot program is a “continuous effort to cripple minimal safety measures [and] is antithetical to FMCSA’s mission of implementing countermeasures that will reduce truck crashes and fatalities.” The FMCSA disputes this idea, citing research that suggests “the total amount of sleep in a 24-hour period is more important than accumulating sleep in just one period for mitigating fatigue.”

Benefits of Breaking Up Rest Periods

While the industry may be divided on split sleeper berths, the ability for long-haul truckers to break up their mandatory resting period provides many benefits. Drivers can avoid wasting valuable driving time and paid working hours by using a sleeper berth break during long delays at shipping and receiving locations. During inclement weather, long-haul drivers can pull into a safe location and use part of their rest period to wait for safer driving conditions. Drivers can also use the split to circumvent peak traffic hours, avoiding sitting in traffic or creating traffic in already congested areas. 

One of the most beneficial aspects of the proposed sleeper berth split is drivers can use the splits to plan out safer routes. For example, if a driver’s receiving destination is 10 hours away but a preferred rest stop is six hours into their route, they can plan their journey using one of their sleeper berths to stop at their preferred location. Under existing regulations, the driver would have to either stop eight hours into their route in an unfamiliar location or push through the fatigue for two more hours to reach their destination. 

Changes in sleeper berth schedules are certain to have an impact on the trucking industry. Although the long-term effects of splitting mandatory rest periods have yet to be fully studied, proponents of the FMCSA pilot program believe the increased flexibility and control over driving schedules can be incredibly beneficial for long-haul drivers. Make sure to check back here for updates on the results of the pilot program and the future expectations of sleeper berth regulations.

What Does the New Administration Mean for the Trucking Industry?

What Does the New Administration Mean for the Trucking Industry?

The start of 2021 comes with a new presidential administration in the United States as President-elect Joe Biden takes over as commander-in-chief on January 20. A change in national leadership is certain to have an impact on businesses and industries across the country; many wait with bated breath to see what changes the new administration ushers in. 

The trucking industry is no different. After a year of pandemic-induced economic recession, some owners/operators are hopeful new leadership will return the economy back to pre-pandemic levels while others are wary of how their day-to-day lives will differ with a new president. At the moment, there are three significant issues in the trucking industry that could be affected by a new administration: America’s infrastructure, clean energy, and labor laws.

Rebuilding America’s Infrastructure

The president-elect has made it clear his administration plans to work toward rebuilding America’s infrastructure countrywide, including the roads and bridges that support the economy. According to trucking.org, when the House of Representatives met in 2020 to discuss the Invest in America Act, Bill Sullivan, the Executive Vice President of Advocacy for the American Trucking Associations (ATA) argued that “an injection of real capital into our degraded infrastructure will jumpstart the economy—creating hundreds of thousands of good-paying, private-sector jobs in blue-collar trades—and strengthen its commercial arteries to support long-term growth.” 

Biden and the Democrats’ Senate majority (due to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote) could push legislation through that would invest billions of dollars into rebuilding our country’s infrastructure. The improved roads would benefit the trucking industry in the long-term, possibly saving billions of dollars; the American Transportation Institute estimates critical bottlenecks caused by poor infrastructure cost the transportation industry more than $74 billion annually. While improving the infrastructure is a great idea, the amount of construction required for the process would inevitably lead to more critical bottlenecks on driving routes—likely for a number of years. 

Pushing Clean Energy

Clean energy has always been a point of contention within the trucking industry. Many drivers want to protect the environment, but legislative proposals to do so typically come at a great financial expense to owner/operators who would have to purchase new “green” trucks. Biden has already stated he plans to “put the United States on an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by no later than 2050,” which could mean electric vehicles for the transportation industry. 

Going to net-zero emissions could have repercussions for the trucking industry. A major benefit is that electric trucks cost about 20% less in operating expenses compared to diesel trucks. The glaring downside, however, is the upfront costs for an electric truck are sizable. There are currently almost two million semi-trucks on the road today, which means an investment of over $300 billion just to purchase new electric trucks for the entire industry. The transportation industry will want to keep a keen eye on the future of Biden’s clean energy plan. 

Changing Labor Laws

Another major difference to expect with the transition of power from Republicans to Democrats is a change in federal labor laws. The Biden administration is likely to put a pause on a recent Department of Labor rule that clarifies who is classified as an independent contractor and who is classified as an employee. Biden has also voiced plans to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. While this may not directly impact the salaries of drivers, it may increase the salary of non-driving employees in the industry, and carriers may reflect the increased expenses on drivers’ rates. 

The Biden administration also strongly supports the adoption of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which “provisions instituting financial penalties on companies that interfere with workers’ organizing efforts, including firing or otherwise retaliating against workers.” The PRO Act would make it easier for truckers to unionize and bargain collectively. A final labor-related proposal from the Biden administration gives every employee 12 weeks of paid family medical leave mandated by the United States. Providing 12 weeks of paid family medical leave could impact the trucking industries if we see the expenses passed down from carrier companies. 

As the new year begins with a shift in leadership, the United States continues to battle a pandemic and economic uncertainty, both of which have impacted the trucking industry. With President-elect Biden entering the White House, the next four years will likely bring about several notable changes across industries. The trucking industry, specifically, needs to be prepared for how these changes—in infrastructure, clean energy, and labor laws—will reshape the landscape of the transportation industry in both short-term and long-term ways.

Everything You Need to Know About the Fiscal 2021 Transportation Funding Bill

At the end of July, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a package of fiscal year appropriations bills for 2021 with a 217 to 197 vote. The six bills address urgent national priorities and supply funding for federal agencies, including the departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Treasury Labor, and Transportation. The $1.3 trillion bill package still needs to survive the Senate, but the overall goal is to provide funding for “96% of the government for the fiscal year 2021.”

The portion of the package for the Department of Transportation includes a request for a $107.2 billion budget for 2021. This amount will be broken down and allocated to various sub-departments within the DoT. In this article, we’ll go over what you can expect to see in 2021 if the bill passes through the Senate and how it will affect the trucking industry.

DoT Bill Breakdown

For the 2021 fiscal year, the DoT would be allotted $21.1 billion more than it received in 2020.

If the bill passes in the Senate, it will include:

  • $62.9 billion for the Federal Highway Administration
  • $18.1 billion for the Federal Aviation Administration
  • $1.3 billion for the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration
  • $3 billion for the Federal Railroad Administration
  • $18.9 billion for the Federal Transit Administration
  • $1.2 billion for the Maritime Administration

Aside from the $107.2 billion budget, the Department of Transportation hopes to receive an additional $26 billion “to strengthen and make more resilient our nation’s aging infrastructure” in light of the current economic climate. This amount would include National Infrastructure Investments and a budget for the DOT Office of Inspector General, to name just a couple.

To see the budget highlights in its entirety, click here.

What This Means for the Trucking Industry

The trucking industry is rapidly expanding, and there has been an extensive amount of care when it comes to growing and improving the trade. Earlier this year, the DoT announced its plans to add more upgraded truck stops across the nation. And while this may feel like a minor change, it will ultimately provide comfort and be a convenient perk for truckers conquering longer hauls.

The 2021 budget for the DoT would also be used to expand and rehabilitate the communities that serve the trucking industry. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Chairman David Price said:

“Our nation is facing an infrastructure crisis, with crumbling roads, aging transit and rail systems… Meanwhile, COVID-19 is ravaging communities, revealing and deepening existing disparities… [This bill] continues to build on bipartisan progress in recent fiscal years to increase funding for all modes of transportation—highways, aviation, transit, bike and pedestrian projects, rail, and ports—while improving safety and focusing on resiliency across all programs.”

As mentioned above, a significant plan for improvement is constructing and reconstructing infrastructures. Improving infrastructure in rural areas (where a majority of trucking fatalities occur) can lead to a safer work environment. Bettering foundations in urban areas also has its benefits. It could ultimately lead to less work-based hazards, reduced traffic, and fewer accidents, which leads to greater efficiency and steady economic growth. The increased funding for state and local governments also allows them to improve their local transportation systems and safety; this could boost public relations and enable lower-income communities to rehabilitate their areas. These changes will culminate in growing our nation’s communities and paving the way for more trucking companies to open up, create more jobs, and expand our nation’s economy.

What Can We Anticipate For 2021?

As of right now, the bill isn’t officially passed, and therefore we cannot say for sure what is to come, especially in light of COVID-19. The energy surrounding this bill is hopeful, though. House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey said:

“This bill represents a forward-looking vision to rebuild our nation and strengthen our communities. Together, we can modernize our transportation systems, expand access to safe, affordable housing, and support our most vulnerable neighbors… With this bill, we are laying the foundations for sustained economic growth and expanded opportunity for every American in every corner of our nation.”

If the Senate passes the bill, you can anticipate positive actions for not only the trucking industry but the communities that benefit from it as well. Check out our blog to stay up-to-date on the latest developments for this story. If you want to kickstart your trucking career, contact us today to see how we can help you.

Tax Update for Owner Operators and Fleet Owners

IRS Brings Back Form 1099-NEC

The IRS form known as 1099-NEC is returning for the 2020 tax year. The 1099 form has been in use for a long time—it’s the tax form used for independent contractors to report their taxable income. The NEC variant hasn’t always been in use, however, as it was replaced in the early 1980s by an updated, more robust version of 1099 MISC. This year, the form you’ll use to report information about your income as an independent contractor has changed. In this article we’ll describe why that is and what you need to know to be prepared. Filing taxes correctly can save you a lot of time, money, and headache—so make sure to do your due diligence and brush up on what’s new for 2020, and read our other tips for trucking success once you’ve made a plan for this tax season.

Supposedly, the revival of this tax form is in response to the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act), which now requires businesses to file new information returns that are specific to their 1099 (aka non-employee) workers by January 31 of each year. The PATH Act created new problems with the IRS and its ability to process data, because the due date for 1099-MISC forms those same workers would have to file wouldn’t be due until March 31. In order to skirt this issue, the new version of 1099-NEC, available on the IRS website, contains a new box for indicating non-employee compensation (NEC). Note, the 1099-NEC form isn’t replacing 1099-MISC. Rather, it’s a supplemental form that deals with NEC. As we’ll explain later, 1099-MISC is used to report many different types of miscellaneous income, and for that reason, it still remains in use for employers, businesses, and non-employed contractors alike.

How This Affects Fleet Owners and Drivers

If you work for a fleet or are a fleet owner yourself, it’s important to acknowledge this change. If you’re an operator, this will be the form you’ll have to fill out and supply to both the government and your contract supplier, which is slightly different from the 1099-MISC you’ve likely filled out in previous years and will have to fill out again this year. If you’re a fleet owner, this will be the form you’ll have to issue to your independent contractors in 2020.

Form 1099-MISC, which most seasoned owner/operators should be familiar with, is what’s called an information return businesses of all kinds use to report payments to outside independent contractors. This form is also used for other types of income payments like royalties and rent payments, which only applies to certain types of businesses. Any contractor who makes more than $600 from one particular source will receive a 1099-MISC from that source. For the most part, the 1099-MISC is filled out a lot like form W-2, except it has extra boxes for giving information about non-employed contractors.

The 1099-MISC form is an information return used to report types of payments made to independent contractors. Payments included can come in the form of royalties and rents as well, but for most O/Os, this form will be used to assess what you owe based on what outside businesses paid you during the last fiscal year.

Here’s a full list of income types that can be reported on a 1099-MISC:

  • Royalties
  • Rent
  • Fishing boat proceeds
  • Medical and health care payments
  • Substitute payments in lieu of dividends or interest
  • Crop insurance proceeds
  • Excess golden parachute payments
  • Gross proceeds paid to an attorney

So, What Do You Report on 1099-NEC?

1099-NEC is for reporting non-employee compensation. These include the following taxable payment types to independent contractors: fees, commissions, prizes, awards, and other forms of potentially non-monetary forms of compensation for services rendered. For every 1099-NEC, there are multiple copies that need to be sent to the proper parties.

Use this checklist to make sure your 1099-NEC copies get sent to the proper places:

  • Copy A: Send this copy to the IRS
  • Copy 1: Send to your state tax department, if your state collects income tax
  • Copy B: Send to your independent contractor
  • Copy 2: Send this copy of the state return to your Independent contractor
  • Copy C: To be kept for your business records

Have More Questions about Taxes?

Taxes can be difficult to manage, which is why we make a point to keep our readers updated on the latest changes to tax code and different financial strategies for owner/operators. If you’re interested in what truckers have been doing to find enough capital to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic, read our blog on short-term financing. Keep up to date on the state of trucking in America by reading our posts on supply chain and employment topics, which you can find here. If you’re new to trucking, and want to get started with your own fleet or your own rig, contact us with any questions you might have and we can help you get started in a brand new career.

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