LAS VEGAS — It was a rockin’ start to the American Trucking Associations’ (ATA) Management Conference and Exhibition as CEO Bill Graves strolled on stage to Eric Clapton’s “Crossroads” to give his state of the industry address.
“You’ve individually and collectively moved on down the road” from last year, Graves told attendees, but this year seems to be bringing some “significant crossroads.”
He said that everyone in the trucking industry is facing a series of crossroads, “each one a decision point sending you in directions that will ultimately determine your success or failure, profitability or loss, growth or stagnation.”
“The crossroads you find yourself at has much to do with those carriers who are willing to embrace the change that confronts us or not,” Graves said. “And more than likely those unwilling to embrace change will not survive.”
He pointed to de-regulation where, he said, those unwilling to embrace the change “didn’t last long and have been long gone from this industry — and I should know, as my father was one of them.”
Graves pointed to an American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) study released this morning that listed the industry’s top ten concerns, and he weighed in on a few:
Compliance, Safety and Accountability (CSA)
“This has been one of the biggest changes confronting our industry in the last 25-30 years — probably since deregulation,” Graves said. He acknowledged the importance of the system and that some parts of it are working well, but “CSA still has some serious flaws…”. The program must be implemented and managed in a way to instill confidence,” stressed Graves. Buy-in from the industry will make companies stronger but they should not be penalized by inaccurate data or misrepresentation by the shipping community or media, he said.
The number two concern. Graves said that after a decade of “wrangling” over a proper balance, and “tremendous safety strides made by trucking over the past decade,” the Obama Administration chose to re-write the safety rules. Graves said the rule was working just fine, and “that the changes were the result of political pressures brought to bear from the White House and not the result of FMCSA professionals.”
“What can you say that hasn’t been said,” Graves asked. Graves pointed to the President and Congress who “play political ‘gotcha’ while we risk falling headlong into another recession.”
Graves said that in 12 years, 200,000 drivers will be needed; that’s the current “path” industry is on, “a path that would increase costs, operational hardships and supply chain disruptions.” There’s another path, Graves said, one that sees the industry raising driver pay, and finding more ways to improve the working environment. “And will the shipping community be a partner with us on this critical issue and help in our endeavor like they should?” Graves said that industry may not be feeling this quite as much right now, “but you all know that once our nation finds a way forward to economic recovery we’re going to be very hard pressed to find enough qualified drivers. Finding people who want to work in this industry is very hard.”
We’ll have more on Graves address later.
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