For those that know Bakersfield, it will be little surprise that it is one of the major trucking hubs in the nation. Sitting on the intersection of Highway 58 and Highway 99 artery that connects Northern and Southern California, the trucking industry remains one of the largest employers in the region and a major source of income for so many in the Valley.
However, with new federal mandates set to commence on December 18, 2017 around electronic logging and new rules, the ripple effects across the industry and on the economy of the Central Valley may be profound [http://fleetowner.com/driver-logs/too-expensive-unproven-untrustworthy-groups-push-eld-delay].
Bakersfield’s trucking industry is quite unique than most other regions due to its extraordinarily high proportion of owner-operators. While the hours can be long and the drive lonely, owner operators and small fleet owners work to keep American commerce moving and to provide a life for their families. Their ability to continue doing this may soon change.
While there have been discussions of self-driving trucks and other forms of automation that may one day replace many in industry, their short-term concerns are around new federal mandates that will be taking effect this year. In December 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation a 516-page final rule book about new changes, most notably the mandate around electronic logging devices (ELD). With only about 10 weeks left to implementation, industry insiders estimate that over 1 million of the nation’s 3.5 million truckers have yet to comply. [
While large fleet owners stand to gain at the expense of the owner-operators as they can best shoulder the increasing costs, the owner-operators are not going down without a fight. They have attempted legal challenges and this week they mobilized for “Operation Black and Blue” to make their voices heard. Here in Bakersfield, this past Oct. 4, over 500 local truck drivers and supporters gathered at the Liberty Bell in Downtown Bakersfield, as local truck drivers sought support from city officials to gain public support and make sure federal lawmakers are aware of their concerns. Nearly 1000 truckers, including over 200 from Bakersfield, protested in Sacramento Oct. 3, and rallies were organized in Washington, D.C. The local protest was organically organized as the efforts are being lead by the local Sikh Punjabi community.
Local truck drivers express that their concern is not with the ELD, but with the nature of how it is being forced upon the driver. They wish the driver to have the choice between electronic recording and the older system of a manual log. Most of the overreaching regulations have yet to be fully fleshed out and it seems the overwhelming burden will fall upon individual drivers and owner-operators. This will cause an increase in the price of all consumer goods as many drivers and owner-operators do not believe they will be able to stay in business. Less truckers on the roads will lead to higher transportation prices for all goods. Even the Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) has come out against the new regulations, which would have an especially adverse effect here in the Valley.
All additional costs fall on the smallest of drivers and here in Bakersfield that will disproportionately affect communities of colors. In Bakersfield, father-son driving companies are especially common amongst Mexican-American and African-American communities and the burgeoning Punjabi Sikh community has entered trucking in a major way on the west side of town. These small businesses have much to lose if the laws are implanted as currently planned.
The last resort of the truck drivers at this point is the passage of a bill, the ELD Extension Act of 2017 (HR 3282), introduced in July by Rep. Brian Babin of Texas back in July. The bill seeks to push back implementation until 2019, allowing drivers to advocate for other measures to help decrease the burden and get answers to questions that have been unresolved due to the mandates. In the meantime, local truck-drivers are hoping that Congressmen Nunes, Valadao, and Costa will back the bill and thereby stand with their families. Protecting this critical component of our Valley’s economic health is important not only for the drivers and their families, but for our entire region.
Manpreet Kaur of Bakersfield is a community organizer of the Jakara Movement, a youth development nonprofit and the largest Sikh volunteer organization in the United States. Connect with her at email@example.com.