The trucking industry does not plan to lobby in 2017 to extend the length of twin-trailers beyond their current legal limit of 28 feet each, according to the American Trucking Associations' (ATA) list displayed yesterday at the SMC3 annual winter meeting in Atlanta.
The list of 19 issues identified by ATA as "strategic priorities" for the year did not include efforts to convince Congress or the Trump administration to support raising the limit on the length of twin trailers to 33 feet each. Segments of the trucking industry, including ATA, endorsed the plan in 2015, even though a large number of truckload carriers that comprise the core of the group's membership opposed it. The measure, which seemed to have a strong shot at being incorporated in the 2015 federal transport spending bill known as the "FAST" Act, was killed by House negotiators shortly before the bill passed.
Kevin Burch, CEO of Dayton, Ohio-based Jet Express and the new ATA chairman, acknowledged at today's SMC3 conference that the measure had caused an uncomfortable split among the group's members. Omaha-based Werner Enterprises Inc. and Chattanooga-based US Xpress Inc., two large truckload carriers, had backed the provision.
Supporters of the initiative, namely shippers and less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers, said it would boost productivity and reduce the number of carriers on the road because each twin-trailer could haul more goods. The provision was mostly tailored to benefit LTL carriers looking to transport more e-commerce shipments. The 28-foot per-trailer limit has been in place since 1982.
ATA also doesn't expect any push by the White House or Congress to raise the federal motor fuels taxes in 2017, Burch said, noting that the new administration plans to stick to its mantra of no new taxes. Today, the White House froze action on all pending government regulations until the various regulatory agencies can analyze their cost and effectiveness. The federal tax on gasoline and diesel fuel has not been raised since 1993.
Despite the legislative murkiness, attendees at the SMC3 event were bullish about trucking's 2017 prospects. David S. Congdon, CEO of Thomasville, N.C.-based LTL carrier Old Dominion Freight Line Inc., said his segment was seeing an increase in weight per shipment—a positive sign for revenue and profitability—due in large part to a double digit increase in tonnage related to the construction industry, LTL's bread-and-butter. Congdon said he was "cautiously optimistic" about the 2017 outlook, a view largely shared by attendees, many of whom projected 2 to 3 percent GDP growth, and more favorable industrial production activity.
Attendees were also heartened by the Trump administration's plans to pour as much as $1.3 trillion into infrastructure spending, cut corporate taxes, and roll back regulations. The latter step would be especially welcomed by truckers, many of whom have felt singled out for regulatory abuse during the past eight years. As Congdon put it, "we are the most overregulated deregulated industry in America."