Hours of service waiver sought for drivers hauling fuel

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Just as many Americans are preparing to get back to normal in a substantial part of their leisure lives -- the family's summer road trip -- a pall is being cast over vacation prospects by something that has troubled the American trucking industry for quite some time.

The shortage of qualified drivers -- especially for tankers -- is prompting fears that there may not be enough gasoline available for all those who wish to travel and that fuel prices will climb. 

Several national organizations that advocate for truck stops, travel centers, and convenience stores have gone public with their concerns and are asking the federal government for some relief for drivers hauling fuel. At the same time, a major trucking trade association says there is a growing shortage of drivers available to deliver fuel, and that could lead to higher prices at the pump or even shortages of gasoline just as 84 percent of Americans in a recent poll say they have plans to travel in the next six months.

On Wednesday, April 28, four major trade associations asked the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to issue a new hours of service waiver and include truckers delivering fuel. The current waiver, which expires May 31, does not include fuel haulers.

In a letter to FMCSA Acting Administrator Meera Joshi, the National Association of Truckstop Operators, the National Association of Convenience Stores, the Energy Marketers of America, and the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America reiterated earlier claims that access to fuel is an essential part of the supply chain. They said this is especially true as the country continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The COVID-19 crisis has shown the necessity of the HOS waiver for the delivery of fuel as indispensable to supporting public health and the infrastructure of this country," said the letter. "Without access to fuel, manufacturers would be unable to provide supplies to hospitals, businesses, and homes. Moreover, workers at essential businesses—including first responders and hospital workers—need fuel to get to their jobs. And, emergency response vehicles too need uninhibited access to fuel."

The letter from the associations adds, "FMCSA should reestablish the transportation of fuel as an essential service under the HOS waiver for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency so that truckers can deliver fuel quickly to the sectors and people that depend on it most. Without the HOS waiver, the country’s infrastructure will remain at risk of fuel supply disruptions, and the worsening effects of the pandemic on the driver shortage will persist."

NATSO and the other associations told the FMCSA's Joshi that the possibility of a fuel shortage this summer is linked directly to a shortage of another kind: qualified truck drivers. In their letter to Joshi, the associations said the COVID-19 pandemic has made the existing driver shortage worse and cited the well-known litany of reasons for the lack of drivers including an aging pool of truckers, fewer CDL school graduates, and the high hiring standards of some trucking companies.

Their letter concluded, "Expanding the HOS waiver to include fuel will help reduce the current strain of the driver shortage on the trucking industry. The hours-of-service regulations on drivers reduce productivity. Allowing drivers to work more hours will reduce the number of trucks and drivers it takes to move the same amount of freight."

The letter from NATSO and the other fuel seller came just as a major trucking association's concerns about the driver shortage and its impact on the delivery of gasoline made headlines in the general-interest media.

Earlier this week CNN reported the National Tank Truck Carriers said that between 20% and 25% of the nation's tank trucks are sitting idle because there are no truckers to drive them.