During an exclusive interview with Transport Topics before the April congressional recess, Fischer, who leads the chamber’s surface transportation subcommittee and is its top trucking policy writer, stressed that the measure would take aim at the agency’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability scoring system as well as aspects of the recently suspended hours-of-service rule. Both programs have been criticized by trucking leaders, operators and other stakeholders.
While she did not share specifics that would be in the bill — noting that her staff was finalizing certain proposals — the senator focused on potential benefits.
“We want to make sure that our roads are safe and that our truckers are safe and that they can be driving on our roads in a safe manner. But sometimes when rules come out and you find out that they really are having a kind of perverse impact on safety, then I think they need to be revisited,” Fischer said.
She went on: “The 34-hour restart rule, I think it’s a great example of that and the impact that it did have. And you’re also able to visit with truckers, and you find out that it’s a rule that maybe did push drivers onto the roads during morning commutes. That’s something that needed to be changed.”
The restart portion of the hours-of-service rule was suspended in December until Sept. 30. During that time, the agency is required to produce a study to determine whether the rule is improving or diminishing highway safety. An FMCSA spokesman told TT the agency still is accepting drivers for the study.
Fischer said she will await the results before deciding to push for a long-term suspension of the rule. Under the rule, drivers were required to take a break between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. on two consecutive days.
Fischer’s bill also would look to reform the agency’s methodology for the CSA program. The Government Accountability Office concluded the agency had demonstrated challenges in its reliability of CSA’s safety measurement system in predicting carrier crashes. The report noted FMCSA had not adopted the federal watchdog’s recommendation that it revise aspects of the program’s methodology.
Fischer said GAO’s findings prompted her to craft the legislation. At a hearing with FMCSA Chief Counsel Scott Darling on March 4, when GAO unveiled the report, Fischer said she found it interesting that Darling, the agency’s head, could not address the concerns that were raised.
“I think there has been enough focus on some of the inaccuracies that are out there, and the cost that that has on companies, that maybe he would’ve been ready for some questions like that,” she said.
Darling has not commented on Fischer’s remarks about him.
Aside from pushing for reforms at FMCSA, Fischer is a central player in the saga to secure long-term federal highway funding. She said she would provide “outside-the-box” thinking to solve the funding issue.
On May 31, highway funding authority is set to expire, and there is speculation lawmakers will opt for a short-term fix instead of adopting a long-term transportation plan.
“You have to have a somewhat stable revenue source to make sure that you can cover those projects that take a long time to plan, that take a long time to go through the process with environmental impact statements and everything else that’s out there and that take a long time to build,” Fischer said.
Asked if she thought Congress would meet the May deadline, she replied: “My initial reaction would be, the Senate moves slowly and the end of May is coming up quickly, and I haven’t heard any real solid plans out there on financing our roads. . . . It would be nice if somebody did step forward and surprised us all with a great funding solution that everybody is going to buy into.”
As a state senator, Fischer helped set aside part of Nebraska’s general fund for infrastructure spending. In 2012, she went on to garner national headlines after defeating a strong GOP field in the senatorial primary. She carried that momentum to beat Democrat Bob Kerrey, who sought to regain the Senate seat.
The transportation sector has become one of her major backers. Werner Enterprises — No. 14 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in the United States and Canada — ranked among the top five donors for Fischer between 2011 and 2014. The Nebraska-based transportation and logistics firm contributed $24,750 to Fischer during those four years, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics.
In February, Fischer, the daughter of a former state roads director, joined Werner officials at the company’s headquarters in Omaha to recognize David Green, a member of American Trucking Associations’ most recent America’s Road Team. Fischer presented Green with a U.S. flag and a certificate before a crowd of Werner associates and professional drivers.