"The capacity shortage is good for you. Just keep telling shippers that capacity's tight and it's going to stay tight, and it's good for you."
—Bob Voltmann, head of the Transportation Intermediaries Association (TIA), at the group's annual conference last April
It was vintage Voltmann, and his flock—hard-nosed freight brokers with no time for obfuscation—hung onto every word. Some 18 years into what was originally to be a three- to four-year tenure, members have come to know that with Voltmann, what you see is what you get.
Voltmann will spill verbal blood, if necessary, to advance his members' position. He took shots at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) over what he sees as the agency's abandonment of its role as safety arbiter to the extreme detriment of brokers responsible for choosing carriers to move their customers' freight. "They are the Federal Motor Carrier SAFETY Administration," he told a reporter at the conference. It should be noted that Jack Van Steenburg, the agency's chief safety officer, spoke at the same event.
Voltmann also jabbed at President Obama, mindful that most TIA members believe the entire trucking industry has a bull's eye on its back, courtesy of overzealous regulators. "The White House may have been built by giants, but it's occupied by pygmies," he told the group.
Before dismissing Voltmann as a barker with little bite, consider this: TIA's membership is up nearly 45 percent over the past 10 years. The group set a conference attendance record this spring. Its membership appears to be skewing younger, female, and entrepreneurial, all of which bodes well for a modern-day trade association. Because many TIA members are involved in some way with family-owned businesses, there is a sense of continuity and community fostered by the association that will prop up, if not grow, its member list for some time to come.
TIA pays Voltmann, who has 25-plus years of high-level experience in Washington, to promote its interests at the Department of Transportation and on Capitol Hill. Three years ago, Voltmann and his team delivered, lobbying Congress to incorporate sweeping broker-centric language in the transport funding law known as "MAP-21." The law mandated a more than sevenfold increase in the surety bond levels that brokers would have to post to get or keep their licenses; outlawed a common but ethically challenged practice known as "double-brokering," where a trucker turns a load over to another carrier without the broker's knowledge; required truckers that engage in brokering to have a brokerage license separate from their motor carrier authority; and forced shippers to be more vigilant in their load-tender protocols. The provisions didn't please everyone, but they have helped clarify murky areas of transport law, added another layer of security for a shipper's capital and property, made it more likely that carriers would get paid for an honest day's work, and brought accountability and legitimacy to a segment of transport that has struggled with both.
TIA's ascent is interesting in that it once was the runt of the litter among transport trade groups. In 1999, coming off a poor trade show and trying to reach more shippers, it combined forces with the National Industrial Transportation League (NITL) and then the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA), both of which wielded far more influence at the time.
The troika dissolved in 2013. Today, NITL is no longer the force it once was, and its annual conference, TransComp, is struggling. IANA is hanging in there, but its signature event, Intermodal Expo, is not the transport industry's premier trade show as it was in the 1980s and part of the 1990s. TIA, meanwhile, is on a roll. That's due, in no small measure, to the savvy and will of the guy at the top.