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LIFE AFTER the 400N: A Vendor Perspective

Let me preface this article by telling you that I am a vendor to the Moving Industry and that I spend all day, every day, talking to moving companies.  Having said this, I would tell you that only half of the companies that I speak with on a regular basis are aware that, as of January 1st, 2008, the collective rate filing represented by the 400N Interstate Tariff will no longer be an option.  For those who are aware of this development, there seems to be a general sense of confusion and resignation, despite the fact that the AMSA has sent out numerous emails and notifications. 

This article will attempt to clarify some of the misunderstandings and misconceptions surrounding the ruling and to identify what you must do prior to the rapidly approaching deadline.

What was the ruling? Since 1937 the Household Goods Carrier’s Bureau has been submitting a collective Tariff to the Federal Government.  While this Tariff has gone through countless iterations, it basically ensured that, as long as a moving company subscribed to this collective Tariff (most recently the 400N), you were in compliance with the Federal Regulations that govern the transportation of household goods across state lines.  Earlier this year, the Surface Transportation Board (the government body responsible for addressing these matters) rejected this filing on Anti-Trust grounds.  In effect, what this means is that each and every carrier, regardless of size, will be responsible for publishing their own Tariff on or before January 1st of 2008.

How does this ruling impact My Company? The implications for your company will depend on whether you are a Van Line affiliate or an independent.  As a Van Line affiliate, and under your Van Line Carrier’s Authority, you will not need to publish a Tariff and will simply have to adapt to whatever Tariff ends up being published by your particular Van Line.  As it stands right now, and following numerous conversations with agents, Van Lines, and trade groups, it would appear that most companies will be publishing a Tariff that is, at least in basic form, similar in nature to the existing 400N.  After January, it would be safe to suggest that, over the course of the next few years, Tariffs for major carriers will continue to diverge from one another.  For those companies that operate under their own authority, in part or in whole, it will be necessary to publish your own Tariff. 

What do I need to do to publish my Tariff? Publishing a Tariff is not the same as filing a Tariff; as was the case in years past.  Publishing a Tariff means that there is a copy of your Interstate Tariff, in paper or electronic format, that clearly indicates your company’s pertinent information, has a specific effective date, is in compliance with all salient governmental regulations, and is available for review by a shipper or any interested party.

Can I charge whatever I want for Interstate Relocations?  At some level, yes, however the fact that collective filing is no longer an option does not mean that you are now operating in a vacuum.  You must still comply with all federal regulations and it is your responsibility to make sure that you are in compliance.  A pertinent example of this would be that a non-binding estimate must be “weight-based” according to existing law.  A mover who publishes an Interstate Tariff which allows for non-binding estimates to be provided on an hourly or cubic footage basis would potentially be subject to fines in the event of an audit.

What does all of this mean? The simple answer to this question is that nobody knows exactly what all of this means.  We are sailing into uncharted waters at this juncture and it will likely take several years to determine the contextual and historical importance of this development. There will invariably be a lot of confusion in the upcoming months and, it is safe to say, that many carriers will find themselves in a bind as of the fist of the year, if actionable steps are not taken in the next few months.

What steps do I need to take?  The AMSA has trained several companies who are currently, or will be offering “Tariff Publication Services”.  These companies will help you navigate the legal waters, publish your Tariff, and remain in compliance.  The AMSA will be providing a list of trained vendors going forward, and in the event that you require assistance, these companies can help you to get into, and to stay in compliance.  Given that there are thousands of companies that will need to publish their Tariffs prior to year’s end; it is strongly advised that you start making preparations now, so that you do not find yourself operating illegally as of the first of the year.

Piet Gauchat is an Executive at TechMate International.  TechMate International has been trained by the AMSA in Tariff Publication and is currently offering Tariff publication as a service.  Contact them at (949) 837-6283 or at tariff@techmateintl.net.