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October 10, 2016 4:06 AM, EDT

Chris Spear Says State of Trucking Strong, but Victories Needed in Washington

John Sommers II for TT

This story appears in the Oct. 10 print edition of Transport Topics.

LAS VEGAS — In his first State of the Industry address, American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear said trucking is strong, but he acknowledged its future is uncertain without industry leadership, unity and an “aggressive pursuit” of winning results.

“Trucking is already one of the most regulated and taxed industries in America,” said Spear, speaking Oct. 3 at the opening session of the federation’s Management Conference & Exhibition.

Spear said that trucking’s future is closely linked to what happens in Washington, noting that federal regulators and states are being allowed to “go unchecked and issue mandates as if they were parking tickets.”

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He added that “sound public policies such as funding of the nation’s infrastructure are being suffocated by a bunch of cubical-dwelling ideologues who think it’s cool to shut down our government.”

ATA’s first lobbying efforts this year, he said, are focused on ensuring a permanent hours-of-service fix of the restart provision and pre-empting states such as California from “adding new layers of meal- and rest-break requirements on carriers operating across state lines.”

“Both of these issues have enjoyed broad support and careful, coordinated grass-roots and grass-tops advocacy on Capitol Hill,” Spear said. “And I’m confident that everyone’s hard work will pay off.”

He pledged that ATA will get a “seat at the table” to help shape the path of autonomous vehicle technology that so far has been driven largely by the automobile industry.

“Autonomous vehicle technology is real, folks, and it’s here, whether we like it or not,” Spear said. “If properly developed, it has the potential to dramatically improve safety and reduce congestion.”

He said ATA also will be actively engaged in a number of issues, including: pushing for sustainable infrastructure funding, greenhouse-gas emissions regulations, electronic logging devices, sleep apnea, a drug-and-alcohol clearinghouse regulation, allowing young drivers to operate in interstate commerce, the parking shortage and the federal Compliance, Safety, Accountability program.

Spear said that “extreme ideology” has created an 11th commandment in Congress: “Thou shalt not compromise.”

He issued a stern warning to anti- trucking groups and those in the highest levels of government unwilling to compromise.

“If you want to throw the first proverbial punch, you’d better knock us down,” Spear said. “Because you will feel the one we throw back.”

“You deserve to win,” he told members. “That’s my vision for ATA — winning.”

Spear said ATA also will attempt to get credit for trucking’s charitable contributions to causes ranging from hospitals to Little League baseball by tasking the American Transportation Research Institute to conduct a survey of the top­-ranked charitable contributions by truckers.

Spear said he has formed a 15-member revenue task force to carve out future ATA funding formulas and revenue priorities, including fairness in the association’s dues structure. The task force will report back with recommendations in February, he said.

“When you pay good money to belong to an organization, you deserve a measurable return on your investment,” he said.

He also raised concerns about what he hears from both presidential candidates regarding the adoption of the Trans Pacific Partnership and the possibility of reopening the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“Let me be clear. Trade and trucking are synonymous,” he said. “For Nafta alone, trucks are the most heavily used mode for moving goods to and from the United States and its Nafta partners, Mexico and Canada.

Any attempt to reopen or threaten this long-standing agreement could have dire repercussions on our industry.”

Further, not adopting the Trans Pacific Partnership will undoubtedly push potential Asian Rim partners toward a future agreement with China, he said.

“That’s not just an economic issue, that’s a national security issue,” Spear added.

Spear also said the trucking industry needs to “get into the game” to support tax reform. He is asking ATA’s highway policy committee to develop a new proposal to advocate the next administration to provide dedi- cated, sustainable funding for the nation’s infrastructure.

“Washington’s political paralysis continues to shortchange our nation’s roads and bridges,” Spear said. “Instead of a fuel tax, Washington’s pulling money away from competing discretionary spending priorities such as our military and cancer research.”

He asked members to unite in facing the myriad challenges in Washington and the states.

“Competing, fractured or siloed voices and agendas only make it harder,” Spear said. “You are each special and together, our strength as an industry is unmatched.”