Top National, Arkansas trucking lobbyists critical of Congress, regulations and lack of infrastructure funding

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 330 views 

American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear said Monday that “extreme ideology” in Washington D.C., and a “thou shalt not compromise” mentality hurt the industry and the country. Arkansas Trucking Association President Shannon Newton said she “would concur” with Spear’s pointed State of the Industry speech.

The association is meeting in Las Vegas this week for its annual Management Conference and Exhibition. Spear, in his first year as the national association president, called for more industry unity and asked members to help the association be more forceful in pushing back against federal mandates, push for more highway spending and be a leading advocate for autonomous vehicle implementation and regulation.

“The story of trucking is the story of America,” Spear said. “We work hard. Together we move nearly 70% of our nation’s freight. As one, we are the backbone of our economy and a pillar of our nation’s security. We are each leaders; ambassadors of our trade. United, we are the trucking industry. Telling our story matters, but telling it together matters more.”

Spear joined the ATA in early 2014 as chief of legislative affairs and then was promoted to president. He has worked many years in Washington, including in 2000-2001 as legislative director for Arkansas issues with U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R-Ark.

The early focus of Spear’s speech was critical of “unchecked” regulations on the trucking industry and gridlock in Congress. Two legislative priorities the ATA hopes to push through a gridlocked Congress by the end of the year are a permanent hours-of-service fix and blocking state agencies from adding new layers of “meal and rest break requirements” on the industry.

“Extreme ideology is largely to blame,” Spear said of a dysfunctional Congress. “And for the DC think tanks that preach it, sound public policies such as funding for our nation’s infrastructure are being suffocated by a bunch of cubicle dwelling ideologues who think it’s cool to shut down our government.”

Continuing, he said, “This propaganda has showered Congress, proffering an 11th Commandment: ‘Thou shalt not compromise.’ Let me ask you something. What in life doesn’t involve compromise? As I’ve said, I’ve been married nearly 25 years and rest assured, there’s been an ample amount of compromise … largely by me.”

Newton, who is in Las Vegas at the convention, told Talk Business & Politics she concurred with Spear’s observations. Newton said the irony has been that the industry asked federal regulators to implement certain rules with respect to safety and efficiency, but the response is often a layer of unnecessary rules “multiplied on top of that.” For example, she said more than 10 years ago the industry asked regulators for a consistent approach to national speed limits. However, the possible result could be a set of rules that apply only to the trucking industry and do not take a holistic approach to all vehicles on the road.

“So we have a little bit of heartburn in that they are only looking at commercial trucks. … The industry, we have really been a leader on some of the changes in terms of safety and efficiency, but there is just a lot of frustration when they wait 10 years or more to do this, and then it only addresses us and doesn’t look at what else is on the road,” Newton said.

Spear was blunt in his speech, saying the industry is tired of just rolling over for new state and federal rules.

“Trucking is already one of the most regulated and taxed industries in America. In the eyes of some elected officials, we look like a money-filled pinata. I’m here to tell you that those days, these impressions of our industry, are over,” Spear said.

Spear said the ATA will continue to push for increasing a fuel tax to pay for more work on roads and bridges.

Congress approved and President Barack Obama signed in late 2015 and $305 billion highway bill that many criticized as falling short of the needs. Even Obama, who signed the bill, complained that it was well below the $478 billion highway proposal he sent to Congress.

Again, Spear said, “ideologues” have hijacked any reasonable discussion of adequate highway funding.

“As an industry, we have long been an advocate for an increased, indexed fuel tax. As we all know, roads and bridges are not free. They aren’t cheap. And we pay nearly half the tab. We have skin in this game. But those DC ideologues and the pressure they’ve applied on Congress in recent years has put a 60-year, bipartisan policy and reliable funding source in jeopardy. Washington’s political paralysis continues to shortchange our nation’s roads and bridges,” Spear said.

Newton said the Arkansas Trucking Association has long supported a fuel tax increase because it is the “most efficient, most effective and most readily available” answer to funding needs. The last time the tax was increased was in 1993, with the boost bumping the tax to 18.4 cents a gallon.

“It just stands to reason that without any additional funding, that (infrastructure) doesn’t work. Look, nothing costs what it did in 1993 and cars and vehicles are even more fuel efficient and that means even less comes in. And the other thing that does is create additional work, creates additional pressure on us at the state level to find more (money) for (infrastructure spending),” she said.

Spear also said the ATA will work to have a more vocal role in the development of autonomous vehicle technology and regulations.

“Autonomous vehicle technology is real, and it’s here,” he said. “If properly developed, it has the potential to dramatically improve safety and reduce congestion. This technology has the potential to get trucks moving, reduce fuel burn and emissions, and increase miles driving – all measurable returns to companies – and drivers.”

Spear said the trucking sector loses an estimated $49.6 billion a year to highway congestion, and in addition to better highway funding, autonomous vehicles could help reduce that cost. He said the technology has the ability to reduce fuel costs, reduce emissions and increase miles driven. He said autonomous technology is coming “whether we like it or not.”

“But while automation could benefit drivers entrance to exit, it’s the driver who is best equipped to navigate the cities and towns, make that pickup and delivery happen safely, and perhaps most importantly, secure that cargo,” Spear said.

Industry and analyst reports are broadly mixed on how soon autonomous vehicles will be used in the trucking industry, and the extent will which that use will be practical.

A recent Frost & Sullivan report says it could be two decades before autonomous commercial trucks hit the road. The report estimated that 7,970 autonomous-enabled trucks will be sold worldwide by 2025 for on-road applications, with 182,031 such vehicles by 2035.