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Shippers give Congress “positive” message in supporting trucking

By John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor
February 02, 2012

Fanning out to lobby hundreds of members of Congress on the eve of an important highway bill mark-up, approximately 100 shippers and 12 associations blanketed Capitol Hill in an unprecedented “Stand Up for Trucking” event on Feb. 1.
 
Trucking is a national asset,” said chief organizer Mike Regan, president of Tranzact and head of NASSTRAC’s advocacy committee. “There are no issues specific to carriers. There are no issues specific to shippers. There are only issues that affect the entire country.
 
Some of those issues that members of NASSTRAC, National Industrial Transportation League, National Private Truck Council, American Trucking Associations, Transportation Intermediaries Association, Coalition for Transportation Productivity and other groups were hitting Congress on were:
-Hours of Service. ATA still has what it calls “serious concerns” about the proposed 4-hour restart provision that some truckers say will cause them to run more trucks and hire additional drivers, raising costs;
-Highway Reauthorization. ATA is supporting a longer-term (six years, ideally) bill that focuses on funding the 166,000-mile National Highway System, addresses highway congestion and establishes a freight program to address interstate commerce;
-Tolls. The trucking industry is opposed to additional tolling and leasing or selling of existing Interstate highways;
-Truck size and weights. ATA wants “safe, responsible changes” in truck size and weight standards, increasing to 97,000 (from 80,000) the current interstate weight standard;
Safety. Truckers want a drug and alcohol clearinghouse to track positive test results of truck driver
applicants. Also, it wants mandatory speed limiters of no more than 65 mph on Class 7 and 8 trucks; and
-Tax incentives. Truckers are willing to voluntarily adopt advanced safety technologies, such as electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs), in exchange for tax incentives.
 
“If we’re going to get good legislation (in the highway bill), it’s not going to be because shippers lobby for it or carriers lobby for it,” Regan said. “It will be because shippers and carriers went up to Capitol Hill together.”
 
Trucking industry leaders said they were extremely grateful for the public show of support by their customers at such a crucial time.
 
“As a trucker, I am thrilled that our customers understand the importance of trucking,” Barbara Windsor, chairman of Hahn Transportation, New Market, Md., a major tank trucker, told LM. “People get elected to Congress because of grassroots. This (Fly-in) is another example of that. We feel this show of support is great. Knowledge (of the issues) is the most important thing.”
 
ATA President and CEO Bill Graves told attendees that the Fly-in “came together a damn sight better than I thought it would,” and thanked them for taking time from their schedules to fly to Washington on the eve of a major markup on the proposed highway bill.
“As a former public official, I assure you that most public officials appreciate hearing from people representing important industries,” said Graves, a former Republican governor of Kansas. “They may not agree with us. But it’s an important part of the process.”
 
Graves said the 7 million or so people employed by the trucking industry represent a “diverse” community, but warned, “Let’s not let our diversity divide us. Let’s not get down in the weeds where we can find something that can divide us.”
 
Similarly, Graves said he was not in favor of trucking gaining something on Capitol Hill at the expense of other modes, specifically railroads.
 
“I am for trucking, but I am not against anybody else’s mode,” Graves told the group during a planning session. “Everybody else is important.”
 
Toward that end, Bob Voltmann, CEO of the Transportation Intermediaries Association, which represents freight brokers, said for too long transportation interests have been competing against each other.
 
“For too long we have been modally stove-piped and industry stove-piped,” Voltmann told LM. “Transportation is the lifeblood of the country. We need to get serious about transportation and get serious about moving goods to market. Rebuilding our infrastructure is a whole lot better than building mirrors or building windmills,” Voltmann added.
 
Dan England, chairman of major truckload carrier C.R. England, Salt Lake City, and current ATA chairman, told LM that the NASSTRAC-organized Fly-in was “enormously helpful” in lobbying Congress. England was scheduled to meet with his senator, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to explain industry developments and needs.
 
England specifically mentioned the additional costs of drivers that would be needed if the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) goes ahead with a change to adjust the 34-hour restart provision in its hours of service proposal.
 
“We have to help our lawmakers understand the impact and dampening effect of regulations are having on businesses,” England told LM. “We’re hoping to find people who can see reason.”
 
And what kind of legislative boost do trucking companies get from their customers?
 
“They add credibility to our arguments,” England replied. “We are subjective. They add a greater degree of objectivity when we are able to add more diverse parties to represent us.”

Regan said his group accomplished three main objectives of the Feb. 1 solidarity show:
1-Get carriers and shippers to demonstrate there are issues over which have common interest.
2-Help legislators understand while freight does not vote, freight transportation is incredibly important component of U.S. economy.
3- Show legislators shippers are pro-safety and mode neutral.
 
With that, the 100 or so members fanned out with well-organized schedules to see such legislative leaders as Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas; Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., as well as Reps. Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., among many, many others.

Besides ATA and NASSTRAC, other associations that participated in the fly-in are the Transportation Intermediaries Association, National Private Truck Council, Coalition for Transportation Productivity, Truckload Carriers Conference, National Industrial Transportation League, Retail Industry Leaders Association, Cleaner Safer Trucking, Forest Resources Association, National Automobile Dealers Association, and the American Movers and Storage Association.

About the Author

image
John D. Schulz
Contributing Editor

John D. Schulz has been a transportation journalist for more than 20 years, specializing in the trucking industry. He is known to own the fattest Rolodex in the business, and is on a first-name basis with scores of top-level trucking executives who are able to give shippers their latest insights on the industry on a regular basis. This wise Washington owl has performed and produced at some of the highest levels of journalism in his 40-year career, mostly as a Washington newsman.


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