A win-win for carriers large and small

by Bill Cameron

Brace yourself. I’m going to extend an olive branch to the large carriers and their associations. You were warned.

When I started in business, I never imagined the level of animosity that exists between large and small trucking companies. I naively figured we all had a job to do – jobs that rarely intersected – so we’d just get along. But this animosity between carriers big and small has only intensified; there is anger and bitterness, and often mistruths.
Small operators have been labeled: lawbreakers, poor businesspeople, and destroyers of the environment, on the topics of speed limiters, electronic logging devices (ELDs), and emission controls.

I’m done talking about speed limiters, and ELDs with one exception. For those insisting that ELDs will bankrupt most small carriers, I need to burst your bubble.

I don’t deny hours-of-service abuse exists, but in talking with drivers from fleets of all sizes, I’m convinced there is no higher percentage of small fleets abusing the system than large ones. Also, blatant law-breaking is clearly not part of any responsible company’s business plan, so knock it off.

I want to address the current troublesome emissions systems. The avoidance of – and tampering with – these emissions aftertreatment systems has been mostly blamed on small carriers.

A substantial number of pre-emissions gliders have been assembled for large, respected companies, so again, knock it off and stop blaming the little guys.

Allow me to state, for the record, the reasons many small companies run older equipment.

We’re not uneducated, or unaware, of the newer emissions system requirements. We aren’t so financially strapped as to be unable to afford the new equipment.

We usually have limited truck and trailer numbers. Reliability is critical, because we rarely have spare tractors available, and the level of service we offer to keep good customers relies on our predictability. We’ve calculated our costs of operation and ownership, and with equipment that’s home frequently for regular maintenance, we do much better with older iron.

Our operations simply won’t support power units that experience excessive downtime. I heard of one large fleet, with several different truck brands, that has a fleet average of five days between shop visits. How does anyone do business like that?

The large carriers want us all in newer equipment, to “level the playing field.”

You mean dragging us all down equally, right? I’d like to offer a solution, but it means we have to work together.

While some of us are reluctant, I believe many small carriers are eager to use newer equipment, if only reliability and fuel mileage matched that we achieved in the early 2000s.

U.S. President Donald Trump has shown strong resistance to any Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) actions that affect employment and the economy, so the timing of my proposal is perfect.

The brightest engineering minds on the planet have achieved emissions levels unimagined 20 years ago. I propose hitting the pause button on further emissions restrictions, even if only for five years.

All previous emissions standards established maximum emission levels, but didn’t legislate fuel economy or reliability. Let’s give those same engineering geniuses a few years to work on mileage and reliability, without the burden of achieving even lower exhaust levels. Start building reliable, fuel-efficient trucks like 15 years ago, and more of us would buy them.

If we banded together, in a mature, cooperative, non-partisan manner, maybe this could be achieved. Smaller fleets would buy newer equipment, and the lobby groups could get off our backs. Large fleets using new equipment would see downtime decrease dramatically, with greater fuel efficiency as a bonus. Other than a few disgruntled tree-huggers, who would lose?

Can we at least agree on that?


Bill Cameron and his wife  Nancy own and operate Parks Transportation. Bill can be reached at williamcameron.bc@gmail.com.

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