ATA Chief: Trucking ‘Good’ but ‘Not Great’ in U.S.

by Evan Lockridge

PHILADELPHIA, PA — In a speech here at the American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference and Exhibition, ATA President and CEO Bill Graves said he saw continued growth for the U.S. trucking industry and strong gains in its agenda, provided lawmakers take action on necessary legislation.

“Most carriers have had a good year – not great – but pretty good in 2015. And 2016 is looking as good if not slightly better. If there’s a boogeyman that we need to be concerned about-look no farther than Washington, as the disarray within the House of Representatives could lead to all sorts of negative outcomes, unintended consequences and mischief for our economy,” Graves said. “It seems truly ironic that given all the turmoil that exist throughout the world-that the single biggest threat we may face is our own government.”

The former two-term Kansas governor even speculated that political uncertainty may be having some effect when it comes to freight volume softening this year compared to 2014. “But the simple fact remains-the U.S. is a growing nation-both in terms of people and the products they consume and produce. It still comes down to simple math, more people equals more stuff.” In other words, expect to see a future in the U.S. with the continued theme of “if you’ve got it, a truck brought it.”

Graves said if the U.S. Congress completes the long-term highway bill it is currently working on, as well as the annual appropriations process (which provides money for projects), ATA will be able to address many of the items deemed most important to the industry.

He also cited efforts by the group and state affiliates to stop efforts to toll currently free roads in several U.S. states along with opposing efforts to privatize publically owned highways, which can lead to placing tolls on freeways or higher fees for existing tollways.

“Never before has ATA pursued as broad and significant a policy agenda as we do today. And as you will hear throughout this meeting, if Congress can find a path forward to ‘do business’ in the next 45 days, we will have what I believe is the most impressive list of achievements ever accomplished by the ATA,” he said, citing potential action on infrastructure funding, hours-of-service, productivity, electronic logging devices, driver recruiting and the Compliance, Safety, Accountability safety monitoring system.

Graves also defended the role of government, in transportation and business, but also called on all levels of government to do more to respond to trucking’s needs and the needs of the country.

“Let me tell you something: Government is not the enemy. Unfocused-unresponsive government is the enemy. Sloppy-wasteful government is the enemy. Overreaching-underperforming government is the enemy,” he said. “Too much government creates dependences that stifle personal responsibility and initiative. Too little government leaves gaps in critical programs and services that are necessary elements in sustaining this nation’s quality of life. Government – at all levels – should provide necessary beneficial service to all of us.”

In closing, Graves looked ahead toward next year’s meeting in Las Vegas, in which he noted even then, the U.S. still will have yet to vote in a national election, despite debates and strong campaigning that started earlier this year.

“So I’m going to leave you with the sage perspective offered by the great H.L. Mencken, who wrote: ‘As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.'” 

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