Opinion: Setting American Trucking Association’s Priorities

Every year at the Management Conference & Exhibition, American Trucking Associations selects a new chairman. I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to serve you all this year.

It is an awesome and humbling thing to be chosen as ATA chairman, so I want to thank my family and my fellow ATA members for their support these many years and for all they’ll help me with this coming year.

One of the privileges of being chairman is the ability to set a few priorities for the association and the industry. In the past, we’ve seen chairmen focus on safety or sustainability or highlighting trucking’s critical role in the economy. These are tremendously important, but I’d like us all to point our compass at something much more broad than these individual objectives: respect.

If we can increase the respect our industry is shown, and the respect we show each other and our employees, it goes a long way toward solving a number of the issues we face as an industry.

We’re constantly warning of the impact of the driver shortage — a shortage we expect only to worsen. But would improving the esteem in which our drivers are held help fix that?

Of course it would.

Look at the reception we gave our America’s Road Team captains this week. They were feted as the champions of safety and professionalism we know they are.

However, when they return to their fleets, they’re treated no better than their worst peer: delayed and hassled at shippers’ docks; treated as suspects by law-enforcement officials at the roadside; and viewed as a nuisance on our highways by motorists.

With the lack of respect these drivers see every day, is it any wonder we have trouble finding people to fill all our open positions?

This needs to change — and we all need to be a part of that change. Looking at the big picture, ATA and our allies in the supplier community will soon begin work on changing the image of our great industry.

We spend a lot of time talking to ourselves about how proud we are of what we do; how essential we are to the economy; how safe our fleets are; and how much cleaner our trucks are. And it is high time we start telling our story to the rest of the country.

Once America’s regulators and lawmakers and our neighbors and friends see the greatness of this industry, maybe we will start to see that level of respect grow.

However, it isn’t just the big things we need to change, it’s the little, everyday things as well.

Fleets, show respect for your shippers and suppliers and, we hope, they will respond in kind.

At your companies, show respect for your employees — especially your drivers. It can be little things such as giving drivers a voice in choosing the trucks they drive — as we do at Bulldog.

Or it can be big things, like getting them home more often or rewarding drivers who reward you with strong scores on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s CSA — Compliance, Safety, Accountability — program.

Either way, trying to bring a little more respect into our industry can only be good for all of us and can go a long way toward solving a number of our industry’s problems.

That said, there are still a whole host of challenges we face that, while we can play a role in influencing, we can’t solve by ourselves.

During my term as chairman, Congress is — allegedly — supposed to write and pass new transportation legislation. Our current transportation law expires next October, even though it did little to address our nation’s most pressing long-term need: how we can fund our roads and bridges sustainably.

Already, we are beginning to hear about tolling and public-private partnerships and so-called innovative financing methods — all of which have significant questions surrounding them.

While Congress and the administration may look to these gimmicks, with all due respect, they know — and we know — what the most reliable and sustainable source of funding for transportation is and will continue to be for years: the fuel tax.

This fair and efficient tax hasn’t been raised since 1993, and it is long overdue for an adjustment — so long as that adjustment helps those paying the most by funding needed improvements in our highway system.

If ATA and other right-thinking transportation groups can convince Congress and the administration of this, it will be a tremendous and hard-fought victory after a year filled with them for our industry.

My predecessor, Michael Card, has helped guide ATA through a major win in our litigation against the Port of Los Angeles; through several successful efforts to convince FMCSA to make changes to CSA; and — if nothing else — a well-earned draw in our hours-of-service battle.

This has been a tremendous year, and I thank Mike for his efforts as chairman, just as I thank my fellow ATA members for honoring me with the title this year.I’m hopeful that with continued hard work and a few more demonstrations of respect, this coming year will be another tremendous one for our industry and our association.

The author is president of Bulldog Hiway Express, a Charleston, S.C.-based carrier that was founded in 1959 and has truckload, intermodal, heavy-haul and dedicated divisions serving the United States and Canada.