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Starting Sunday, Jon Osburn and OOIDA’s Tour Truck, the Spirit of the American Trucker, will be at the J.D. “Doc” Osburn TA in Boise, Idaho. That’s near Exit 54 on Interstate 84. Stop in, say hi to Jon, and join OOIDA for a $10 discount. See the full Spirit Schedule. Air date: June 23, 2017.

Land Line Now Blog

Road train comin'

Drivers on the Ohio Turnpike have been witness to an experiment in what some people think is trucking’s future.

Uber’s division for self-driving trucks, Otto, began testing truck platoons in Ohio months ago, and soon Peloton Technologies will test semi-autonomous trucks on the highway.

Platooning uses a lead truck and several following trucks. The lead truck controls the acceleration and braking of all the trucks. In some platoons, each truck has a driver who controls the steering. The idea is that the trucks can run closer together, so each following truck can take advantage of the “drag” of the truck in front of it.

Supporters of the idea said at one time that it could be just one driver, even controlling the steering, which would cut labor costs. Since then, they’ve claimed that platooning will increase fuel economy, although some studies have suggested that to make a significant gain, you’d have to be so close that even with the lead truck controlling braking, it could be too tight for comfort.

However, the tests in Ohio – at least as presented – involve slightly longer following distances and drivers in each truck.

The technology people are convinced that platooning or their more frequently mentioned cousin, automated trucks, will work, that they are nearly ready to take to the roads – although their public statements are frequently laced with comments indicating a complete lack of understanding about what is involved in trucking.

Any time you discuss that idea around an actual truck driver, someone who intimately understands all the conditions a truck will encounter, you get a very different response.

Count OOIDA Life Member Dale Kirschbaum of Hendersonville, N.C., as one of those truckers. His response to platooning is classic.

“I’m going to depend on that guy up there in the front truck to do all my accelerating and braking?” Dale asked. “I don’t think so.”

In fact, Dale went a step further, pointing out a particular flaw in the thinking of those who promote platooning – the fact that the following trucks will still require drivers.

“If you got to have drivers in those back trucks to steer them, what in the world is the use of all this technology of platooning when you’ve got to have a driver in a truck anyway?” Dale said.

Dale has a lot of good questions – and I have many of the same ones, although truckers such as Dale obviously see the issue with more first-hand insight.

The obvious answer regarding the additional truckers is two-fold: First, the developers of this think that platooning trucks will get much better fuel economy; and second, they plan to pay the others drivers far less than they pay drivers now.

I’m dubious about the fuel economy effect. The science backs it up, but it was done before we had all the trailer tails to reduce the very effect platooning is designed to take advantage of.

Add to that the increases in fuel economy achieved by recent truck models, and the frequently unacknowledged but proven truth that the best way to increase fuel economy is to train the driver in techniques that will increase efficiency – something shown to add up to a 35 percent increase, beyond the capability of any single technology. So I’m in the “we’ll see” category.

I think once those trucks are on a busy highway with lots of inconsiderate and somewhat insane four-wheelers darting in and out and back and forth, frankly, all bets are off.

So sure, go ahead, test your platooning. Will it work someday? Maybe, probably even. But without understanding the challenges you’re trying to overcome, it’s pretty hard to overcome them.

A look at one truck parking project – was it worth it?

truck parking signTruck parking is a real crisis. And that’s not an exaggeration.

However, some places are trying to solve the problem – among them British Columbia.

The province announced several weeks ago that they plan to build a truck parking facility with 150 spaces just southeast of Vancouver.

Planners say it will feature washrooms, showers and a cafeteria as well as security fences and lighting – and cost about $30 million.

However, despite the shortage of spaces, the action in Canada is not receiving universal acclaim in the trucking industry.

One example of that is OOIDA Member David Caddell of Madison, Wis.

“I’m hoping that was a typo,” David said of the cost. “These truck stops that have 100 parking spots with showers, with restaurants, with fuel, convenience store and a bunch of other stuff don’t cost $30 million.

“That’s a total waste of money.”

The cost, however, was not the only thing that bothered David about the story.

“It’s going to be centralized at one spot,” he added. “We need parking areas spread out all over the place, not centralized in one area, two or three hundred miles apart. That won’t work for safety.”

While I’m generally in favor of truck parking being added anywhere we can get it, I did think David brought up some points worth exploring. So I started to dig.

I found one website that had many examples of actual business plans, including one for a truck stop. The plan said building a truck stop would run $2.75 million. However, that was just for a 6,000-square-foot building with gas and diesel fueling, scales and a restaurant. 

This has washrooms, showers and a cafeteria as well as security fences and lighting – so most of the facilities you’d see at a truck stop, except the fueling islands. I don’t think it should run the same $2.75 million, but I think $2 million is a fair figure for what they’re building.

I found pretty solid information indicating parking lots cost from $2,500 to $4,000 a space. But that’s for cars, not trucks.

An average car space is 9 feet by 18, or about 162 square feet. A truck space would be at least 836 square feet, or five times the size of the car parking space.

I would think a truck parking lot would need heavier pavement, due to the increased weight it has to handle. However, I see a lot of truck stop parking lots that clearly didn’t do that, so I stuck with the same cost per square foot of pavement.

What I arrived at was a figure of $12,500 to $20,000 a space a truck parking lot. So 150 spaces would be – and this is pavement only – $3 million. 

That brings me to $5 million. Adjusting for the difference between the Canadian and U.S. dollar brings that $5 million up to $6.75 million – still short of $30 million.

So I tried to look at other factors that could drive up the price.

One is land acquisition. We’re talking about Canada, and I have noticed that real estate prices there are far above prices here in the states. And I mean way higher. But that’s not a scientifically valid statement; that’s me watching HGTV.

Figures comparing U.S. and Canadian land prices proved elusive. However, rural land is cheaper than urban or suburban land, and it makes sense that this facility would be on the edge of a metro area, meaning land would be closer to rural prices. However, I don’t think it can be sufficiently different enough to account for the additional $23-plus million.

So David has a point. The numbers may not add up. This may not be a cost-effective solution.

So let’s look at this from another point of view.

An average blacktop parking lot – if maintained well – should give at least 10 years of service, maybe more.

So I took the total cost of the parking area, and divided it to determine how much it costs for each space for each day – and that’s roughly $59. Assuming that’s Canadian dollars, that would mean $43 U.S.

So let’s go back to David’s concerns – that it cost too much, and that all the parking from this project was in one location, whereas parking is needed in many places.

First, is it worth it to spend $43 dollars a day to ensure that truck drivers have a safe, secure place to park? In comparison with how the government spends some other money, I’m good with that.

Second, yes, this parking is all in one place. They likely need that number in that place. But look at Texas, which has created very nice rest areas with similar numbers of parking spaces in many locations. In my mind, that would make this what we call “a good start.”

And we have to start somewhere. I’d like it to be more cost-effective, and I would like more parking in more places. But for now, I’m willing to call the situation in British Columbia a win.

And I’m glad some truckers will have a safe, secure place to park.

Hey, where’d that truck come from?

I have been writing Roses and Razzberries for Land Line Magazine and Land Line Now for about a dozen years, and in all that time I can’t count the number of Razzberries I’ve given out to lawyers.

You know the ones. The guys who have those billboards and advertisements designed to scare the heck out of people. The advertisements that feature pictures of big, bad, scary, evil trucks and – in some cases – lawyers standing on top of those trucks in poses that I’m sure are in no way Freudian at all.

Yep, in a dozen years and more than a few dozen lawyers, I’ve pretty much seen it all. But there was one question in all of those cases I never thought to ask. Not until it was posed to me by Susan and Larry Davidhizar – OOIDA life members from Luling, Texas. I got an email from them not long ago suggesting some Razzberries for advertisements they had seen for an ambulance chaser out of San Antonio, Texas, featuring said ambulance chaser standing on top of a truck.

I think I’ve seen this guy before. Calls himself “The Texas Hammer.” If you do a quick Google search, sure enough you’ll find him perched atop a semi like Slim Pickens riding the missile at the end of “Dr. Strangelove.”

But the Razzberries that the Davidhizars wanted were not for him. Instead they were for the trucking company that allowed their truck to be used in the ad. Of course it’s shot in such a way that you can’t make out the name of the company on the side of the truck. But you know that truck had to come from somewhere, right?

I have to admit I’d never thought of that before. But it’s true. Any trucking company that would betray its own industry by allowing one of its trucks to be used in those commercials deserves all the Razzberries we can fling at them.

Too bad we couldn’t see the name on the side. Not that it matters. They know who they are, and they were obviously ashamed enough to keep their company name out of it. Maybe in the future they’ll be ashamed enough to keep their truck out of it too.

Remember who made you what you are

Sometimes, you just don’t know what will make people upset. And you never know who’s going to have some interesting insight to set the record straight.

A while back, we ran a story about how Love’s Truck Stops are adding hotels to some of their locations.

That report raised some ire among some truckers, who said that if the company had land available, it should add truck parking.

Scott Sargent, an OOIDA life member from Holmen, Wis., took a different view.

“One thing that we all need to remember is that trucks are not the only vehicles out here on the highway,” Scott said. “While we have a unique set of needs and circumstances that have to be filled for hours of service, many of these places, if you look at them, are not all truck stops, but travel centers.

“Recreational vehicles and just four-wheelers who happen to be traveling from one destination to another use these travel centers,” Scott continued. “If they were strictly truck stops, there would be no gas pumps at them – it would just be diesel islands.”

Scott’s point of view is valid, but a lot kinder than many in trucking toward other users of truck stops, or truck stops that cater too much to that crowd.

I cannot count the number of times that I’ve heard from people upset because an RV has taken up truck parking spaces, leaving truckers to the entrance ramps, shoulders, or wherever else they can find a place to just pull over.

But in the end, Scott has a point. This is a private business that is serving more than one group of customers. And just as truckers don’t like people telling them how to run their business, well, fair is fair.

“We need to remember that others of the motoring public are using these areas for refueling, for food,” Scott said. “And if there’s a hotel next to it, (those motorists) would be using the motel.”

We do need to give Love’s credit, however, for one important thing. They have added more truck parking in more locations this past year or two than virtually any other company.

Would I like to see more? Sure. But credit where credit is due.

What’s more, the Love’s locations often are more numerous while also being more geographically dispersed.

In plain English, I mean that they add a little parking and a stop here, another one up the road, another up the road from that. None amounts to a massive amount of parking, but it gives truckers more parking in more places, and therefore more chances to find a spot where they actually are.

While Love’s and other truck stops expand, however, they should also remember who the customers are who made their businesses possible.

Hint: It’s not RVers. It’s truckers.

Yes, they have every right to serve those RVs and cars, but if it weren’t for truckers, they’d be a completely different type of operation; I believe it’s called a “convenience store.”

I suspect those are not as profitable, or these companies would not continue to build truck stops.

Many of them do remember, and do their best by their customers. Many more need to do a better job.

Sweet dreams are (not) made of these …

Apnea, if you aren’t familiar with the term, is a Greek word that literally means “without breath.”

A week ago, I went to an area hospital to have a sleep study done. I went kicking and screaming. It wasn’t that I didn’t think I might have a sleep disorder; it had more to do with the thought of strapping some terrible mask to my face every night at bedtime.

Sleep apnea is not just a trucker’s issue. It occurs in all age groups and both sexes. I didn’t think I fit the profile. I work out with weights and I run. I’m not super skinny, but I’m certainly not overweight, and I don’t have a large neck. Unfortunately, doctors and clinics in the past have used those criteria alone to order testing for truck drivers.

The tests can be pricey without insurance, but you can do a self-evaluation to assess the possibility that you might have a problem. The Harvard School of Medicine makes one available online.

I have always enjoyed my sleep. I have listed it as a hobby on questionnaires. Twelve hours on a Friday or a Saturday was not uncommon. I was in bed by 10 p.m. and up by 9 a.m., and this was usually followed by a midday two-hour nap. I told myself I was catching up from the week. I was formerly a morning radio personality who was at work by 4 a.m. (I don’t miss that schedule).

Yeah, I knew something was wrong, but the prospect of that damn mask and machine made me ignore the obvious symptoms: excessive daytime sleepiness, memory and concentration problems, morning headaches, etc.

My husband had been nagging me to be tested, but I ignored his pleas. It was my stupid Fitbit that sold me out.

My new Fitbit that I received at Christmas, the thing that counted my steps each day also tracked my sleep. Instead of showing periods of deep restorative sleep, it showed quite the opposite. I was getting little to no deep sleep but experienced a night of restlessness and being awake. No wonder I struggled to keep my eyes open during the day.

I checked into the sleep center at 8 o’clock on a Sunday night and – after signing a few papers – in came the nurse with all these wires. She proceeded to glue these things to my legs, my arms my face and chest and all over the top of my head. The question I asked her was, “You really expect me to sleep tethered to all this”?

Well, yes they did, and yes I did – I slept, or at least I thought I was sleeping.

Sleep apnea is measured by the number of “events,” as they call them, that happen in an hour. Anything under five is considered none or minimal, and anything over 30 is considered severe.

 Lucky me – I had more than 30 events where I wasn’t getting enough oxygen.

So sometime around 1 a.m., in walked Nurse Ratched. Actually, she was a wonderful woman named Sheila, but she carried with her a variety of contraptions for me to try on. She told me the next morning that if looks could kill she’d have been dead when she walked into the room with those masks and tubes.

I tried on two masks. Neither was a full-face mask, but I settled on the second one with nasal pillows. When she first put it on my face, I thought there was no way in Hell I was going to be able to sleep like this. But not only did I sleep, it was the best sleep I had had since – well, since I can’t remember.

They told me I suffered from a combination of sleep apnea and hypopnea. Hypopnea isn’t so much not breathing, but breathing that is so shallow that you’re still not getting enough oxygen.

I forgot how good I could feel after a good night’s sleep. I wish I hadn’t ignored my husband’s insistence all these years. But let’s keep that between us.

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