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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

When Does a $5 Toll Cost $30? When You're Driving a Rental Car

weather.com
August 29, 2014  Across the country, state highway are replacing tollbooths with electronic payment systems that collect fees using windshield transponders. About 75 percent of U.S. toll roads have at least some cash-free lanes, and most newer turnpikes in Florida, North Carolina, and Texas have eliminated cash tolls altogether. “Cash is effectively being phased out,” says Neil Gray, director of government affairs for the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association. Toll agencies argue the all-electronic setups benefit drivers by keeping traffic moving unimpeded through toll gates.
But what happens when you’re driving a rented car? Rental companies don’t absorb the cost of tolls. Instead, they typically offer customers two options: paying a flat daily fee upfront to lease a transponder, or paying administrative fees of as much as $25 for each unpaid toll to the rental company, plus anything owed to the state. Both greatly inflate the cost of tolls for car renters.
That’s prompted demands by irate renters for states to intervene. “I’m angry beyond belief and can’t even imagine coming back to your state,” Roxanna Usher of Redwood Valley, Calif., wrote in a Jan. 13 complaint to Florida’s attorney general after Dollar Rent a Car billed her $30 in administrative fees for two unpaid tolls totaling just $2.74. “It’s disgusting what you’re doing to tourists.” Usher’s is among nearly 100 complaints received by Florida’s attorney general in the past 18 months from rental car customers.
The fees have led to lawsuits against rental car chains, including a suit filed against Dollar earlier this year by a Florida couple, Stephen and Anne Sallee, who rented a car in Dallas in November 2013 and got hit with $60 in fees for $4.70 in unpaid tolls. “Dollar’s charge is actually not an administrative fee; it’s a veiled, mischaracterized, and undisclosed profit center” that helps Dollar advertise low daily rental rates for their cars, the couple claim in their suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Tulsa. They’re seeking class-action certification for other Dollar customers assessed with similar charges. “Dollar prides itself on complying with all laws,” Paula Rivera, a spokeswoman for Dollar’s parent company, Hertz Global Holdings (HTZ), wrote in an e-mail. “We deny allegations that the company sells customers products they don’t want, and we intend to defend the case referenced vigorously.”
Many consumers also fume about the cost of loaner transponders. Charges run as high as $20.49 per day in New York City, for example, and often don’t reflect the discounted toll rates paid by pass holders on roads that offer both cash and electronic payment options. Last year, Hertz agreed to pay $11 million to settle a class-action suit filed by customers who said they didn’t know they’d be charged the daily fee whether or not they drove through any tolls. Enterprise says it offers a capped fee of $19.75 per rental.
Toll operators say the spread of electronic payment systems will help alleviate the problem by letting travelers bring their own transponders with them. Congress has weighed in on the topic, giving toll road operators until 2016 to make the various electronic payment systems work with each other so that drivers can use their devices nationwide. Florida’s SunPass has already taken steps to establish reciprocity with E-ZPass, which covers more than 23 million users in 15 states in the Northeast and Midwest. “This is a top priority for the industry to resolve,” says Gray, the turnpike association lobbyist.
That still won’t do anything to lessen the costs for renters who don’t have their own transponders. “This sort of technology was implemented and kind of caught everyone off guard,” says Jason Hoyh, an airport projects specialist with Enterprise Holdings, the parent of Alamo, Enterprise, and National. “You have travelers asking, ‘What am I supposed to do?’”
The bottom line: The spread of cash-free toll roads is prompting consumers to seek curbs on rental company surcharges.
Bachman is an associate editor for Businessweek.com.
http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-08-29/when-does-a-5-toll-cost-30-when-youre-driving-a-rental-car

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Wyoming State Trooper Gets His Man!

driverside.com

Trooper goes "Rambo" to nail a speed violator

9/27/14  Mary and me were on the way back to Utah last Saturday from our fun filled annual Wisconsin vacation. We were crossing Wyoming on I-80 and had just left Laramie after a fuel stop.

On cross country trips in my personal vehicle I always use a Valentine One radar detector, not because I want to speed, but because I want to know when a cop is shooting a radar gun at me. I learned over my thirty plus years in trucking that different states and their troopers have vastly different attitudes toward the motoring public driving on "their" highways. For instance, the state of Ohio has a long history of going after revenue from speeding tickets, harassing truckers especially, with huge fines for going a couple miles an hour over the speed limit. For that reason, I want to know when my "picture" is being taken so I have a better chance of defending myself, if necessary. I always drive within what I feel are law enforcement tolerances in the different states I drive through.

As we left Laramie last Saturday, the speed limit on that stretch of I-80 was 75 MPH and I set my cruise at 80. There was a guy in a vehicle behind me with Colorado plates on it that felt I was going a little too slow for him. He proceeded to pass me and seemed to be doing about 85 MPH as he gradually pulled away from me. There was a another vehicle behind him that also passed but was going a little slower, maybe 1 or 2 MPH faster than I was and he also eventually moved further ahead of us.

Traffic was light on that early Saturday morning and about 40 miles later, as we were nearing Elk Mountain, my detector lit up and I looked over in the oncoming lanes to spot a Wyoming State Trooper in a Charger coming towards me. I didn't even slow as I felt he wouldn't bother with me, but kept my eye on him in the mirror as he continued east. He seemed to be going faster than normal but he was in traffic and had to slow. There are only certain places you can cross over the median in that area and I saw his brake lights come on to make a u-turn from the left lane just as I lost sight of him.

At that point, I figured he was after the guy with Colorado plates and backed it down a couple miles per hour. Well, he came over a hill like a bullet and when he went by us he had to have been well over 100 MPH! If I hadn't known he was coming, he would have probably scared the crap out of me. No lights or siren and there were a few semi trucks ahead running about 65 MPH. He passed those trucks as the road curved to the left and had to hit his brakes to keep control of his car! I figured that there must be an extreme emergency up ahead that he had to get to right away.

What I found a couple miles up the road was that trooper on the side of the highway with the 85 MPH driver from Colorado. I was stunned that he would drive like that to pull over a minor speed violator. What sense does that make? You would think he would at least have had his lights flashing to warn the vehicles ahead that he was approaching at high speed. All it would take for a disaster is for someone to change lanes or drift out of their lane. Closing at such a high speed, most people don't look that far back before deciding to switch lanes. That trooper did not need to do that. There was nowhere for that Colorado guy to go, they were out in the middle of Wyoming sagebrush. The thought actually crossed my mind that I wanted to stop and ask him what the heck he was thinking, but of course that would probably be useless and risky.

Who do you think was the real menace behind the wheel last Saturday in Wyoming? Is writing that speeding ticket worth dying for? The trooper would have gotten him anyway, what a moron, it seems to me. I realize that reasonable speed laws need to be enforced, but that was an amazingly stupid stunt for that "Rambo" Wyoming trooper.

As I was thinking about writing this article, I was trying to remember how long I've had the Valentine One detector. I had a Passport detector that was stolen when I lived in Crivitz. The Valentine One was the state of the art back in the late 80's when I bought it and was amazed that they still sell it today. Twenty-some years ago, I paid $400 for it and they are going for about $480 today. It still performs great! The outer case is the exact same, they have made several upgrades over the years and you can send in an older unit to have it upgraded at the factory for a nominal cost. See the recent newspaper article below for an idea of Wyoming enforcement policies.

From the Casper Star Tribune:
SPEEDING

Wyoming troopers ticket generously above 80 mph

September 06, 2014 4:00 pm  •  



The Wyoming Highway Patrol says it has ticketed more than 1,100 people for going over 80 mph since the new speed limit took effect July 1.
The average speed of those cited was between 88 and 89 mph.
Patrol officials say they have zero tolerance for violations of the 80 mph limit. The speeding citations reflect that. One trooper ticketed a driver for going 81 mph in Natrona County on Aug. 23.
The speed limit on Wyoming's interstates was 75 before the Legislature upped it last winter.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Heart Health for Truckers on the Road: How Interval Training Can Help

dot.gov

The following is a guest post courtesy healthline.com and Kristeen Cherney. Links provided:

Heart Health on the Road: How Interval Training Can Help


Driving, like other sedentary jobs, can make exercising challenging when you’re on the road. While you can’t wait to stretch your legs after a long drive, you may feel too exhausted to commit to an hour-long workout. Odd hours can increase such difficulties. However, you don’t necessarily need an hour at a time in order to gain the benefits of exercise. According to Medline Plus, you can reap such benefits with 10-minute intervals. Focusing on interval training can help keep you and your heart healthy while on the road.

What is Interval Training?

Interval training refers to an exercise routine that focuses on short, frequent workouts as opposed to one long workout at once. These workouts are also performed at a higher intensity so you get the most out of them. You may hear of interval training among athletes looking to build endurance—this method especially comes in handy during competitive sports. Contrary to popular belief, interval training is not exclusive to seasoned athletes. Short bouts of exercise work well for many adults looking to fit in time throughout the day to work out without dedicating an hour or more at a time. As a driver, you don’t have the luxury of standing up and doing long workouts whenever you feel like it. Interval training fits in well because you can perform the exercises effectively during short breaks.
Interval training offers benefits beyond fitting exercise into a tight schedule. In fact, more frequent workouts have the potential to rev up the metabolism more than a single long workout. This is because both your heart and breathing rates increase more often throughout the day. As a result, you burn more calories, too. Frequent bursts of exercise has an added benefit of maintaining energy and helping you “wake up” without relying on caffeine. Such benefits may be especially useful if you have rotating hours.

Types of Interval Exercises for Drivers

Interval training focuses on short bouts of intense exercises, which is good for short breaks from sitting. These types of workouts don’t require any equipment or special gear to get started. In fact, one of the best workouts to begin with is a brisk walk. The Mayo Clinic recommends walking at a normal pace and then increasing to a fast pace every 30 seconds. Depending on your comfort level, you can even go as long as three minutes at a higher intensity. As you become stronger, try jogging in place of speed-walking.
Other types of interval training exercises can include:
  • a set of jumping jacks
  • bicep curls while walking (keep dumbbells in the truck)
  • jump rope
  • alternating push-ups with sit-ups
  • leg squats with a medicine ball
Starting with interval training is a good way to add regular movement to your daily routine. This doesn’t mean you have to discount longer, moderate-intensity exercise altogether. As you build stamina, consider a few long workouts a week for aerobic benefits, even if it’s a quick 20-minute walk at a time.

Why Exercising Should be a Priority

Exercise is important for everyone. Since more and more jobs now require long periods of sitting, it’s important to consciously add workouts throughout the day. Among the many benefits of regular exercise include:
  • heart health maintenance
  • better weight management
  • muscle and bone strengthening
  • better mood
  • decreased risk for chronic illnesses
Since interval training has a high intensity, it’s important that you start off slow and gradually increase the time and endurance as you become stronger. You should always fit in a warm-up and a cool-down, even if they’re only 30 seconds each. Doing so will protect your heart and other muscles. You may consider wearing a heart rate monitor and checking with your doctor before trying interval training. Above all else, it’s important to get moving for better health.
Author Bio: Kristeen Cherney is a freelance health and lifestyle writer who also has a certificate in nutrition. Her work has been published on numerous health-related websites. Previously, she worked as a communications and marketing professional. Kristeen holds a BA in Communication from Florida Gulf Coast University, and is currently pursuing an MA in English with a concentration in rhetoric and cultural studies. When she's not writing or studying, she enjoys walking, kick-boxing, yoga, and traveling.

Resources

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2013, June 12). Travel Workout: Fitness Tips for Business Travelers. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/exercise/ART-20044177?p=1

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Bakken Boom in North Dakota

With the temperature at 22 below zero with a minus-50 windchill, it was
 hard to find the beauty in the brutal weather in Bismarck, N.D. Sundogs,
 a ring of light visible around the sun or moon when light is refracted
 through ice crystals in the atmosphere, are quite beautiful along
 Highway 83 north of Bismark.

http://framework.latimes.com/2014/01/06/pictures-in-the-news-824/#/0
Another winter is almost here, hopefully it won't be as bad as the last. The big oil boom is still going on in North Dakota, here's an article from this past January thanks to Tom Berg and truckinginfo.com. Links provided:

Jan 7, 2014
North Dakota’s Cold and Hot, Thanks to Weather and the Bakken Boom

The Great Plains and Midwest are one big ice box right now, but the economy's so heated up in North Dakota that unemployment's nil.

Gadzooks, it’s cold! A “distorted polar vortex” with frigid air has pushed its way well into the United States, chilling us to the soul and bringing a lot of activity to a halt.
But wherever you are, it’s probably colder in North Dakota, where a brave photographer snapped this picture: http://framework.latimes.com/2014/01/06/pictures-in-the-news-824/#/0. A writer at the Los Angeles Times probably shivered as he looked at it, then posted it on the newspaper’s website.
The scene is typical for the Great Plains and Midwest this time of year, with a frozen, snow-covered landscape punctuated by a cluster of grain elevators and bins. In the lower center of the photo is a lone semitrailer, a van, parked perhaps with a load of processed feed, waiting to be offloaded.
The caption says it was 22 degrees below zero with a wind chill of minus 50 when the picture was taken. That got me wondering how stubborn that trailer will be when a driver backs his tractor onto it. Will the trailer’s wheels even roll?
I sent the photo to Dick Johnsen, president of Johnsen Trailer Sales in Bismarck, and asked him what he thought. “Two things,” he answered. “If it just came in off the highway and it was parked there, yes, the brakes might be froze to the drums.
“The other thing is to get the park-brake valve to release. Once it gets to 75, 80 pounds, it will release and send air through,” assuming air in the lines and tanks are dry. “But if the brakes stick, you have to get out with a hammer and beat on the drums to crack the ice” that’s holding the linings against them.
Cold weather does send vehicles to Johnsen’s service department. “A lot is nuisance work -- brakes don’t release or they can’t get the lights to work,” he says. Coating electrical connections with dielectric grease makes a big difference. “Do this whenever service work is done, like when you replace a light.”
Praying for an early spring might or might not help, but would be much appreciated, Johnsen says, because the last spring came late, and it was a wet one. That kept farmers from getting into their fields to plant and crops were therefore late.
“They’re harvesting corn right now,” he says. “Most of it goes to making ethanol," which boosts corn prices.
Then there’s the Bakken oil boom, which has further heated the economy in the midst of this cold. The Bakken boom has pushed prosperity throughout the state. Johnsen is selling about 400 semitrailers a year, out of the main location in Bismarck and a branch over in Fargo. Together the two locations employ 33 people.
The boom has also sent business to his shop. “It’s service work and equipment repair, some wreck rebuilding, though some of the equipment isn’t worth the effort we put into it, I think.”
Trucks and trailers slide off icy roads and some are badly damaged, and repairing them is quicker than waiting for badly needed replacement equipment, evidently.
“Sometimes a trailer’s in for 10 days for a wreck rebuild, but the average turn is 65 to 70% daily,” he says. The shop has nine work bays and they’re all usually full.
“We’re outside the (Bakken) range area, but the city of Bismarck is getting a big effect from it,” he says. “A lot of big oil companies have offices in Bismarck. Unemployment is at 2.5%,” compared to national joblessness of 7% or so.
“It looks like this level of (oil) production will continue for at least another 10 years.”
http://www.truckinginfo.com/blog/trailer-talk/story/2014/01/north-dakota-s-cold-and-hot-thanks-to-weather-and-the-bakken-boom.aspx


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Benefits of Low-Rolling-Resistance Tires Explained

truckinginfo.com
Article thanks to Jim Park and truckinginfo.com. Links provided:
http://www.truckinginfo.com/search/default.aspx?f_Author=Jim+Park

July, 2014  Most of us now acknowledge there's some benefit to running low-rolling-resistance tires. They are supposed to improve fuel economy, right? That's the idea, and for the most part that's exactly what they do. But are they all they are cracked up to be? Well, that depends on the specific tire and to a large degree how well it's maintained.
A so-called low-rolling-resistance tire inflated to its optimum pressure for the load and wheel position will deliver better fuel economy that a standard or non-LRR tire because the standard tire absorbs more of the energy used to roll the tire. Energy is consumed by internal friction in the tread and casing, traction and even squirming and wiggling of the tread or lugs while the tire is in motion.
How well a tire resists internal friction and energy loss is very much a matter of the rubber compounds used in the tread and casing construction, the tread pattern itself and the depth of the tread. Tire manufacturers offer a variety of designs, each boasting certain attributes, some of which are tied to rolling resistance.
Not all low-rolling-resistance tires are created equal, so some tires will perform better than others. Some start life with a thinner tread (which gives rise to the sense that you're giving up tread life for fuel economy), some use firmer compounds with less internal friction, and still others claim to be low-rolling-resistance tires but their pedigree is sometimes questionable.
Bridgestone tells us that tire casings (including belts) contribute about 50-65% of tire rolling resistance. The advent of the low-profile sidewall back in the 1980s produced significant reductions in sidewall flex, and hence, fuel efficiency. They weren't called low-rolling-resistance tires at the time, but they were the precursors to today's more fuel-efficient designs.
Today's casings are further optimized to lower rolling resistance by refining stress distribution and minimizing internal friction caused when the sidewall flexes under load. And in the case of wide-base single tires, two sidewalls per wheel position are eliminated, further reducing the tire's overall rolling resistance.  
The remaining percentage of a tire's rolling resistance comes from the tire tread, so much of the focus in developing fuel efficient tires has been on tread design.
"Some compounds, especially those incorporating silica, or using formulas that combine natural and engineered synthetic rubber, can reduce tire rolling resistance significantly," says Guy Walenga, director of engineering for commercial products and technologies at Bridgestone.
Despite the fuel savings benefits of these tires, there's still some reluctance to embrace the product. Fleets can expect modest reductions in miles-to-take-off in many cases, and fleets that operate in northern parts of the country have expressed concern about traction on snowy or icy roads -- and even in rainy weather.
According to Larry Tucker, marketing manager for commercial tires at Goodyear, the economic argument against shallower tread is moot today. He says the fuel savings over the life of the tire more than offsets its shorter life. 
"With rising fuel costs all fleets are looking at ways to improve fuel economy, even fleets that were once concerned only with tread life," he says. "With the proper tools we can calculate exactly the cost per mile and operating cost of each tire and determine the tire that is the most economical to use in their application. We can show fleets that even though they may sacrifice some tread depth, they are offsetting that with improved fuel economy. In a majority of the cases the fuel-efficient tires are always more economical to run than deeper tread tires."
Having said all that, does low rolling resistance really make a difference? To demonstrate how much of a difference, we have a video produced by Goodyear, starring Tim Miller, Goodyear's national fleet manager. It's a short and simple explanation of how low-rolling-resistance compounding can affect the amount of energy -- diesel fuel -- needed to keep those tires rolling. In the video, Miller compares the company's Fuel Max tires to standard tires. The results are graphically hard to argue with. I suspect if any of the other top-tier tire manufacturers had done a video like this, the results would be similar.


http://www.truckinginfo.com/channel/fuel-smarts/article/story/2014/07/the-benefits-of-low-rolling-resistance-tires-explained.aspx?utm_campaign=topnews-20140726&utm_source=Email&utm_medium=Enewsletter