Just because two organizations work in the same field doesn't mean they have to get along. Few seem to embrace that concept with more gusto than the American Trucking Associations and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.
Both groups, better known by their respective acronyms of ATA and OOIDA, are in the trucking business. Both represent the interests of owners and managers, though ATA's membership rolls include the largest companies, while OOIDA's members tend to be one-man operators who predominantly work under contract for larger trucking companies. But the two have repeatedly clashed over key public policy issues, and their disdain for each other's positions is hardly a private matter.
The latest set-to occurred in late January after G. Tommy Hodges, ATA's first vice chairman, asked Congress to enact a national speed limit of 65 miles per hour and to require that truck limiters be set at that speed for vehicles manufactured after 1992—both elements of what he termed the trucking industry's "environmental initiative." Hodges also called on lawmakers to raise to 97,000 pounds from 80,000 pounds the maximum gross vehicle weight limit for single-trailer units, and to authorize states to permit the operation of 33-foot twin trailers, which today are only in limited use in the Upper Great Plains region. (Virtually every state caps the length of twin trailers at 28 feet per trailer, limits that have been in place since 1991.)
Hodges had barely finished his testimony when OOIDA issued a statement accusing the ATA of "greenwashing" by cloaking proposals that would increase costs, eliminate competition, jeopardize safety, and line the pockets of big corporations in the mantle of environmentalism.
"Upping truck weights and mandating speed limiters in the name of sustainability is irresponsible and ridiculous," said Todd Spencer, OOIDA's blunt-spoken executive vice president, in the statement. Spencer said the industry would be better served by reducing the number of empty miles truckers have to drive, as well as the time and fuel spent waiting to load and unload their cargo. Combined, both cost truckers and consumers about $5.7 billion a year, he said.
In an interview, Spencer called the federal experience with speed limiters "disastrous," and said states should be responsible for establishing speed limits that are uniform for all vehicles and based on factors like weather patterns, infrastructure conditions, and driver behavior. He warned that ATA's call for widespread use of longer, heavier equipment would result in higher taxes and insurance costs, inflict further damage on an already highway system, and create safety problems as drivers struggle with rigs and trailers that are more challenging to operate.
ATA spokesman Clayton Boyce reiterated the group's position that longer and heavier truck-trailer combinations would make trucking operations more efficient and productive, thus reducing fuel usage and benefiting the environment. By removing thousands of trucks from the road, the industry would save more than 20 billion gallons of diesel fuel over 10 years and cut carbon emissions by more than 227 million tons over that time, ATA says.
Boyce said the equipment's use would be consistent with accepted highway and bridge design and meet the most stringent safety standards. He rejected as "specious" OOIDA's opposition to a nationwide speed limit and speed limiter setting, saying "speed limiting saves fuel no matter who is driving. It doesn't matter who the company is or who is behind the wheel."
You say yes, I say no
The fight over speed limits and bigger equipment represents just one area of disagreement between the two groups. There are plenty of others as well. For example, ATA backs a DOT proposal that requires truckers to equip their vehicles with electronic recorders if they are found to have a 10 percent or higher violation rate of the hours-of-service rule during each of two government compliance reviews conducted over two years. By contrast, OOIDA opposes the use of electronic recorders of any type to replace paper logs. The National Transportation Safety Board, for its part, believes on-board recorders should be mandated for the entire industry. (The DOT is expected to publish a rule on the issue by mid-year.)
In California, the ATA is aggressively fighting a plan by the Port of Los Angeles to phase out, over the next five years, owner-operators who provide drayage service at the port's terminals, shuttling goods between ports, intermodal rail ramps, and shipping docks. The port's so-called Clean Truck program requires a phased-in implementation of new or retrofitted low-emission tractors by Jan. 1, 2012, and mandates that by that time, all drivers be employees of port-approved carriers that own the tractors. The plan's critics argue it will force owner-operators and smaller truckers away from the port and create an acute shortage of draymen because most can ill afford to buy new tractors or retrofit existing ones.
ATA won a major victory March 20 when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down the port's requirement that harbor truckers replace by year's end 20 percent of their owner-operators with employee drivers. The appellate court ruled the port's policy represented state or local regulation of interstate trucking and violated federal law. It remanded the case to the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles "for an appropriate preliminary injunction." ATA said in a statement that it was "extremely pleased" with the ruling.
OOIDA, which has remained silent on the issue even though owner-operators would be most affected by the port policy, was unavailable for comment when DC VELOCITY went to press. But in comments made several weeks prior to the March 20 ruling, Spencer said the ATA's arguments were trumped by the imperative of having a workable drayage model that is in compliance with clean air laws. "What ATA is doing is seeking to maintain the status quo, and that dog don't hunt," he said. OOIDA does not represent truckers who perform drayage at the nation's ports, although its membership includes truckers who operate to and from ports throughout the country, including Los Angeles.
ATA and OOIDA have also been at odds over an initiative to allow Mexico-based truckers to operate in U.S. commerce beyond designated border commercial zones. OOIDA bitterly opposed the initiative, saying such a move would potentially allow thousands of unsafe vehicles and unqualified drivers on U.S. roads. ATA supported the plan, saying it would reduce the time and expense of multiple handoffs of trailers and containers and, in the process, cut carbon emissions. ATA also pointed to government studies showing that the program would have no negative impact on U.S. highway safety. (Debate over the issue was effectively mooted after President Barack Obama signed into law the $410 billion omnibus spending bill, which ended congressional funding of an 18-month pilot program designed to give Mexican truckers full access to U.S. commerce. The Obama administration has said it will explore alternative measures for establishing a new cross-border trucking program with Mexico.)
The two groups are not at loggerheads over everything. Both favor an increase in fuel taxes to pay for infrastructure improvements so long as there are guarantees that the funds will not be diverted for non-highway use. Neither strongly opposed the federal government's new driver hours-of-service regulations prohibiting drivers from spending more than 11 consecutive hours behind the wheel and requiring at least 10 hours' rest between shifts. However, OOIDA was uncomfortable with language mandating that drivers work no more than 14 hours in a day, saying that doesn't give drivers sufficient time to rest between operating their routes and loading and unloading their cargo. ATA did not oppose that measure.
The culture gap between the groups can be traced to their roots. ATA is deeply tied to the federal policy apparatus; it has called the Washington, D.C., area home since its founding in 1933 and today sits in new headquarters in Arlington, Va., a Washington suburb. Its president and CEO, Bill Graves, grew up in a trucking family but has spent more than two decades in highprofile public sector posts. Graves joined ATA in 2003 after serving as two-term governor of his home state of Kansas. ATA has 37,000 members, mostly mid-sized to large truckers as well as big shippers like Wal-Mart Stores that operate private fleets.
OOIDA's roots are more hardscrabble. Its president, Jim Johnston, was a driver and an owner-operator until he was named president of the fledgling group in 1973. He is the only person to ever hold the post. OOIDA started life in an office trailer chained to a light pole at a truck stop in Grain Valley, Mo., near Kansas City. Today, OOIDA has 160,000 members, and it still calls Grain Valley home.
The key difference between the groups, according to Boyce, is the makeup of their respective constituencies. "ATA represents trucking companies," he says. "OOIDA represents individual drivers, all of whom choose not to be trucking company employees."
Has the failure to present a united front undermined the two groups' lobbying efforts? Not in Boyce's opinion.He says the many opposing views have little if any bearing on the trucking industry's relationship with Congress. Jim Berard, director of communications for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, agrees, saying the frequent clashes actually benefit the industry's relationship with Congress rather than cause friction. "We get depth and insight into industry positions when different viewpoints are brought to the table," Berard says.
Spencer of OOIDA says ATA reflects the positions of large trucking interests, while OOIDA's stances represent those of small mom-andpop concerns that can't move regulatory and political mountains yet, in aggregate, move a large proportion of the nation's freight. "There is something to be said for having a presence in Washington. We've had an office there for several years," says Spencer. "But I don't know of any trucking companies that are headquartered in Washington, D.C."