TCA's Williams: Trucking faces fight in 'transformative time'

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Updated Mar 26, 2024
Dave Williams TCA chairman
Dave Williams, senior vice president of equipment and government relations at Knight-Swift Transportation and the 2023-2024 TCA chairman.

Trucking has a fight on its hands on many fronts, said Dave Williams, senior vice president of equipment and government relations at Knight-Swift Transportation and the 2023-2024 Truckload Carriers Association chairman, at TCA's annual convention in Nashville Monday. 

And fight it shall do.

Williams noted that right now is "a transformative time in the industry. Every time we turn around there's something that ends up bringing a significant challenge."

Among those challenges are current labor policies like AB 5 and Department of Labor (DOL) rules governing the classification of independent contractors that reverted to pre-2021 rules March 11 â€“ rule changes that impact contractors in all careers but have vast implications for owner-operator truck drivers and fleets that use them.

"Owner Operators and individuals that wanted to start a company and be their own boss deserve that right," Williams said. "The government just hasn't, within the trucking industry, figured out how to carve that out yet."

Motor carriers also face an evolving tax structure, "fighting things like vehicle-miles traveled (VMT)," Williams said of distance-based fees levied on a vehicle user for use of a roadway system. "I don't think they're going to want to repeal the gas tax (in favor of) the VMT. I think they're going to want to charge us both."

A VMT-based tax is seen as needed to boost highway funding during a time when the number of miles is falling, fuel efficiency is improving and electrification will do away completely with the need to purchase fuel at all. But that zero-emissions tech, Williams said, "needs a lot of maturing. We have our hands full."

"We want clean air," he added. "We want clean water. But we can't do it at the detriment to our business so that we fail."

Complicating factors on the regulatory front is a hotly contested presidential election just eight months away, an election cycle that Williams said, "could go down in the record books as one of the most divisive," ever seen in the U.S., citing questions about how a Joe Biden or Donald Trump White House could accelerate or undo trucking policies. 

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"We're all trying to figure it out. We're all doing our very best," he said. 

Williams noted that he and TCA as an organization are helping guide reforms that get regulators where they want to go but within the confines of a business case that makes sense for the trucking fleets they affect. Williams noted that just four years ago, trucking stood up for the country under nearly impossible circumstances to get the country through the pandemic, opening the eyes of many lawmakers to just how important trucking is to the economy and making these types of conversations less one-sided. 

"One of the important things we need to do is to continue to promote the image of the trucking industry," Williams said. "We need everyone to engage."

Jason Cannon has written about trucking and transportation for more than a decade and serves as Chief Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. A Class A CDL holder, Jason is a graduate of the Porsche Sport Driving School, an honorary Duckmaster at The Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee, and a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Reach him at [email protected].