July 2007 | Commentary | Carriers Corner

Squeaky Wheels Get Political 'Oil'

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In March 2007, I was fortunate to travel to Washington, D.C., as a delegation member of the Illinois Trucking Association. I spent several days discussing issues such as diesel prices, alternative energy, taxes, and toll roads with members of Congress. In every instance, these issues directly correlate with the financial well-being of the trucking industry.

My father started Central States Trucking 27 years ago with a vision to provide world-class service, and today our business is thriving. But I believe the trucking industry faces key challenges that may thwart our collective best efforts.

The Diesel Factor

The biggest issue impacting trucking companies today is diesel prices. Politicians largely worry about how gas prices affect a family of four in their communities. They don't often show concern for truckers who travel 100,000 miles per year, consuming considerably more fuel than the typical SUV.

Due to a lack of federal government action, carriers have been forced to continue fuel surcharges to offset increased diesel costs. Most shippers understand the macroeconomic causes necessitating surcharges, but they don't like them. Truckers don't either. Our company, our customers, and ultimately the American consumer, are saddled with this burden.

In order to alleviate diesel pain, renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel have been proposed. In the Midwest, in particular, an abundance of renewables exists. The industry, however, needs to balance environmentally friendly and cost-effective fuel sources.

A national standard on alternative fuels could benefit truckers, shippers, and the environment. We all want to chip in, but the rules of the game need to be fair, up-front, and uniform - clogged engines due to varying state standards don't help anyone.

Another issue currently making the rounds at state and local political levels is tollway privatization. Experience indicates that once this occurs, tolls increase sharply. With privatization, only two parties win - the buyer and the seller. The general marketplace loses in the form of another increase in the cost of doing business and the cost of living.

How safe will these roads be when a private company, under the direction of a waning CEO, feels pressure to focus on quarterly earnings? More importantly, we all know who wins the public safety versus company stock price debate.

One bright spot is evident, however: greater emphasis is being placed on improving state and regional infrastructure. Given that freight volumes are forecast to grow substantially in the near future, short- and long-term planning is essential to ensure that all aspects of the global supply chain - including local thoroughfares and regional highways - are optimized.

Fighting for Change

Most trucking company owners would agree that as long as taxes and fees continue to rise, earmarking those dollars specifically for infrastructure improvements is critical to their future well-being.

Unfortunately, transportation funds are too often diverted by politicians eager to support other initiatives and pet projects.

The trucking industry faces many hurdles, but complacency is public enemy number-one. Carriers need to be engaged and active in public policy both in their home states and in the nation's capitol.

Shippers expect carriers to deliver quality goods at an affordable price, but unfortunately, public policy sometimes gets in the way. The squeaky truck wheel can, and must be heard, to enforce change.

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