ATA head discusses key trucking industry issues

Bill Graves, president and CEO of American Trucking Associations (ATA), the national trade and safety organization of the United States trucking industry, says the trucking industry continues to face a number of pressing challenges.

Key among them are the driver shortage and driver compensation, and the state of the nation's surface infrastructure, he said in his presentation to the 2013 Commercial Vehicle Outlook Conference in Dallas, Texas, last week. The annual event brings together thought leaders from all segments of the trucking industry to share real-world insights on the state of the industry and discuss what steps can be taken to survive and thrive going forward.

The driver shortage is "a very real problem," said Graves. "We're going to have more freight to move as the economy grows and we will need more trucks and drivers."

Citing ATA research, the former Governor of Kansas said biggest factors contributing to the increasing driver shortage will be the retirement of aging drivers (37 percent), industry growth (36 percent), non-voluntary departures of bad drivers who are "chased" from the industry (16 percent) and voluntary non-retirement departures (11 percent).

Driver compensation, which has not kept up with the times, will be a main factor in addressing the driver shortage, he noted. While trucking company executives readily agree that driver compensation needs to be improved, no one in a position of leadership within the industry has stepped up increase pay.

Surface transportation

Graves said surface transportation continues to be ATA's top priority as the association continues to advocate for an increase in fuel tax to fund the Highway Trust Fund, but its monies should be used for transportation infrastructure and not un-related projects as is being done now.

Poor infrastructure impedes transportation, he observed.

Moving onto the matter of truck productivity, Graves said he doesn't expect to see significant changes on truck size and weight by Congress. However, he believes there is hope a proposal before Congress to increase the national standard for twin trailers from the existing 28' to 33' will pass.

Twin 33s

Among the stakeholders to testify before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on this proposal were Frederick W. Smith, chairman, president and CEO of FedEx Corporation, and David Abney, CEO of UPS.

Both concurred that the use of twin 33s would improve efficiency of freight movement. Additionally, since the gross vehicle weight would not change, there would be no increase to the wear-and-tear on the nation's roads and bridges.

Moreover, noted Abney and Smith, the use of twin 33' trailers would lessen traffic congestion by reducing truck miles and truck trips and that would be environmentally friendly by saving on fuel consumption and emissions from trucking.