Waiver allows more fuel deliveries in Vermont

Written on: January 2, 2018 by ICM

By Kate Barcellos, Rutland (VT) Herald
Fuel truck drivers around the Northeast will be able to drive into overtime to meet fuel oil demand, thanks to permission from the state and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
“We received word back on Dec. 26 that Vermont would have an emergency declaration,” said Matt Cota, executive director of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association.
Wanda Minoli, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles, signed a declaration waiving the federal service requirements so that commercial drivers could drive longer hours, he said.
According to Vermont Fuel Dealers Association’s website, the Vermont Hours of Service Waiver is in effect until Jan. 9. The waiver was signed by four regional field administrators from the FMCSA.
“This means the government recognizes that there’s a cold weather emergency out there,” Cota said. “This means a lot for us.”
The waivers lift regulations limiting driving hours for commercial driver’s license holders, he said. A CDL is issued by the state but regulated by the federal agency, and each individual state can choose to waive the federal requirements of their drivers, he said.
“ Seventy five percent of the homes in Vermont need liquid fuel delivered by people with CDLs,” he said. “Normally a driver would work eight hours. Because of the emergency waiver, they’re allowed to work over 10 hours.”
The regulations were put in place to keep drivers safe, Cota said.
“We don’t want truckers under pressure driving beyond what is reasonable,” he said. “They don’t want people falling asleep at the wheel. But the drivers who get out at 5:30 in the morning and drag a 100- pound fuel pipe to someone’s door and stand there for 50 minutes in below-zero degree temperatures; they know what they’re getting into. It’s a tough job, but it’s rewarding. The delivery driver understands that as many hours as you can put on the road, that’s your paycheck.”
Cota said the fuel companies aren’t experiencing any fuel shortages, despite high demand.
“We’re in good shape with the local fuel companies,” he said. “Large users of natural gas and electricity are switching to heating oil as their backsource. We had 80 propane rail cars in Bennington this November just sitting there waiting for the cold that never came. They’re now being deployed, and the fuel can now be used throughout our region,” he said.
For Mary-Rachel Keyser, customer service manager of Keyser Energy in Rutland, the longer hours are hitting hard.
“ We’ve been working 11 hour days, as fast as we can,” she said. “We’re able to be on the road longer and not be restricted with our hours of service. They get on the road between 7:30-8:30 a.m, and they’ll get off the road around 6 to 7 p.m.”
Keyser added, “ Normally, we’re off the roads when sunlight goes down, around 4. We’ve been working on a six-day schedule with one day of rest. It’s that crazy. But now we can get to all the deliveries that people need to stay warm.”
She said everyone at the company is pushing the limits to meet customer demand.
“ We typically have an answering service that we redirect after-hours calls to,” she said. “I brought in all of the office staff to answer phone calls. We’ll be picking up phone calls from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., and we predicted we’re all going to be running like this for at least two weeks.”
For Peter Bourne, owner of Bourne Energy in Morrisville, the waiver means less stress for everyone.
“We haven’t had weather like this in many years, and nobody’s system is prepared for this,” he said Sunday. “Out of the blue we had to be able to handle longer hours and the routes become more jumbled and less efficient. We have 16 trucks on the road during the week, four on the road yesterday, and five today. This gives us a huge break to be able to do this and be in compliance.”
Keyser, Cota and Bourne all said they appreciate the extra steps customers take to support their fuel companies.
“ Pay attention to the gauge and understand how it works,” Bourne said. “Some people are calling when they’re nowhere near a level they should be concerned about. On a propane tank, they should call the dealer at 20 percent. On their oil tank, if the gauge is at a quarter-tank, they should call. Anything more than that, they still have a couple days of fuel left. It helps keep routes efficient so that drivers can get around to everyone, especially those who are truly critical.”
Bourne also said it’s helpful if drivers have a pathway shoveled out for them so they can get to the tank easier.
In these conditions, even the little things make a big difference, Cota said.
“I used to work in the fuel business,” he said. “We do a job, we sell a product that everyone needs. When people say ‘thank you,’ it means a lot for us. We also like hot coffee.”
Keyser said she’s gotten appreciative gestures already, and they mean a great deal to everyone in the company.
“ We ’ v e had people pounding on the windows giving thumbs- up and cheering,” she said. “We’ve had people give gift cards and treats to show appreciation. We’re really lucky to have our customers.”
Article courtesy: Rutland (VT) Herald