Worse yet, there were no requirements for the owners of the chassis to identify themselves on the equipment. So when a Department of Transportation (DOT) roadside inspection uncovered a safety violation on a chassis, the inspector had no choice but to cite the driver and his/her trucking company. After all, possession is 9/10ths of the law.
Of course, drivers are required to conduct a pre-trip inspection of the chassis, but that can lead to its own complications. "If you hook up to a chassis and it's in horrible condition, the driver's going to catch that on his pre-trip inspection," Guillot explains. "Then he's going to have to wait for a repair or look for a different unit. Time delays at the wharf trying to get it repaired can be substantial, and that's been a thorn in our side."
Clearly, the trucking industry had an unworkable—and unacceptable—situation on its hands.
In 2004, the ATA formed the Intermodal Motor Carriers Conference, and the group's first task was to address what had become known as the "roadability" issue with the ocean carriers and the railroads. After much negotiation, the three industry stakeholders agreed to rules that would require the chassis owners to identify themselves on the equipment, would set standards for maintenance, and would establish responsibility for safety and maintenance problems.
"The talks were held in a very honest and open way, and a lot of trust was built up," says Jeff Lawrence, executive director of the Ocean Carrier Equipment Management Association (OCEMA). "The idea was to allocate, on a common-sense basis, the responsibility for inspection, maintenance and repair among the parties, based on their logical roles."
"When we came to Congress in March of 2005, our agreement was maintained throughout the hearing and markup process," Whelan says. Since that agreement has been signed into law, the legislative language has been turned into regulatory requirements by the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA), and submitted for review by the White House Office of Management & Budget.
"Given the fact that this was the product of an industry consensus, the new FMCSA Administrator didn't expect to see too many problems with it," Whelan says. "We're confident that there are no hidden issues out there that we haven't addressed. Whether that's true or not, we'll see after that goes public."
"The fundamental thing was that there would be a federal approach to this, and that FMCSA would oversee it," says OCEMA's Lawrence. "There's a provision that the intermodal chassis have to be identified to an equipment provider, and there's a systematic maintenance requirement. There's a rather specific set of inspection requirements for motor carriers, for the pre-trip inspection. There's a process where the equipment provider has to receive any indications that there's a problem with the equipment, and to sideline any equipment if there's a defect."
"What gives me comfort is that, since the enactment of the law, even though we don't have regulations, we have already seen some very sizeable moves towards going to chassis pools and other issues that seem to be a logical outgrowth of the fact that the equipment provider is now going to be clearly responsible for his equipment," says Whelan.
He cites the Port of Virginia as a model for incorporating the chassis pool concept into the operations of a busy intermodal hub. The Port's chassis pool establishes operating procedures for the use and management of thousands of intermodal chassis, eliminating waste, costs and headaches.
"From the Port management and ocean carriers side it's great, because they got to reduce their inventory of chassis from about 22,000 to just under 16,000," Whelan explains. "So, from an acres point of view—how much space are we using for these chassis—they have been able to minimize the space the chassis take up. In addition they have been able to dramatically improve the reliability of the chassis, so instead of having a big ‘needs repair' broken pile taking up space somewhere, they have a very high level of reliability."