Trucking at a crossroads

 

The trucking industry was at a crossroads, facing a myriad of challenges and opportunities, including the nation’s three biggest challenges: “the sluggish economy, a very dysfunctional federal government and the people of this nation who lack confidence that the economy will get better and that our government, as it’s currently assembled in Washington, isn’t capable of getting the job done.”

That the was message American Trucking Associations (ATA) president and CEO Bill Graves delivered in his annual state of the industry address at the opening general session of ATA’s annual Management Conference & Exhibition, being held this week in Las Vegas, NV.

ATA is the largest national trade association for the trucking industry, made up of a federation of 50 affiliated state trucking associations and industry-related conferences and councils.

“I honestly do believe that anyone who is operating in the trucking industry is at a crossroads - in fact you’re facing an entire series of crossroads - each one a decision point sending you in directions that will ultimately determine success or failure, profitability or loss, growth or stagnation,” Graves said.

 

Regulation challenges

In identifying trucking’s top challenge, Graves pointed his finger squarely at Washington, and pointed to FMCSA’s CSA (Compliance, Safety, Accountability) safety monitoring program as a prime example.

“We still believe that CSA is fundamentally the program that will make travel on the nation’s highways safer,” said Graves. “But it must be implemented and managed in such a way as to instill confidence with the industry that our ‘buy in’ to the program will make our companies stronger and not be penalized by inaccurate data or misrepresentation by the shipping community or the media.”

The ATA chief said the administration’s pursuit of a new hours-of-service (HOS) rule was the number two concern of the trucking industry.

The HOS rule “was working just fine,” he said, “and second I have no doubt that the changes to the rule were the result of political pressures brought to bear from the White House and not the result of FMCSA professionals believing that further change was necessary or could be justified.”

 

Well positioned for the future 

Despite those challenges and others key concerns like the driver shortage, the weak economic recovery, insufficient federal support for infrastructure, electronic onboard recording devices and the rise in tolling and rising fuel prices, Graves said trucking was still well-positioned for the future.

“The essentiality of the industry and the demand for freight movement by truck - a growing demand for freight movement by truck - is unquestioned,” he stated. “The long-term macro outlook for trucking has never been better, but the near-term micro view continues to be very challenging.”

To overcome those challenges, as trucking sits at the crossroads, Graves said it was important for companies to adapt and change.

“Those unwilling to embrace change will not survive. As unpleasant as that option may be, it’s simply a truth that has always confronted the industry,” said Graves. “Any of you who know the history of de-regulation, know that the folks who embraced the changing operational landscape of the trucking were at the vanguard of the industry we know today.”

 

Slow to change

Graves’ speech marked the 10th anniversary of his hiring as ATA president, an occasion he noted by pointing out that many of the trucking headlines from industry leading publications from the time he began his job would not be out of place today.

“Surely there isn’t any other industry where ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same,’ is actually true,” he said. “Change within our industry tends to happen relatively slowly, usually giving us time to shape outcomes that benefit the industry, giving us time to anticipate and prepare.

“Conversely, change in our industry happens slowly. So if you’re in a hurry for something to happen, you might be frustrated with the pace of change,” observed Graves. “In almost every instance, our past is a very good indicator of what our future will hold, and this industry’s past is certainly a story of growth, success and profitability.”

 

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