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HALIFAX, N. S. - There's a world of difference between trucking in North America, the United Kingdom and Australia. But at the end of the day, the challenges faced by trucking companies in each of tho...

HALIFAX, N. S. –There’s a world of difference between trucking in North America, the United Kingdom and Australia. But at the end of the day, the challenges faced by trucking companies in each of those regions are fairly similar.

A panel discussion at the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association’s first ever International Transportation Summit featured association heads from the US, UK and Australia. Canadian Trucking Alliance CEO David Bradley moderated the discussion, which centered around key industry issues in each of the regions represented on the panel.

Stuart St. Clair, CEO of the Australian Trucking Association, said his association has been adapting to increased globalization, which has seen Australia become increasingly dependent on trade.

“We cut the trees down, send the wood to China and buy the paper back,” he said.

Roger King, CEO of the UK Road Haulage Association, said the same can be said for his part of the world, which is losing manufacturing in part because of government demands to reduce carbon emissions.

“The manufacturing industry we used to have has migrated to China, India and Eastern Europe,” he said. “The goods we used to make, we are now importing back. So we’re importing our CO2 and that doesn’t count in the grand scheme of things. Maybe it should.”

Infrastructure is one of the biggest concerns for the trucking industry in each of the regions represented on the panel, especially in the US. ATA CEO Bill Graves said “Our priorities are all about infrastructure.”

He said his members are beginning to reach out to other transport modes in order to improve transportation efficiency.

“We’ve got to figure out ways to have better working relationships with all the freight modes -and in our case, that means involving the railroads,” Graves said.

He noted that intermodal freight volumes are forecast to double by 2020, but there will still be plenty of freight that has to move by truck.

“Intermodal movements only account for about 1% of the overall freight movement in the US,” he said. “Therefore, if you double it by 2020, we’re be up to a whopping 2%.”

In Australia, the trucking association has been successful in lobbying for more infrastructure investments. But that’s largely because the trucking industry’s taxation is directly tied to infrastructure spending.

St. Clair said it makes it difficult for government to deny funding for infrastructure projects, when every penny is recouped from the trucking industry the next year through taxes and registration fees.

In the United Kingdom, King said there’s a growing push from government to move freight from roads to rail and water. But he noted 92% of freight in the UK must travel by road, as there’s no rail or marine access to the final destination. The trucking industry there is supporting the government’s goal of taking freight off the roads, he said, knowing it’s impossible to do so.

Sustainability is a big issue in each of the areas represented on the panel. In the UK, King said truck efficiency has been improved by about 17%, thanks to better equipment utilization, improved maintenance, speed limitation and driver training.

“All these things have added up to make quite a substantial change in improving the efficiency of the truck -it’s been a godsend,” he said of the environmental movement.

Bradley expressed surprise that in some parts of the world, there seems to be a shift towards bringing transportation in-house. Stuart confirmed that’s the case in Australia, thanks in part to “chain of responsibility” legislation which makes shippers more accountable for how their goods are delivered.

He said some companies are responding to the law by establishing private fleets so they can better control how their goods are transported.

In the United Kingdom, King said he’s noticed a slight shift away from private fleets -or “own account operators” as they’re referred to there.

However, he said for-hire carriers must be proactive about communicating their environmental successes if they hope to keep it that way.

Graves said there’s also a move towards private fleet operation in the US, where company CEOs are looking to have more control of their entire supply chain.

“A lot of chairmen and CEOs of large companies have got it in their minds that they want more control over the cost and expense of transportation, over scheduling, over the pick-up and delivery of their products and they want to make sure the environmental bona-fides are on display every day and that they’re operating safely,” noted Graves. “So they do what CEOs do, they take matters into their own hands.”

Finally, each of the associations acknowledged they continue to work hard to overcome negative stereotypes that plague the industry.

In Australia, Stuart said there’s more peer pressure among drivers to act responsibly on the highways.

“One of the things we suffer from in the UK, is that the truck driver is considered to be semiskilled,” added King. “In fact, it’s not just skilled, it’s highly-skilled and that’s the perception we’ve got to build on.”

In the UK, a new professional training program is being rolled out, which will require every commercial driver to undergo five days of classroom training.

The training is to begin in 2010, and King is hopeful it will raise the standards for professional drivers.

In the US, image is also a concern. Graves said the ATA has many ongoing public image campaigns, including a program that puts State Troopers in the cabs of big rigs.

“It’s had a really positive impact on the law enforcement perspective,” he said, adding the association is pushing to roll the pilot project out across the US.

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