ATA’s Graves: Industry thriving despite challenges

Updated Oct 22, 2013

gravesDuring his annual “State of the Industry” address at the 2013 American Trucking Associations Management Conference & Exhibition in Orlando, Gov. Bill Graves, ATA president and CEO said the trucking industry is poised for success despite the myriad of changes and challenges that are occurring in Washington and in the industry.

Graves said the dysfunctional relationship between the Tea Party movement and the rest of the Republican Party pose significant political headwinds for the trucking industry, and the rift will likely have a lasting impact.

“If I was your political broker, my advice would be that you should sell your Republican shares and buy Democrat,” said Graves, who also pointed a finger at the Tea Party members in saying that insisting on having things their way without compromise is “foolish, ill-advised, reckless and detrimental to the future of this country.

Graves cited several changes facing the trucking industry, including the second round of fuel efficiency and emission regulations, the looming electronic logging device mandate and the continued effect of the changes to the hours-of-service rules that took effect in July.

“The jury is still out on the overall hit [of HOS] to industry productivity, but at the end of the day shippers and consumers will feel the impact,” said Graves. On the ELD rulemaking, he said it would be a game-changer, noting that, “drivers will no longer have the ability to manipulate log books and it will force many of the bad actors in our industry to either change their ways or get off the road.”

On the subject of Compliance Safety Accountability, Graves made no mention of crash accountability or other specific industry concerns with the program, but said, “While the program has certainly morphed itself into something larger than was originally envisioned by the Bush Administration, when fine-tuned and appropriately administered, it will reshape the safety culture of the trucking industry.”

The driver shortage continues to be a major concern for fleet executives, and it is compounded by the aging population of drivers currently in the workforce and growing demand for new drivers. “In the future, drivers available to our industry won’t likely fit the profile we’re used to – the 30- to 50-year-old white male. As a result, I believe the industry will need to examine, and likely change, its longstanding compensation model.”

Graves said ATA will continue its push on Capitol Hill for a fuel tax increase to address the nation’s infrastructure needs, and pointed out that former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood – once an opponent of raising the tax – is now advocating a tax hike.

“Our position in support of a fuel tax increase is absolutely the right position to take, and everyone on Capitol Hill knows it,” said Graves. “Ray LaHood always knew it, the President knows it, every member of Congress knows it, we’re just fighting the plague of intellectual amnesia that’s overwhelmed Washington on this and so many other issues.”

Graves ended his comments with remarks on the perceived threat of rail freight to the trucking industry. “If it works so well, why does it require a $100 million ad campaign to tell everyone that it works?”

Graves noted rail carload tonnage is less than 14 percent of the nation’s total tonnage and it is trending to 12.5 percent. “The U.S. economy votes each year by putting 70 percent of all tonnage and pays us 80 percent of all U.S. freight revenue,” he said.