Trucking 'rebirth' the theme of ATA's annual meeting
"There's only one thing certain in the trucking industry today," American Trucking Associations President and CEO Bill Graves said. "And that is that these are game-changing times." (The Trucker: KEVIN JONES)
By KEVIN JONES
The Trucker Staff
PHOENIX - Trucking is poised to rise from the ashes of recession, the industry's top booster told carrier executives, truck makers and vendors gathered Monday in the Valley of the Sun - although most of those in trucking shouldn't expect business to take off for at least another year.
"Here we are, looking to resurrect a trucking industry, not only from the economic ruins of the past two years, but also anticipating a rebirth influenced by a myriad complicated national and international factors," American Trucking Associations President and CEO Bill Graves said, opening the annual ATA Management Conference and Exhibition with his State of the Industry address. "But the timing of that rise back to profitability, back to robust freight volumes, back to the need for new trucks and trailers, back to having the headache over where to find drivers - the timing of that anticipated recovery keeps eluding us."
In addition to the stagnant economy, other factors include "political gridlock" and the "proposed activist policy and regulatory agenda in Washington," according to Graves.
Indeed, he said trucking still faces "the most significant changing times" since deregulation in the 1980s.
Among "the list of issues that we're expected to manage our way through," Graves pointed to CSA 2010, Hours of Service, electronic logging, fuel efficiency standards, finding a way to pay for infrastructure improvements, the shift to alternative fuels for trucks, an "assault" on the independent contractor model, driver pay, and adapting to the nation's need for additional freight capacity.
"There's only one thing certain in the trucking industry today," he said. "And that is that these are game-changing times."
The inability of policy makers to settle on a long-term transportation funding plan is the result of "both political parties pandering shamelessly to voters," touting "outside-the-box solutions" rather than tackling the tough - but most effective - solution: increasing fuel taxes. And so responsible governance has become secondary to "political cleverness" in Congress and the White House, Graves suggested.
"As a result, many of our critical issues will go unresolved, or will be resolved in a manner guided by political expediency rather that by what's good public policy for the nation," he said. "You can't build world class infrastructure without money. Roads aren't free and they're not cheap."
Other policy issues on ATA's watch list include the owner-operator ban by the Port of L.A. and a push to persuade fleets to convert to natural gas-powered trucks.
On a positive note, he credited fleets with a "safety first" culture for a 20 percent decline in fatality accidents - and the political goodwill that earns on Capitol Hill and in state capitols.
"Any time we can begin a conversation with a public official on a positive note about our safety performance will dramatically improve our chances of successfully gaining their support on whatever issue we are primarily there to discuss," Graves said.