Right DNA

BILL GRAVES, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations and former governor of Kansas, said he recently met with a member of Congress who lamented that district's heavy truck traffic, calling it a “problem.”

Graves couldn't understand where the problem rested.

“That's a sign of the economic vibrancy of your district,” he said in “The North American Commercial Vehicle Industry,” his keynote speech. “You should be celebrating the fact that there's that much activity going on, not lamenting that. A truck is going to be involved in every freight movement in this country. Our current status as the dominant mode of freight movement in this country is not some kind of overnight sensation. This is not something that simply happened. It has been something that has traditionally been there year in and year out.

“Looking at the economic data, it appears we'll actually increase our slice of the freight movement. We just reached 300 million people in October last year and the estimate is for 400 million by 2040. Those people are not all going to build houses and businesses along the railroad so freight can be thrown off a passing train car, or live near an airport and be able to afford or expect that they're going to get freight delivered by plane. It's all going to be delivered by truck. Which means there's going to be tremendous demand for more trucks to be built and more drivers to be in them, responding to more freight moving.”

Graves said there is too much emphasis today on the political element of what goes on in Washington, DC, and not enough on the public service side.

“George Burns once said, ‘The most important thing in politics is honesty. If you can fake it, you have it made,’” he said. “I'm convinced there are a lot of people who fake us into believing they're passionate and committed, when in fact it's more of a livelihood and an obsession with the political machinations that go on. I hope you all stay engaged and follow closely along with the current developments.

“When you serve as governor, you're pretty close to the people you serve. Your constituents are right there. It's like understanding your customers: You know what their demands are and the services they expect. I wrote a speech six years ago, called, ‘A Crockpot Government trying to feed the Microwave Society.’ The gist of the speech was that our system of government is slow by design, with all the checks and balances that go through the making of public policy. Whenever government tries to satisfy the rapid-fire demands of citizens with rapid-fire responses, we usually end up screwing things up worse.

“At this point, the title would be outdated. Now it'd be, ‘A Crockpot Government Trying to Serve the Internet Society. It truly is amazing how demanding we have become as consumers and citizens in this country. Wasn't it good enough to get your photos developed in one hour? Now we have digital stuff and we can beam it around the world with a click of a button.”

He said that's where trucking comes in.

“People have come to depend on us each and every day to sustain that quality of life,” he said. “We have all kinds of operational efficiencies and flexibilities that other modes of transportation don't have. We can deliver, for the most part, when the customer wants. Trucking has all the tools capable of matching up with expectations of consumers. More than any other freight mode, trucking has the right operational DNA that most closely matches consumers, customers, manufacturers, you name it.”

On other subjects:

  • Hours of service

    “To some people's way of thinking, hours of service has the potential to limit our productivity. But I have to tell you I honestly believe we're going to be more productive and better at managing resources when we do a better job of monitoring HOS, and we do it seamlessly with electronic onboard recorders.”

  • Speed limits

    “We at ATA take a pretty aggressive approach to calling for a slowing down of speeds. Many will say, ‘Aren't you impeding productivity if you're not going to be able to move products as quickly?' I don't think so. I think 68 mph is fast enough that we can effectively move the commerce of this country. We think in the long run it has a beneficial effect. It cuts down on losses due to accidents. And it gives us an environment where the driver has a much better chance of ending the work day safely.”

  • Size and weight issues

    “ATA has a policy position in support of the greater use of longer combination vehicles in some places in this country. And we do have a policy position in support of allowing the actual gross vehicle weight to be 97,000 lb when you add a third axle. All of those are controversial. We simply believe that because we have so much congestion on the nation's highways. We have data that shows that you can move an additional trailer being pulled by same tractor and get proportionately less emissions and use less fuel than you otherwise would if you had another tractor pulling another trailer. This isn't (an issue) we'll fall on the sword over, but we will continue to ask for a discussion where these kinds of initiatives will help improve freight delivery.”

  • Emissions requirements

    “With the change in the political winds of Congress, we expect to continue to see environmental issues thrust upon this industry, and we have to be prepared to respond. We have to be ahead of the curve. 2007 is going to be a difficult year for those involved in large truck manufacturing. We had an interest in trying to pursue tax incentives in Congress to try to even out that curve for truck sales. For a variety of reasons, we were unsuccessful. So we have to use the experience of 2007 now as a model to help us do a better job of explaining to Congress what the implications are for the rollout of new technology so we can be better prepared for the 2010 requirements.”

  • Infrastructure

    “The Highway Reauthorization Plan was simply inadequate in addressing the needs we have as a country going forward. America depends on the movement of interstate commerce. Dwight Eisenhower over 50 years ago had the vision to create the interstate highway system. We have not done a good enough job in building and adding to the capacity we need to move product and people safely and efficiently. The current administration would like to shift some of responsibility back to the states, creating innovative public-private partnerships. There is certainly a place for those kind of initiatives. But in my opinion, it's irresponsible for Congress to simply abdicate its responsibility to fund the nation's infrastructure simply cause it's politically too tough to build this wall. Everybody is saying, ‘We can't raise taxes.’ Therefore we just throw up our hands and hand off to the states. I think Congress has to wrestle with that issue.”

  • Driver shortage

    “We're working hard at ATA to try to create programs to make people aware of the opportunities that exist in the motor carrier industry. Many of our fleets are working hard to change the operational footprint so drivers can be home more often and have a better quality of life. As you look at the freight volume that needs to be moved and all challenges we face, without a driver behind the wheel it's pretty hard to overcome. Driver shortage is probably the No. 1 issue our fleets talk to us about.”

  • Fuel

    “At this point, we're spending a lot of time talking about an alternative to traditional consumption of diesel fuel. We're talking most about biodiesel. We've been working with National Biodiesel Board to discuss how we can come up with a common-sense solution that allows them to promote the use of biodiesel without a scenario where every state goes off and does its own standard and requirement. We believe some kind of national diesel standard has always made sense. We believe that Congress needs to step in to make sure there are established standards with biodiesel to make sure that we have a consistent quality product throughout the country.”

  • Rail and truck relationships

    “I think they're about as good as they've ever been. We still compete and have significant differences of opinions, but because of business relationships and the amount of intermodal freight that's being moved, there are partnerships between large companies like UPS and Union Pacific Railroad. We think there is a bright future of partnering together and going to Congress, working on solutions to the movement of freight. It was never before possible because we were so busy shooting at one another that we couldn't bring ourselves to work in partnership on issues that affect us in the movement of freight.”

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