ATA Chairman: ‘We can all be ambassadors for trucking’

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Updated Nov 12, 2014

IMG_1973Forty years ago, Duane Long was at a Christmas party with some young ladies whom he had graduated high school with.

“What are you going to do with your life young man?” asked the girls’ father, looking in his eyes.

“I’m thinking about finishing college and going off to law school,” replied Long.

“Why the hell would you want to do that?”

The man then invited Long to visit Anchor Motor Lines, the trucking company where he worked. During the visit, he learned that the company was hiring young people for a management training program.

“I fell in love with the industry,” said Long, chairman of the American Trucking Associations, during a luncheon at the CCJ Fall Symposium in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Nov. 6.

Long envisioned he would start his training in the office wearing a suit and tie. Instead, he began in the warehouse driving a forklift and learning to drive a truck. Three years later, in 1984, he and his wife went into business for themselves with one truck.

His company, Raleigh, N.C.-based Longistics, now operates about 40 trucks and is a global, third-party logistics firm that specializes in pharmaceuticals.

“We all have similar stories,” he told Symposium attendees. “We need to mentor and share our stories with others about how you got into industry. Tell people what a great industry this is. We can all be ambassadors for trucking.”

His one-year term as the ATA chairman, Long said, will be focused on ways to improve the image of the trucking industry to attract more drivers, technicians and executives to the industry and to help ATA advance its safety agenda in Washington, D.C.

Long discussed a recent poll, sponsored by ATA, that found the American public has a favorable perception of the trucking industry. The perception is much more favorable if people know someone in the industry.

Right now, the business side of trucking couldn’t be better. The ATA tonnage index has been at a record high for the last two months, he said, and Longistics is doing so good that “all of my customers are mad at me.”

“They are mad because we can’t handle all the business they are offering us. I could double the size of my fleet tomorrow if I could find qualified truck drivers to put in trucks.”

Improving the image of the industry is one solution for the driver shortage. “We also need to boost driver pay,” he said but conceded that increasing pay by a sizeable amount at Longistics hasn’t seemed to “stem the tide.”

The trucking industry also needs to make it easy for veterans to get behind the wheel and study ways to safely put younger drivers to work. In the end, it “all starts by making trucking appeal to people looking for a job,” he concluded.

Long explained that ATA’s top priority is and always has been safety and cleared up its position for changing the current hours-of-service rules.

“The ATA is not trying to roll back the hours-of-service rules,” he said. The ATA supports all but one of the components of the rule: the 34-hour restart provision. Limiting its use to once per week and requiring that the 34-hour period include two consecutive days off from 1 AM and 5 AM “increases the risk of crashes by pushing more trucks into daylight hours,” he said.

Long mentioned ATA’s support of a proposal by Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, to suspend the current restart provision pending results of a study. The study, he believes, will show that changes to the 34-hour restart were “unwarranted and harm safety.”

“This will put us on a path for a permanent fix to hours of service,” he said. The ATA will also continue to advocate lawmakers to increase fuel taxes to pay for infrastructure improvements and to pass a long-term highway bill.

“We know that we face an uphill battle getting Congress to pass a long-term, well-funded highway bill but it’s a challenge we’re not going to back down from.”