Transportation industry: Wyomingite leads American Trucking AssociationWritten by Saige Albert
Casper – Casper-native Pat Thomas has worked for UPS for 31 years, starting as a seasonal driver in Rock Springs. Today, he works as Senior Vice President for State Government Affairs for the company and serves as the 2016 Chairman of the America Trucking Associations (ATA), an organization that works with congressmen and women from across the U.S. in an attempt to improve the trucking industry.
“Every state around the country has an association that supports the trucking industry, and ATA is our national association,” Thomas says. “This year, I’ve spent traveling around the country with ATA.”
The trucking industry faces many challenges, says Thomas, including F4A and hours of service.
“F4A, or the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act is a bill that says the federal government pre-empts states from doing anything that would affect rates, routes or services for trucking,” Thomas explains. “The idea behind it is that there would be a uniform set of rules and regulations as is relates to those three things so we didn’t have a patchwork of 50 rules, regulations and laws around the country.”
However, states have started to attempt to enforce their own regulations.
For example, California has implemented meal and rest period laws, as well as what they call a piece rate.
“A great deal of our industry pays their drivers by the mile, so rest and meals are baked into that figure,” Thomas says. “When the driver gets to a shipper, sometimes they have to wait half an hour until the dock is free, for example. California says that when drivers are doing non-driving work, they have to be paid an hourly wage. That’s already included in the mileage rate.”
In addition, Thomas notes that such a system increases the complexity of payroll.
“We may say this is just a California problem, but the reality is, there are 28 other states that have similar laws on the books that could be problematic later,” he says. “We have to get this wrestled in.”
Currently, ATA is working with Congress to clarify the meaning of F4A.
In addition to concerns about regulations, Thomas notes that highway funding is still an issue.
“We did get a five-year highway bill passed, and State Departments of Transportation took a big, deep breath when that happened,” he says, noting that a long-term bill provides funding certainty to enable projects.
Thomas continues that it is important to have a predictable source of funding to plan for the future, and, while the bill isn’t as much as the industry has hoped for, it is much-needed funding.
“This money doesn’t solve the problem,” Thomas comments. “Most people think we’re about $1 trillion behind in infrastructure development over a decade.”
Infrastructure challenges also introduce concerns like congestion on highways, which costs the industry $49.6 billion a year in lost productivity.
“We are losing $50 billion a year just from sitting in traffic,” he says. “What does that really mean? That’s the equivalent of 265,000 truck drivers sitting idle for a year.”
The bill however, does introduce some positives, included a targeted freight program, which strives to reduce bottlenecks.
“We’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do for funding looking forward,” Thomas comments. “We’ve got to figure it out, and we’ve got to start now.”
Hours of service
Another challenge that is making some headway was a requirement for drivers to have 34 hours off, including two nights between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. every 168 hours.
“Essentially, that puts everyone off on Saturday and Sunday and throws everyone on the highways at 5:01 on Monday morning,” Thomas says. “That doesn’t sound like the safest way to fix our hours of service problem.”
In an attempt to improve safety, Thomas notes that ATA lobbied Congress to roll back both provisions.
“Most people think accidents happen at night, and that’s not true,” he says. “Most accidents happen in the daytime, typically in the morning, so Congress agreed to take out the requirements for breaks between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.”
Thomas continues, “Unfortunately, there was a drafting error in the bill, and instead of reverting it back to 2011 like we wanted, it reverted back to 2003. That is not good.”
Currently, ATA is working to address the problem with Congress.
Another component of the hours of service is electronic logging devices (ELDs), which applies to specialized carriers, including livestock haulers. A final rule related to ELD requirements was issued in December 2015, with compliance required by Dec. 18, 2017.
While concerns about new technologies have caused concern within the industry, Thomas says, “Technology has advanced so far. ELDs are as easy to run as a smart phone, and drivers tend to really like them.”
The ELDs replace traditional logbooks.
As an additional top priority for ATA, safety hits the top of the list.
“When we think about our mission at ATA, our number one objective is safety,” Thomas says. “Our job is to do everything we can to help our carriers be the safest we can possible be. We’ve had really good success.”
The efforts of ATA and the trucking industry have resulted in a decline in truck-involved fatalities by 30 percent in just raw numbers.
“Keep in mind that, at the same time, we have more than doubled the number of miles that we drive,” he comments. “Since 1980, the truck-involved accident rate per 100 million miles driven has fallen by 70 percent. That’s real progress.”
“However, there’s still 3,400 deaths per year, which is 3,400 too many,” He continues. “It’s important that we understand the progress we’ve made, but we also have to understand that we must continue to do more.”
The reality of the trucking industry is that 90 percent of trucking companies across the U.S. have 20 trucks or fewer.
“That figure surprises many people,” Thomas says. “This is an industry of mom and pop outfits. We move a lot of freight, and the forecast is that we will move substantially more over the next two decades.”
However, to continue to operate, Thomas adds that the challenges facing the industry must be addressed in a way that keeps the industry viable.