No More Mr. Nice Guy

Remember the little kid in the school yard that the bullies liked to pick on? He was the little whipping boy all through grammar school days. Because he wasn’t big enough or strong enough to fight back, and because it made no sense to stand still and absorb the punishment, the little fellow just turned tail and ran. But all kinds of changes took place during his high school years. This little kid put on some muscle, enough muscle to make him the best wrestler in the state, an all-scholastic line-backer, an all-everything in fact. And then, of course, he squared accounts with those who had stepped on him when he was a runt.

The intermodal whipping boy has been the trucker. The congestion, the air pollution, the interminable delays … it’s the trucker who gets the blame for all these problems. That little runt. Hitting him in the pocketbook will get him to toe the line, though. That’s where it hurts. “PierPass”, or “OffPeak”… whatever they decide to call it … that will put him in his place. But like the little fellow in grammar school who turned tail and ran, that’s exactly what the overburdened and underappreciated trucker has been doing and will continue to do. Bill Graves, the President and Chief Executive of the American Trucking Associations, Inc., took issue with the transportation industry earlier this year when he said, “This driver shortage problem will not be easy to solve, but if we are going to keep the world’s largest economy running smoothly, it is something the entire freight community will have to deal with”. Mr. Graves didn’t exactly have something like “OffPeak” in mind when he offered that advice, however.

But the trucker is about to begin his high school growing period. He’s putting on some muscle. The recently released study entitled, “US Freight Transportation Forecast to 2016”, provided data showing that the trucking industry will dominate freight movement with a share of total freight revenue approaching 88% by the end of the forecast period. “Trucking is big and getting bigger, and trucks will remain, far and away, the dominant mode in transporting general commodities”, Mr. Graves said. “Trucking, by its very nature, is more flexible than other modes and is better able to respond quickly to meet the needs of the marketplace, maintaining its dominant role in freight transportation,” he said. Well, we already knew that being more flexible and more responsive is what highway transportation is all about. Ships are confined to oceans and trains are restricted to railway systems, and it will always be that way. At their discretion and if they deem it advisable, truckers on the other hand can make use of alternate highways and routes and, at their discretion and if they deem it advisable, they can even disrupt traffic flow … in a very coordinated way. Without even being organized, more than 600 truckers protesting poor working conditions were able to generate a slow down two weeks ago up in British Columbia, and the press, the general public and the Canadian officials all took note of this action. Unlike the truckers who are cognizant of their ability to stymie the operations and flow of goods along the supply chain, the Canadian officials failed to recognize this call for help and refused to provide relief in any manner. So now the ball is back in the trucker’s court, and Joanne Ritchie, the head of the Owner-Operator’s Business Association of Canada, issued a clear warning. “Tax exemptions and rebates are band-aid solutions when what’s needed is open-heart surgery”, she said. The erstwhile runt is now flexing its muscles.