Has the recession permanently changed the way we do business? It was one of many questions posed to a large panel of trucking executives at the latest Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) convention but I thought it was perhaps the most important one.
There was a great deal of soul searching following the question as executives recounted the most significant lessons they’ve learned during this most gut-wrenching of industry downturns. Several executives said they realized just how little customers understand about what goes on behind the scenes to pull off a delivery; a reality that’s not helped by many motor carriers who not only neglect to educate their customers but who are too often willing to devalue the service they provide just to land a contract.
Many pointed to excess capacity as the root of the industry’s current troubles and called for a workable plan to flex the fleet during downturns, but to do so not on the backs of owner/operators.
On the positive side, some executives pointed out that having their back against the wall the past two years has forced motor carriers to work harder to gain efficiencies and find cost reductions that don’t compromise safety. As one executive eloquently put it: ‘It has been a very cleansing opportunity to be able to hit a reset button.’
Naturally, the general feeling was that they’ve learned important lessons they won’t soon forget. I hope they’re right but my personal impression over the past 20 years covering the transportation industry is that lessons learned during hard times start to fade as economic fortunes improve, thus sowing the seeds for future industry setbacks.
Yet it’s encouraging that the industry is having this discussion and influential executives are willing to openly debate the strategies that proved to have such disastrous effects during the downturn. The OTA deserves credit for creating the forum to make such an exchange possible.
This year will continue to be a volatile time for trucking companies and there are still lessons to be learned. So I think it important to continue the discussion on the industry’s future.
Those of you interested in doing so may want to follow me to Winnipeg this February 17-19 to the Future of Trucking Symposium. I’ll be kicking off the event with a presentation entitled, The North American Trucking Industry: Where we are and where we are going.
The symposium is designed to analyze how trucking will evolve in response to changing freight movement patterns, environmental concerns, fuel price volatility, and labour availability over the next 20 years. Several prominent industry figures will be speaking at the event.
For info, contact Kathy Chmelnytzki at 204-474-9097 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope to see you there.
-Lou Smyrlis can be reached by phone at (416) 510-6881 or by e-mail at lou@TransportationMedia.ca.
You can also follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/LouSmyrlis.
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