Leaders at MC&E Urge New Alliances Only With Supporters
By Neil Abt, Managing Editor
This story appears in the Oct. 28 print edition of Transport Topics.
ORLANDO, Fla. — Weary of another year of political gridlock, trucking industry leaders meeting here vowed to make more critical assessments before offering support to lawmakers and to take a more cohesive message directly to the public.
Bill Graves, president of American Trucking Associations, opened the federation’s Management Conference & Exhibition with a warning to Congress.
“Political change is under way, and many of the traditional alliances the business community has had within the Republican Party are necessarily going to need to be re-evaluated,” he said.
The event closed with the announcement of a collaborative industrywide image campaign and the approval of allowing non-ATA members of state associations to compete in the National Truck Driving Championships.
Outgoing ATA Chairman Michael Card said the “Trucking Moves America Forward” movement will do a better job of reaching out to the public, “and through them, elected officials.”
Card, president of Combined Transport in Central Point, Ore., then passed the chairman’s reins to Philip Byrd Sr., who said he is prepared to be strategic and direct in his approach to advance the industry’s agenda, particularly on highway funding.
“Every elected official in Washington knows what needs to be done. They just don’t know how to do it and get re-elected, and that’s a tragedy,” said Byrd, who is president of Bulldog Hiway Express in Charleston, S.C.
ATA leaders were far from alone in their criticism of the federal government.
In his first news conference in the United States as head of Daimler Trucks, Wolfgang Bernhard said uncertainty and inaction in Washington was “hurting the world,” and he suggested a fuel-tax increase and repeal of the excise tax on new equipment would spark U.S. truck sales.
Bob Darbelnet, CEO of motoring group AAA, told ATA members the groups should jointly develop a plan on highway funding to overcome the “gross negligence” of many federal lawmakers.
“We have made a clear statement the industry is willing to do its part,” said Steve Williams, chairman and CEO of Maverick USA, referring to support for an increase in the federal fuel tax.
The former ATA chairman called it troubling there are some “elected officials in the process of advocating . . . for defunding federal fuel taxes. I don’t understand how we could be having this conversation at a time like this.”
And former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), brother of the previous president, told MC&E attendees they should use their influence to force elected officials to focus on the “greater good,” rather than special needs.
Bush spoke shortly after U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx appeared via a four-minute pre-recorded video.
Foxx, who before the 16-day federal government shutdown had indicated he would attend MC&E, said his priorities are making the U.S. transportation system the safest in the world.
Safety was a topic at many policy committee meetings and educational sessions, where the effects of regulations such as hours of service and the Compliance, Safety, Accountability rating program were discussed.
These regulations are the industry’s top two concerns, according to the annual survey from the American Transportation Research Institute that was released at MC&E.
While offering support for many regulations, such as the soon-to-be issued electronic logging mandate, Card and Derek Leathers, president of Werner Enterprises, expressed frustration the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was focusing almost exclusively — and without enough industry input — on safety issues.
Executives said the productivity losses from the HOS restart and rest-break provisions that began in July were just now starting to truly be felt.
That lost productivity is only going to accelerate the driver shortage, which Graves and several executives said will require a tough look at long-term compensation and operational choices.
As for the more immediate future, fleets are likely to endure another year of slow U.S. growth, according to a panel of economists, including Bob Costello, ATA’s chief economist.
Inside the exhibit hall, more than 170 companies displayed the latest technology and equipment to meet government regulations and boost the bottom line for fleets. Among the highlighted product announcements, truck maker Navistar Inc. unveiled an “open architecture” remote diagnostics system allowing fleets to utilize any telematics provider.
The steady maturity of natural-gas fuel and equipment also was on display.
As for the image program, more than a dozen trucking executives joined with industry and state association leaders for the kickoff.
They said one goal of the campaign is to raise at least $1 million in each of the first five years. A more formal kickoff event will take place at the Mid-America Trucking Show in March in Louisville, Ky.
Like the image announcement, the decision to widen NTDC participation — creating a true national championship — can “increase our power and our grassroots effort,” Card said.
After the business portion of the conference ended, the 2,500 attendees had one last chance to unite — this time in laughter as Jeff Foxworthy headlined the annual banquet.
That came one night after singer Rod Stewart entertained the crowd at the Freightliner customer appreciation dinner.