The American Trucking Association held its annual Management Conference and Exhibition in Boston yesterday, and speaking to the delegates in attendance, President Bill Graves stressed some major problems facing the trucking industry.
The most pressing issue, and one that affects everyone relying upon the nation’s air, land and sea going transportation system, is the rising price of oil. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita had something to do with it, of course, but pundits as well as your average man-on-the-street now believe that these unavoidable natural catastrophes were just used as an excuse to skim profits. Emergency fuel supplies from sympathetic foreign countries, it was revealed, were inexplicably turned away. Maybe we’ll hear the reason for this faux pas someday, but don’t hold your breath.
The following important issues were also mentioned in passing by Mr. Graves:
• Congress’ obligation to address the negative impact that excessive fuel pricing is having on the trucking industry.
• Necessary government investment in oil refinery development.
• Government review of environmental policies that limit oil exploration and production.
• The “misuse” of federal highway funds needed for the construction of new highways.
And last but not least, Mr. Graves addressed the issue of highway congestion. “Growing congestion presents another hurdle,” he said. “Since 1980, highway traffic has doubled, but highway capacity has increased only 3 percent. Today’s highways are choked with traffic. Today’s economy demands more trucks to haul more freight.” Mr. Graves added that analysts predict that by 2016, the trucking industry will haul 13 billion tons of freight, compared with 10 billion tons in 2004.
Mr. Graves, as we know, is one of the nation’s leading authorities on the subject of highway transportation. He has a way of laying things out so that even a simpleton is able to arrive at a logical conclusion. In past discussions, Mr. Graves has cited the woeful shortage of drivers in the industry and the unacceptably high rate of annual turnover. He made it clear yesterday, as he has in the past, that our expanding economy demands more trucks to haul the increasing amounts of freight. The need for more trucks, of course, means a corresponding need for more drivers, not less drivers.
So how do we stop the bleeding? Well let’s listen to another well-known and highly respected authority. Mr. Russell Bruner, President and CEO of Maersk, put it quite simply to the Foreign Commerce Club on October 6th. The shortage of drivers is the most serious of the five critical issues facing the trucking industry, he said, but it’s the one that could be the quickest and easiest to fix. The driver pool nationwide has shrunk by one-third since the year 2000, he stated, and exorbitant increases in fuel costs are forcing truckers serving many regions to park their vehicles rather than haul port cargos, thereby causing containers to be backed up at ports and terminals. “The bottom line is that we have to pay truckers more.” [What could be clearer, or more logical, than that?]