Despite widespread complaints by small business truckers that they are being gouged by freight brokers colluding against them, the industry’s top regulator has yet to see formal evidence backing their case.
“It’s a hot topic now – there were protesters here in D.C., and the President has spoken on some of these issues,” Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Acting Administrator Jim Mullen told attendees of a webinar hosted by the Intermodal Association of North America, or IANA, on May 28. However, he said, “the vast number of complaints we have about the freight brokerage space and the rates right now aren’t relative” to the federal broker transparency laws covered by 49 CFR 371.3, he said.
“In fact, we don’t have a specific complaint that a broker failed to abide by 371.3, in a situation in which the motor carrier hadn’t waived, contractually, the ability to get that financial data that the regulation encompasses.” But Mullen added: “We don’t expect this to go away anytime soon, and we take our regulatory obligations very seriously.”
After weeks of demonstrations in Washington, drivers accusing brokers of cheating and price-gouging, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) petitioned the FMCSA to enforce federal broker transparency laws, as well as prohibit brokers from issuing contracts that require carriers to waive their rights to access freight transaction records.
“Brokers have been deliberately skirting federal transparency regulations for decades,” OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer asserted. “We certainly don’t think exempting yourself from federal regulations is legal, but this is precisely what is happening. It has to stop.”
Mullen said during the IANA discussion that the FMCSA is considering OOIDA’s petition. “Step one of that deliberation is, do we even have the statutory authority? Expect, perhaps, a notice and comment.”
Mullen noted also that when 371.3 was initially written into law there were different freight transaction processes in place. “Motor carriers paid brokers directly, versus the shipper paying the brokers,” he said. “So there’s perhaps some difference of opinion as to what the net effect of what that regulation was intended to be. I’ll save that debate for a different time.”
Speaking on the recently issued hours of service final rule, Mullen stressed that while the agency’s core focus was to improve safety, he acknowledged that modifying the 30-minute rest break – allowing the break to be satisfied by a driver using on-duty/not driving status rather than off-duty status – has the potential to provide the most meaningful benefits for carriers in terms of productivity and vehicle miles traveled.
In addition, he said, while his agency did not get as much feedback on the new short-haul provision as he had hoped, “that would be the next area that will probably have the most meaningful operational productivity benefits from our point of view,” he said. “But the industry will tell us that after the rule becomes effective and it has had time to analyze it.”
The final rule changes the short-haul exception by lengthening drivers’ maximum on‑duty period from 12 to 14 hours, and extends the distance limit within which the driver may operate from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.
Mullen also told IANA that the FMCSA’s national hours of service emergency exemption for the COVID-19 pandemic, extended until June 14 after it was initially declared on March 12, is being monitored very closely as to whether another extension will be needed.
“I would say that a good segment of the industry probably no longer needs that,” Mullen said. “There may be some sectors of the industry that might continue to need it, but we want to hear from the industry, and if you have feedback for us, we’re all ears.”
Waivers affecting the issuance of commercial driver’s licenses, commercial learner’s permits, and medical certificates, all set to expire June 30, are also being monitored for possible extension or cancellation, Mullen said.
TuSimple kicks off plan for a nationwide self-driving truck network with partners UPS, Xpress and McLane
Self-driving trucks startup TuSimple laid out a plan Wednesday to create a mapped network of shipping routes and terminals designed for autonomous trucking operations that will extend across the United States by 2024. UPS, which owns a minority stake in TuSimple, carrier U.S. Xpress, Penske Truck Leasing and Berkshire Hathaway’s grocery and food service supply chain company McLane Inc. are the inaugural partners in this so-called autonomous freight network (AFN).
TuSimple’s AFN involves four pieces: its self-driving trucks, digital mapped routes, freight terminals and a system that will let customers monitor autonomous trucking operations and track their shipments in real-time. For now, TuSimple will operate the trucks and carry goods for its customers, which now number 22. TuSimple wants to eventually be able to sell its autonomous trucks so customers can choose to operate their own fleets.
The plan was made public just days after TechCrunch learned that TuSimple had hired investment bank Morgan Stanley to help it raise $250 million. Morgan Stanley recently sent potential investors an informational packet, viewed by TechCrunch, that provides a snapshot of the company and an overview of its business model, as well as a pitch on why the company is poised to succeed — all standard fare for companies seeking investors. TuSimple, which has raised $298 million to date, has also shared its plans to build its autonomous freight network with potential investors.
“Our ultimate goal is to have a nationwide transportation network consisting of mapped routes connecting hundreds of terminals to enable efficient, low-cost long-haul autonomous freight operations,” TuSimple President Cheng Lu said in a statement. “By launching the AFN with our strategic partners, we will be able to quickly scale operations and expand autonomous shipping lanes to provide users access to autonomous capacity anywhere and 24/7 on-demand.”
TuSimple already carries freight in its autonomous trucks (always with human safety operators on board) along seven different routes between Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso and Dallas. TuSimple said it will expand its service area with existing customers UPS and McLane. U.S. Xpress is a new partner. Penske will help TuSimple scale its fleet operations nationwide and provide preventative maintenance for the self-driving trucks, the company said.
TuSimple said the network will be rolled out in three phases, starting with a focus on a service area in the Southwest where it already operates. Phase 1, which will launch in 2020 and into 2021, will cover service between cities Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. TuSimple plans to open this fall a new shipping terminal in Dallas. TuSimple said these terminals are designed to be shared by mid-sized customers. TuSimple will carry freight directly to a company’s distribution center if it is a high-volume customer.
The second phase will begin in 2022 and expand service from Los Angeles to Jacksonville and connect the east coast with the west, the company said.
The final phase will expand across the lower 48 states, beginning in 2023. The company said it will replicate the strategy in Europe and Asia after the AFN rolls out nationwide.
2021 BMW 5 Series Will Let You Add Options Via Over-The-Air Updates
BMW announced that it would start offering over-the-air activation of optional features as part of its new Operating System 7, with some features available on a free-trial basis or with a subscription. Operating System 7, which debuted alongside the 2021 5 Series, will be available on most late-model BMWs as part of a software update. It also includes a wide range of data and connectivity updates, but it’s not without controversy.
BMW freely admits that many of its new vehicles are equipped with the hardware needed for optional extras like adaptive cruise control, adaptive M suspension, and high-beam assistance. Ticking the box on the order sheet for those features merely adds the coding needed to run them, rather than altering the vehicle’s hardware. In its official Operating System 7 announcement, BMW representatives implied that additional features might be added to that over-the-air activation setup – seat heating and cooling, automatic climate control, power seat memory, and remote start might be on that list.
The company drew up a potential use case for over-the-air feature activation. The owner of a brand-new 4 Series coupe might decide against ordering adaptive cruise control or ventilated seats upon purchase, but after living with the car in a traffic-clogged urban environment in the heat of summer, she decides she’d like to try those features out.
She can order a one-month free trial, and if she likes the optional extras, she can purchase either a one- or a three-year subscription. When her time with the car is over and she sells it to its next owner, he might have different priorities. He can then subscribe to a particular set of features that suit his needs better. We like the idea that one could pay a bit less at the dealer, then decide later on that some features might be worth optioning.
Of course, the part that makes us raise our eyebrows is that if the hardware is already there, demanding that customers pay a monthly, yearly, or periodic fee to keep it activated feels like money-grubbing. BMW learned the lesson already that customers don’t want to pay for features when they sign the dotted line, then continue to pay for the privilege of using them.
That’s why the company announced it would suspend its Apple CarPlay and Android Auto yearly fee schedule, instead offering smartphone integration as a “lifetime” subscription with a one-time charge. Here’s hoping BMW follows its own example by allowing customers to opt in once for the feature in question, then get access to it forever (or at least as long as they own the car).
BMW wants to sell you subscriptions to your car’s features
BMW today announced a number of updates to its in-car software experience during a VR press event, complete with a virtual drive through Munich to show off some of these features. These new updates will come to most recent BMWs that support the company’s Operating System 7 later this year — and new cars will already have them built-in.
The automaker is now able to not only update the car’s infotainment system but virtually every line of code that’s deployed to the various compute systems that make up a modern vehicle. And because of this, the company is now also able to bring a couple of features to market that it has long talked about.
Perhaps most notable is the update to the program that allows you to subscribe to specific hardware features that may already be built into your car but that you didn’t activate when you bought the car — like heated seats or advanced driver assistance systems.
BMW has talked about this for a while, but it is now making this a reality. That means if you didn’t buy the heated steering wheel and seats, for example, your new BMW may now offer you a free three-month trial and you can then essentially buy a subscription for this feature for a set amount of time.
“We offer maximum flexibility and peace of mind to our customers when it comes to choosing and using their optional equipment in their BMWs, whether this BMW is new or used,” a company spokesperson said during today’s press event. “So flexible offers, immediate availability, simpler booking and easy usability for choice, at any time, when it comes to your optional equipment. We already started connectivity over 20 years ago and since 2014, we are online with our Connected Drive Store, where digital services can already be booked.”
Those were very much infotainment features, though. Now, BMW will let you enable vehicle functions and optional equipment on demand and over the air. The company started offering some features like active cruise control with stop and go functionality, a high beam assistant and access to the BMW IconicSounds Sport. The carmaker will add new features to this line-up over time.
Surprisingly, it’s often easier and cheaper for car manufacturers to build some hardware into cars, even if it is not activated, simply because it removes complexity from the production process. A lot of the features that BMW is talking about consist of a combination of software and hardware, though.
What’s new here is the ability to only subscribe to some features for a short time.
“In the near future, we will not only be able to add more functions here, but we will also be able to add even more flexibility for our customers with temporary bookings so booking of options for three years, for one year, or even shorter periods of time, like a few months,” a spokesperson said.
The company also notes that this will give somebody who buys a used car a lot more flexibility, too. It’s worth noting that Apple CarPlay support was also originally a subscription feature in new BMWs, costing $80 a year. That really felt like nickel-and-diming drivers, though, since none of its competitors charged for this. The company’s customers were not very happy, so the company reversed that decision last December.
It’ll be interesting to see how drivers will react to additional subscription services, but the focus now is more on convenience features that would usually be an option when you buy a new car, so my guess is that this will be less of an issue.
Among the other new and updated digital services the company showcased today is support for Apple’s new ‘Car Keys,’ which BMW brands as the BMW Digital Key, as well as an updated BMW Personal Assistant. Some of these new Assistant features are more cosmetic and about how it is showcased on the in-car display.
One nifty new Assistant feature is a kind of IFTTT for your car, where you can program it to automatically roll down your windows when you enter your company’s parking garage, for example, so that you can easily scan your badge to open the boom gate.
Other updates include the new BMW Maps, the company’s built-in GPS system, which the company described as a ‘major leap.’
This cloud-based service can now find routes faster, has more granular traffic data and also includes the ability to find parking spaces for you — and that parking feature itself is based on a lot of work the company is doing in aggregating sensor data from across its fleet, which already covers and maps close to 99% of the German highway system once a day in HD.
Speaking of maps, the company, which is still in the middle of the roll-out of its hybrid-electric vehicles, also announced today that its hybrid fleet will make it easier for drivers to find charging stations and will automatically switch to electric driving when they enter low-emission zones in 80 European cities, with support for additional cities coming over time.
“Digital technologies belong to the core of BMW – because hardware and software are of
equal importance for premium cars,” said Oliver Zipse, the Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW. “Our mission is to integrate advanced digital technologies with highest product excellence to enhance our customers’ experience and driving pleasure even more.”
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