ATRI Marks 20th Anniversary

Rebecca Brewster
ATRI President and COO Rebecca Brewster. (Transport Topics)

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The American Transportation Research Institute is marking 20 years of providing the industry with research into the issues it confronts every day.

The leadership of American Trucking Associations and the ATA Foundation 20 years ago decided that an objective organization was needed to conduct research into the important issues confronting the transportation sector, and to help develop deep insight into the challenges confronting fleets, drivers and government every day.

From this idea the American Transportation Research Institute was created, and has for the past two decades provided the trucking industry with findings and reporting on some of the toughest challenges it faces, and along the way has created annual lists that the industry closely watches.

“It was obvious to many the industry needed a research-based, science-based organization and ATRI was formed,” ArcBest CEO Judy McReynolds told Transport Topics. “Many times, there are topics that are talked about and looked at in press and in government that really need this research to come to the right conclusions. It’s almost hard to believe that the industry could function without ATRI.”

Among the group’s annual reports is one on the top traffic bottlenecks in the United States, information that, McReynolds noted, stretches beyond just knowing where drivers might sit in traffic; it may also impact hours-of-service compliance.

“It might change the timing of some of our routes or how we dispatch our drivers or utilize them and it’s critical we get this right,” McReynolds said. “And when you have ATRI’s research reporting on the impact of that, it helps both the businesses and the regulators to really see that.”

McReynolds added that her company and others also use ATRI data to help decide where to build additional terminals due to concerns about congestion or even how to find and retain drivers.

ATRI President and Chief Operating Officer Rebecca Brewster noted that the group differs from predecessor ATA Foundation in that its sole mission is research; it does no advocacy work.

“Former ATA Foundation Chairman Mike Wickham’s vision was that we would have industry input to identify these topics, and that separation between ATRI and the American Trucking Associations — because ATA is an advocacy and lobbying organization — that’s what they do,” Brewster said. “That greater firewall between ATRI as a research organization and ATA gives us more credibility.”

In addition to annual reports on the top 100 traffic bottlenecks and the operational costs of trucking, ATRI in recent years has done extensive research into driver retention and driver pay, ways to improve truck parking availability, infrastructure funding and improving the overall health and wellness of the driver population. Brewster is based in Atlanta, and the rest of the staff are spread across the country.

ATRI does research for a variety of governments, regional planning commissions, the U.S. Department of Transportation, state departments of transportation and other groups.

Before the group begins a project, there must be a review and recommendation from the more than 30 members of the Research Advisory Committee, which meets for two days in May to discuss possible research topics.

The RAC is made up leaders from large and small trucking firms, state trucking associations and government officials, law enforcement and the academic community. Once the recommendations are approved, they are presented to the full ATRI board for debate. From there, a schedule is set to begin research on approved topics. “It’s a comprehensive review of top research needs,” Brewster said.

The topics that were discussed and voted on at the most recent meeting — which took place in May in San Antonio — have not been made public yet.

James Fields, COO of Pittsburgh-based Pitt Ohio trucking company, is a member of the RAC. He said the research ATRI does is especially valuable to fleets when it comes to driver-related issues, but noted the benefits go beyond that for the industry overall.

“It’s also valuable data for different areas of the government — Congress, the House, Senate,” Fields said. “This data is so well-respected, it is often used in hearings and other government proceedings. I think over the years ATRI has been an undisputed source of accurate data about the trucking industry. It has built a reputation of being a go-to source for data.”

Brewster said one of the things she is most proud of during her eight years with ATRI’s predecessor, the ATA Foundation, and now 20 years with ATRI, is that the industry values and respects the organization’s research and they believe it to be unbiased and fair.

“We are trying to, by design, get comprehensive input from industry stakeholders to determine what we need to research,” Brewster said. “We have one mission and that’s research to improve the industry’s safety and productivity. We do a wide variety of work, we have a passion for the research, and I believe our work is making a difference for the trucking industry.”

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