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Truck drivers become key EU election issue in Bulgaria

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Truck drivers become key eu election issue in bulgaria
Eurospeed carrier company trucks parked at a parking lot in Sofia, Bulgaria, on May 8. The future of Bulgaria’s vast number of low-wage truck drivers has become a top campaign issue in the country heading into European Parliament elections, with debates raging on how new EU rules could threaten the workers and deepen divisions between rich and poor nations in the bloc. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

SOFIA, Bulgaria — The future of Bulgaria’s vast number of low-wage truck drivers has become a top campaign issue in the country heading into European Parliament elections, with debates raging on how new EU rules could threaten the workers and deepen divisions between rich and poor nations in the bloc.

The European Commission wants to put restrictions on cargo transport to ensure adequate rest for truck drivers and limit driving distances. Bulgaria, where the transport sector accounts for 15% of GDP and employs some 200,000 people, fears it will erode its workforce’s low-cost advantage. It says it could cost jobs and force Bulgarian truckers to move to Western Europe, worsening a wealth gap within the EU.

“This package would directly deprive more than 150,000 Bulgarian families of bread and livelihood,” says Angel Dzhambazki, a former member of the European Parliament who is running in this month’s election.

The new rules concern truck drivers’ postings, driving and rest times, and access to the market. Especially worrying for Bulgarian truckers is the requirement that they spend their rest time in a hotel rather than in bunks in their trucks. The rules would also force drivers to return home every three or four weeks with an empty truck.

Dzhambazki said that the European proposal, called the Mobility Package, would cause thousands of Bulgarians to emigrate to wealthier European countries to be closer to the markets they work with. He sees the proposal as an effort by countries like France and Germany to protect their own businesses from the competition of lower-wage countries like Bulgaria.

The proposal has passed a first reading in the European Parliament, with a second approval needed for it to come into force. It has the strong backing of EU heavyweights France and Germany.

Bulgaria, which joined the European Union in 2007, will elect 17 members of the European Parliament’s 751 seats on May 26. Germany, by contrast, will provide 96. Bulgaria could seek strength in numbers, as several other countries in Eastern Europe also oppose the new EU transportation rules, but it remains an uphill battle.

“In the year of Brexit and the European elections, decisions like the Mobility Package only deepen divisions and fuel nationalist feelings in the EU member countries,” warned Madlen Kavrakova, legal advisor of Bulgaria’s union of international hauliers.

Kavrakova told the AP that denying truck drivers full access to the single European market would set a dangerous precedent and could lead to restrictions in other sectors.

“Does it mean that Europe is driving at different speeds?” she asked rhetorically.

Under the new restrictions, many Bulgarian haulage companies could be forced to relocate to countries closer to their key markets in Western Europe. That could mean the emigration of thousands of truck drivers, depriving countries like Bulgaria of an established industry.

Dimitar Rashkov, the owner of transport company Eurospeed, has managed trucks driving across the continent since 1994 and says the new rules will “separate us as people from Eastern and Western Europe, like it was once many years ago.”

Truck driver Ivan Gospodinov is convinced that Europe must be equal for all.

“Like the Germans or Italians who come to Bulgaria and feel comfortable here, we also need to feel comfortable when we go there because we are a big family,” he says. “That is what the European Union stands for.”

 

 

 

 

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Fleet Focus: Fuel economy, maintenance must be considered for used trucks

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used truck with hood up
Equipment pricing must be weighed against fuel economy, anticipated maintenance costs and expected freight rates when considering the purchase of a used truck. (iStock Photo)

Small trucking businesses depend heavily on the used truck market but potential buyers trying to nail down the best choice are trying to hit a moving target. Prices fluctuate depending on economic conditions, freight availability and, increasingly, government mandates for emissions and fuel economy.

For much of 2019, the economy was expected to slow, possibly going into recession. New truck purchases added capacity to the market. Spot freight rates slowed and then began falling, followed by contract rates. Several large carriers shut their doors due to (take your pick) tightening markets, rising costs, mismanagement or malfeasance. In theory, the used truck market should have received an influx of trucks. It did.

According to a report from ACT Research, used truck sales declined by 15% in 2019 compared to 2018. Average prices declined too, by 7%, according to the same report.

“Dealers are reporting used truck sales have slowed and inventory levels are building, particularly with late-model aerodynamic sleepers,” said Steve Tam, vice president at ACT Research. “The price depreciation is largely the result of inventories that have grown due to more trades coming to dealers, slowing freight, and the cyclical nature of truck sales.”

While lower used truck prices may be attractive to smaller trucking businesses, including independent contractors, there’s a catch. In an effort to reduce emissions and increase fuel efficiency, the rules keep changing.

The year 2007 brought a huge change. Drivers and owners of new trucks complained of lost time and expense due to an issue older trucks didn’t have, regeneration of the particulate filter that replaced the muffler. Drivers of older trucks smiled as they passed new equipment sitting on the shoulder for a “regen” or waiting for a tow. 2006 models sold in record numbers as carriers “pre-bought” trucks during the last year the “old” technology would be available. When those trucks hit the used truck market, an event hastened by the recession of 2008, prices dropped due to the large number available.

Then 2010 brought a new set of standards and a product that drivers must have thought was a mechanic’s joke like “blinker fluid” or “muffler bearings.” New trucks were built with Selective Catalytic Reduction technology, necessitating the use of the now-familiar Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF). New trucks were more expensive but there was a tradeoff — fuel mileage was expected to improve, and it did.

However, the first phase of EPA standards continued until 2017. Manufacturers achieved more power from smaller engines, made better use of aerodynamic technology and increased use of auto-shift transmissions to get top performance from each vehicle.

While all this was happening, other technological advances increased safety levels. Collision mitigation systems that automatically apply brakes, lane departure warning systems, stability control and other safety features became standard equipment.

Trucks became safer as they became cleaner and more fuel efficient. Purchase prices rose, but increased fuel economy offset the price, according to the non-profit Transport & Environment, an international group that promotes moving to an emissions-free transportation network. According to a January 2018 report from the group, a truck purchased in 2017 cost $2,400 more than one bought in 2011 but provided $8,200 in fuel cost savings over the older model.

That was Phase 1 of the EPA’s plan. Phase 2 started in 2017 and ends in 2027. Another 10% improvement in fuel economy has been mandated, with improvements in emissions also required. In the meantime, advances in alternative fuel vehicles, including electric, will undoubtedly bring further changes to the industry, perhaps making diesel engines
obsolete in the not-so-distant future.

For the used truck shopper, the choices can be overwhelming. Buyers must consider more than simply price and mileage. Purchase price savings for a truck just a year or two older can be swallowed up in increased fuel costs. Plus, some states and metropolitan areas have restrictions on the type of equipment they allow to operate within their jurisdictions.

Large carriers with newer equipment can offer lower freight rates, making competition more difficult for an independent owner with an older truck. Insurers may offer lower rates for trucks equipped with modern safety equipment.

For drivers contemplating a used tractor purchase, research is more important than ever. The best deal available may not be the best decision. Before discussing price with a dealer, it may help to talk to carrier representatives, potential customers or other truckers with similar businesses.

Equipment pricing must be weighed against fuel economy, anticipated maintenance costs and expected freight rates. The advantageous choice could be the newer, more expensive model.

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ATA truck tonnage index rose 0.1% in January, 0.8% higher than January 2019

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Ata truck tonnage index rose 0.1% in january, 0.8% higher than january 2019
Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing 71.4% of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. (iStock photo)

ARLINGTON, Va. – American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index rose 0.1% in January after rising 0.5% in December. In January the index equaled 117.4 (2015=100), compared with 117.3 in December.

ATA recently revised the seasonally adjusted index back five years as part of its annual revision.

“Over the last two months the tonnage index has increased 0.6%, which is obviously good news,” said Bob Costello, ATA chief economist.

“However, after our annual revision, it is clear that tonnage peaked in July 2019 and, even with the recent gains, is down 1.8% since then,” he continued. “Softness in manufacturing and elevated inventories continue to weigh in on the truck-freight tonnage.”

Compared with January 2019, the SA index rose 0.8%, which was preceded by a 3.1% year-over-year gain in December. In 2019 the index was 3.3% above 2018.

The not-seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by the fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 114.6 in January, 1.1% above the December level (113.3). In calculating the index, 100 represents 2015. (Note: ATA’s tonnage data is dominated by contract freight.)

Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing 71.4% of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. Trucks hauled 11.49 billion tons of freight in 2018. Motor carriers collected $796.7 billion, or 80.3%, of total revenue earned by all transport modes.

ATA calculates the tonnage index based on surveys from its membership, and has been doing so since the 1970s. This is a preliminary figure and is subject to change in the final report issued around the fifth day of each month. The report includes month-to-month and year-over-year results, relevant economic comparisons and key financial indicators.

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The Trucker Newspaper – February 15, 2020 – Digital Edition

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