ORLANDO, Fla – With Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a Changin” booming into the Marriott World Centre conference hall, American Trucking Associations president Bill Graves took to the stage this morning and addressed how change will transform the US trucking industry in the years to come.
He outlined a host of changes, including a need to reconsider “many of the traditional allegiances the business community has had within the Republican Party” in light of the party’s apparent hijacking by its ultra conservative Tea Party base, which the former Republican governor of Kansas called a “corrosive” influence.
Looking beyond party politics, Graves said change will manifest itself in additional efforts by the US Environmental Protection Agency to improve fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“In this second round of changes our industry will need to be much more attentive to the cost/benefit analysis of any proposed rule as this next step could be very expensive for our industry,” Graves said.
Graves said change will also happen when the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration gets the long overdue Electronic Logging Device rulemaking finalized. This will be a “game changer”, he said, as it will keep drivers from manipulating log books and “force many of the bad actors in our industry to either change their ways or get off the road.”
Change is already happening as the industry adapts to the new Hours of Service rules.
“The jury is still out on the overall hit to industry productivity, but at the end of the day shippers and consumers will feel the impact,” he said.
Natural gas-powered vehicles will drive another change to the industry. Graves saw this as providing a “tremendously important opportunity” for the industry as it looks out over the horizon at a fuel that will compete with diesel on price and is domestically produced.
The industry’s safety culture will be reshaped as the implications of CSA are fully recognized and felt by fleets and their drivers and when the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse is fully implemented so that unsafe drivers are no longer able to drift from state to state in order to hide their record,” he added.
The driver shortage has been an issue pressing with varying intensity for at least 20 years and Graves warned that in the future drivers available to the industry won’t likely fit the profile the industry is accustomed to – the 30- to 50-year-old male. And it will also force change in compensation.
“I believe the industry will need to examine, and likely change, its longstanding compensation model,” Graves said.
A capacity shortage has been a theme the ATA and other trucking interests have been raising since the start of the economic recovery. It has yet to transpire but Graves included it in his remarks on change, asserting that “change will happen when the shipping community’s ability to match up available truck capacity with economic demand becomes so limited and challenging that some accommodation towards greater truck productivity will logically need to occur.”
Same goes for infrastructure. Graves predicted that as Americans come to pay higher prices for everything due to increased fuel taxes and/or the proliferation of tolls, change will be afoot.
Graves has long been a proponent of the need to raise the US fuel tax and he took the opportunity to point out that former secretary of transportation Ray Lahood appears to have come around to this way of thinking. Lahood recently said Congress should bite the bullet by raising the gas tax 10 cents a gallon and indexing it.
“Our position in support of a fuel tax increase is absolutely the right position to take and everyone on Capitol Hill knows it…We’re just fighting the plague of intellectual amnesia that’s overwhelmed Washington on this and so many other issues,” Graves said. “I believe it will eventually get done. Tolls aren’t the answer. Raiding an already empty general fund isn’t the answer. Devolving to the states isn’t the answer. We all know the answer but it will only happen when there’s a change in the political winds on Capitol Hill.”