By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Truckers with skirts - a real drag
Mandated $2,000 skirts may actually reduce mileage
California Trucking Association President Scott Blevins inspects a skirt. - photo by DENNIS WYATT


A typical truck tractor owner pays over $13,000 a year in federal and state taxes of which $8,000 goes to California. Here is the breakdown:

• Federal Diesel Fuel Tax – 24 cents a gallon
• Heavy Vehicle Use Tax Fee - $500
• Federal Excise Tax – 12% of the retail price of a truck, tractor, or trailer
• Tire tax rates - $26 per new tire
• State Diesel Fuel Tax – Tax rate in cents – 36.7
• Weight Fee - $332/-$1,942
• Motor Carrier Permit Fee for Hite Carrier - $120-$3,030
• Motor Carrier Permit Fee for Private Carrier - $35-$1,030
• California Vehicle License Fee - .0065-i.e.: Purchase Price $150,000 x.0065=$975
• BIT Fees - $270-$1870 plus $400 registration fee
• Permanent Trailer Identification Fee - $20
• CVRA Fee - $122
• CVRA Weight Decal Fee - $3
• Cargo Theft Interdiction Program Fee - $3
• CHP CVRA Fee - $24
• Unified Carrier Registration Fee - $76-$73,346

Source: California Trucking Association

Wearing skirts can prove costly to truckers.

The skirts – aftermarket panels attached on both sides of trailers 53 feet and longer that the state is mandating in a bid to reduce air pollution by attempting to increase gas mileage - can cost $2,000 or more.

Wind tunnel testing by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) shows they can save fuel if trucks are driven at 62 mph or faster. There’s only one problem. The speed limit for trucks in California is 55 mph.

When California Trucking Association President Scott Blevins of Manteca pointed that discrepancy out to state officials he was told point blank “truckers never go that slow” in reference to the speed limit.

Blevins, who oversees Mountain Valley Express that has a solid record for safety and requiring their drivers to go the speed limit, was a bit dismayed at the response. He noted the average truck speed of his fleet is 48 mph based on GPS data his company collects once everything is factored in such as crossing mountains like the Grapevine and Donner Summit as well as stop and go freeway traffic.

“If we (truckers) could save money using skirts we would have done it a long time ago,” Blevins.

But even though Blevins is convinced that the state is mandating they install technology that is far from proven as a fuel saver and could actually increase costs, he is still doing it. It is after all, the law in California. All 385 Mountain Valley Express trailers are being retrofitted at $2,000 plus a pop.

It is all in the name of reducing global warming. CARB estimates it will save a billion gallons of fuel annually across the country by 2020 assuming the other 49 states ever follow suit.

The skirt requirement is just a tip of the financial iceberg that has hit California truckers from major carriers and smaller concerns such as Mountain Valley Express to independents in the past few years.

A mandate is looming for all truckers to have cleaner burning engines by 2014. The tab for replacement engines is running right around $80,000. The state is helping small independents with grants of up to $40,000 but that money is running out.

The state is also working on a mandate for even cleaner diesel fuel. Blevins said independent research commissioned by the California Trucking Association shows it could send the cost of diesel fuel skyrocketing to $6.30 a gallon.

That is promoting some larger fleets such as United Parcel Service to consider taking the state up on the ultimate solution - fleets that operate on natural gas. But as Blevins points out that works well for urban deliveries but isn’t too effective pulling 80,000 pounds of cargo down the road and up grades at 55 mph. Add into that the cost plus of converting the fact natural gas fueling is extremely spotty and will be for years.

How the state is driving up the cost of trucking based simply on fuel and equipment is minuscule compare to the proverbial 900-pound gorilla of trucking costs - state and federal taxes and fees.

It costs an average of $13,000

a year in fees for a truck

The average truck in California is assessed with than $13,000 in fees and taxes (see accompanying fact box).

It has gotten to the point that Blevins noted a growing number of trucking firms - especially independent drivers - are being pushed financially to the point that they simply can’t afford to do business in California.

And to top that off, California truckers are basically facing unfair competition courtesy of the state and federal governments.

Out-of-state truckers fuel up before entering California. That allows them to buy less expensive non-reformulated diesel that gets better gas mileage and spews off more pollution. With fuel tanks typically able to carry 300 gallons, it allows them to make deliveries and pick up freight in California and leave the state without ever pumping cleaner burning and less fuel efficient and more expensive reformulated diesel. That means virtually every out-of-state truck is contributing to air pollution in California at a greater rate than the heavily regulated California based trucks.

And when diesel supplies become tight due to a refinery shut down, prices skyrocket.

“California is a fuel island,” Blevins said of the mandated reformulated diesel.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) also means truckers from Mexico will be able to do the same thing that out of state trucking firms do except they burn diesel that is even dirtier and cheaper than what is available in the other 409 states.

NAFTA makes it possible for trucks from Mexico to drive into Bakersfield - the dirtiest spot in the entire state due to being at the end of the gigantic bowl called the Central Valley - and return home while making the dirty air even more foul.

Also, out-of-state truckers are allowed to operate in California three days a year without falling under tighter rules. The problem is, as Blevins points out, is making them comply.

Blevins said ideally there would be “equal enforcement” but he doesn’t see that happening with the limited enforcement resources that the state has.