There is no question that shippers and motor carriers are mad as hell about the way official Washington has addressed their interests. What can be done about it, especially with a divided Congress in a presidential election year, is another matter.
On Feb. 1, a coalition of 10 industry groups, including the American Trucking Associations, the National Industrial Transportation League, NASSTRAC, and the Retail Industry Leaders Association, will gather in the nation's capital for what is being billed as an unprecedented "fly-in" event called "Stand Up for Trucking."
Leaders of the event said the day would involve "legislative and political briefings," as well as "coordinated meetings" with key senators and representatives, presumably those lawmakers who sit on committees and subcommittees with jurisdiction over freight transportation matters.
Michael P. Regan, chairman of transportation consultancy TranzAct Technologies Inc. and chairman of NASSTRAC's advocacy committee, said that group and the American Trucking Associations met in September to lay the groundwork for the upcoming meeting amid a flurry of administrative and legislative developments that industry groups said could result in a double-digit increase in supply chain costs and reduce the efficiency of the nation's freight system.
"It says a lot about how important these issues are—not only to the trucking industry at large, but also to their customers who have responsibility for managing complex supply chains," Regan said in a statement. "Never before have the advocacy interests of both motor carriers and shippers dependent upon over-the-road trucking been more closely aligned."
The planned event comes as House and Senate lawmakers wrangle over legislation that would reauthorize funding for the nation's highway programs. Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, has proposed a six-year, $238 billion reauthorization whose funding would not exceed revenues that come into the Highway Trust Fund, which is financed from excise taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel. The Senate has proposed a two-year, $109 billion reauthorization that would keep funding mostly at current levels.
On Sept. 30, Congress passed a six-month extension to reauthorize the trust fund, the eighth short-term extension in two years. At the time, Rep. Mica vowed that this latest extension would be the last.
Meanwhile, the industry awaits any changes from the Obama administration governing the hours a commercial truck driver can spend behind the wheel. The administration has proposed several changes to current regulations and is leaning toward reducing the number of continuous hours a driver can operate to 10 from 11.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the agency tasked with crafting the rules, is expected to publish its final draft of the policy on Dec. 22, according to published reports.
Shippers and carriers argue that a one-hour reduction in driver operations would wreak havoc with many supply chains that have been developed with the current rules in mind. Carriers and carrier groups said the one-hour reduction would not make the roads any safer than they currently are, and would require fleets to put far more trucks and drivers on the road to handle the same amount of freight.
The trucking industry maintains that its safety record is as strong as it has ever been, noting that truck-related accidents and fatalities are at multi-year lows.