By Thomas J. Harris, Vice President, Safety and Human Resources, First Transit and First Vehicle Services; and Dale Domish, Sr. Vice President, First Vehicle Services
(Editor’s Note: Welcome to the debut of Speaking of First, the joint entry into the blogosphere from First Transit and First Vehicle Services. As this is our first Speaking of First, we want you to hear from senior leadership within both companies.
Speaking of First promises to provide readers with a steady flow of news and expert comments about the transit bus industry and vehicle fleets. Readers can count on the delivery of valuable insights on a wide range of safety, maintenance, technology, policy and entrepreneurship issues.)
Most transportation professionals are familiar with the popular “Most Wanted” list that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) publishes at the beginning of each year. Imitation being the highest form of flattery, it’s fitting to launch Speaking of First with a slightly narrower, perhaps more achievable variation on the NTSB list – a list of the half-dozen most wanted transit and vehicle improvements in 2014.
Let’s start with the big picture. The view from 30,000 feet is disappointing. It shows that U.S. roads and bridges carrying passengers and freight are crumbling. According to federal government data, 49 percent of the highway miles traveled in America are on roads that are in less than "good" condition, and 18 percent are on roads in less than "acceptable" condition. In addition, more than 21 percent of the nation's bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
For the sake of safety, the economy and vehicle wear and tear, Washington lawmakers should act this year on a long-term plan to fund and rebuild the nation’s transportation infrastructure.
A one-stop clearinghouse
In a key safety issue, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has proposed to establish a drug and alcohol clearinghouse for all commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders in the United State. If approved, regulations would require businesses to utilize the clearinghouse when screening new hires and for an annual review of current drivers. The creation of a single federal repository is a vast improvement to the current process, as it nearly eliminates the possibility of hiring drivers with drug and alcohol related infractions on their records. After reviewing public comments that have come in during the past few months, the FMCSA should act expeditiously to turn the proposal into a reality.
Increased fuel economy
In February of this year, President Obama ordered the development of tough new fuel standards by 2015 for medium and heavy-duty vehicle. The new standards will affect 2018 model vehicles and later. Increased fuel usage is a welcomed improvement, but only if it comes without a reduction in safety. Too often, vehicles are created with lighter materials in order to achieve a higher MPH rating, but sacrificing safety is unacceptable. Also, the cost of the more efficient vehicles can’t be prohibitive.
Distracted driving is the leading cause of automobile crashes. This threatens the safety of all highway travelers. The National Safety Council estimates that drivers distracted by cell phones cause 25 percent of automobile crashes each year. FirstGroup led the industry in 2008 when it issued a company-wide policy prohibiting all employees or contractors on company business from using a mobile device, either hand-held or hands-free, while driving. First Group supports efforts to put distracted driving on par in 2014 with national campaigns to fight drunk driving and to encourage use of seat belts.
If the question is: Where is the transportation industry heading in 2014, one of the most exciting answers is – outsourcing. Transit authorities and fleet owners are looking to outsource service as a way of saving money, capturing efficiencies and improving safety. In the case of transit authorities, the revenue streams they count on are declining, but interest in bus service is growing. Look for outsourcing momentum to build to a tipping point this year, driven by economic, technological and environmental concerns.
A smaller footprint
Businesses should strive to reduce their environmental footprint. Transportation industry stakeholders have the opportunity to reduce fuel consumption through the use of better-managed driving styles, lower speeds, and maintaining tire pressure and other mechanical systems. Transit companies and fleet owners can do their part by recycling parts, doing a better job of tracking waste and developing better waste management processes.
A smaller carbon footprint would be a major step in the right direction for 2014.