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May 19, 2022 2:29 PM, EDT

ATA’s Chris Spear Touts Efforts to Address Parking, Training at Mid-Year Session

SpearSpear speaks at the event. (SunJae Smith/ATA)

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear said the group’s recently completed Mid-Year Management Session tackled key issues facing the industry, but stressed that much work remains to address the biggest challenges confronting motor carriers.

Spear said he was pleased that industry and government are working together to address the persistent shortages of both drivers and parking, and credited Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration acting administrator Robin Hutcheson — who spoke at the event — for taking aim at these issues.

Spear noted that the U.S. Department of Transportation — of which FMCSA is a part — and the Department of Labor are working to facilitate apprentice programs for new truck drivers, efforts that could pay dividends for the industry down the road.

Robin Hutcheson

Hutcheson

“You’ve got to take some aggressive steps to attract that talent,” Spear told Transport Topics from the annual event here, which this year drew a record crowd of more than 500 attendees. “You’ve got to recruit them. You’ve got to train them, and you’ve got to give them not only good pay and benefits, but provide the basic foundations of being successful,” Spear emphasized.

A key foundational challenge for many drivers is finding a safe place to park, something both Spear and Hutcheson discussed.

“You’ve got drivers out there searching for a parking spot for an average of an hour a day, and well over $5,000 in lost wages per year spent looking for parking,” Spear said. “It wears on drivers, it’s a retention issue, and those are reasons that govern someone’s decision to leave not only a job but an industry.”

Hutcheson in her remarks noted states including Indiana and Kentucky are using FMCSA grant money to implement programs that direct drivers to parking available in real time.

The record high price of fuel across the nation is an issue confronting all carriers, and one that Spear said is being stoked by market fears.

“A lot of the price hikes right now are built on anxiety and uncertainty,” Spear said. “A lot of this is reflected in anxiety stemming from Ukraine. I think projections are going to suggest that anxiety and the prices start to come down, probably in the next few months.” He added, “Across the board, this was a topic in every discussion we had.”

On the legal front, Spear said an ATA lawsuit set for federal court this month challenges a truck-only tolling plan in Rhode Island. The suit claims the program violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“The state of Rhode Island’s report is not only unconstitutional, they have gamed this legal system for years with senseless discovery — it’s just nonsense — and they’ve delayed the case running up the costs,” Spear said. “We’ve been very patient, we’ve been very strategic, and we’re confident that we are right and they are wrong and we will win.”

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A ruling could come sometime this summer.

In California, Spear said ATA is watching the status of a legal challenge to the state’s Assembly Bill 5, which would reclassify certain independent drivers as employees of companies. ATA and the California Trucking Association contend the rule — which is under a Temporary Restraining Order — would fundamentally change the relationship between trucking companies and independent owner-operators.

“The California Trucking Association and its president, Shawn Yadon, have done an outstanding job being the lead on this,” Spear said. “CTA and its membership should be commended, because California is a difficult place to do business as it is. Imagine what it would be like without Shawn and the team there, and the membership. We are proud to support them.”

Fuel Tax Hike Repeal

Yadon

For its part, ATA after 40 years being headquartered in Northern Virginia is moving in June back to the nation’s capital, near Capitol Hill and just blocks from DOT headquarters.

“We’re putting ourselves on the doorstep of decisionmakers — DOT to Capitol Hill,” Spear said of the federation’s new 60,000 square-foot home on two floors at 80 M Streeet SE. “Being in such proximity to where decisions occur is going to put the association and team in a better position to influence outcomes.”

And after 27 months of the coronavirus pandemic, Spear stressed that the trucking industry has cemented its status as a critical industry that can be relied upon in the most difficult of times.

“It’s our drivers who say we’re the heartbeat of the nation, and innovation drives that,” he said. “If you have the will and desire to be successful you’ll find a way and I think our industry is one of the best at doing that.”

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