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The recession may be receding into the rear view mirror, but that doesn’t mean the trucking industry’s worries are behind it. Just as the freight recovery gets underway, our nation’s truckers find themselves facing a host of new challenges that could have serious negative impacts on their operations. That’s a concern not just for motor carriers, but also for shippers who use their services.
One cause of concern is governmental policies that favor alternative modes as replacements for over-the-road transportation. “There is a certain amount of anti-truck rhetoric in Washington today,” said YRC Worldwide COO Michael Smid at the recent NASSTRAC Logistics Conference & Expo. The result has been a flurry of actions and proposals aimed at making trucking operations safer and greener. While some initiatives currently being considered in Washington have laudable goals that every shipper and carrier can support, all too often the politicians and officials who actually pass legislation or implement policies don’t fully understand or appreciate the counterproductive effects the legislation can have on carrier operations and efficiency, shipper supply chains, or overall cost management.
For example, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood offered some insights into the DOT’s position when he noted at the National Bike Summit in March: “People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.” This comment, along with LaHood’s comment that, “Fifty-one TIGER projects were funded and the lion’s share went into our freight rail system because it takes trucks off the road-gas guzzling trucks off the road,” should raise concern that our political leaders do not fully recognize the role trucking plays in the transportation and distribution of goods in America. It raises an even larger concern that the mentality in Washington could play into developing policies that either force or unfairly encourage freight off the roads and onto other modes of transportation.
Today’s increasing talk among government officials about getting “gas guzzling trucks” off the highways, and using more rail, rail intermodal and water carriage to move freight in place of trucks, raises red flags.
Each mode has advantages. However, there are good reasons why over 70 percent of freight in the U.S. moves by truck. Simply stated, lean, just-in-time supply chains depend on the service quality available from motor carriers, which serve far more locations than rail, air or water carriers, and provide a combination of reasonable rates and on-time deliveries that no other mode can match. In any event, railroads and rail intermodal lack the necessary capacity to absorb more than a very small percentage of the goods now moving by truck.
Businesses receiving 95 percent or better on-time deliveries have been able to reduce inventories, close warehouses and distribution centers, and share resulting supply chain cost reductions with consumers. Shifting significant volumes of truck freight to rail or intermodal would result in increased transit times and less dependable deliveries. Shipments that could formerly be counted on to arrive when needed, give or take an hour, might take anywhere from a day to several days longer to arrive.
NASSTRAC supports reduced emissions, reduced reliance on imported oil, minimizing congestion and other environmental goals. However, decision-makers in Washington and elsewhere are mistaken if they think motor, rail, water and air carriers are interchangeable, and that restructuring the nation’s transportation system to serve non-transportation goals can be accomplished without increased costs, decreased efficiency or economic disruption.
NASSTRAC will continue to educate decision makers about the benefits and requirements of supply chain best practices. NASSTRAC will also continue to defend the right of shippers and other logistics professionals to choose for themselves the modes and services that best suit their freight transportation needs. It remains the case that significantly increased investment in our highway infrastructure is a pressing national priority. In light of the reluctance of Congress to fund the necessary investment, shippers and carriers need to work together to influence Washington decision-makers. wt
John Cutler is legal counsel for NASSTRAC. For more information or to join this association, visit www.NASSTRAC.org.