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July 18, 2016 4:00 AM, EDT

Editorial: Churn and Change for the TT100

This editorial appears in the July 18 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

We bring you in this issue, our annual report on the size, shape and nature of trucking: the Transport Topics Top 100 list of for-hire carriers, our habit since 1989.

While the details on the industry’s 100 largest trucking companies always generate substantial reader interest, our 2016 pull-out supplement, starting after p. 20, also breaks down the mounting regulatory burden on the industry, provides an in-depth look at trucking in Mexico and reports on driver training schools and how technology can help with parking.

This is a difficult time for trucking. Not in the way 2009 was, when the nation was racked by recession, but the soft demand for freight hauling services leaves little margin for error when there are plenty of other obstacles to overcome.

Senior Features Writer Daniel P. Bearth, the creator of the TT100, talked to a host of industry executives who said safety and environmental regulations are coming upon their firms like an avalanche.

Electronic logging devices, greenhouse-gas reduction, sleep apnea treatment, drug testing, entry-level driver training and active safety systems are topics regulators are pursuing, taking some good ideas but making them mandatory through federal rules. Connected vehicles that communicate with each other and with roads and other infrastructure, bypassing people, are also a federal interest, and everyone is trying to figure out where autonomous driver assistance fits into the equation.

“It adds up and is driving people out of the business,” the CEO of a TT100 carrier told us.

That’s not an exaggeration. As we report on p. 1, trucking company failures are starting to rise, more than doubling during the second quarter compared with the same time in 2015. The flimsy market for shipping was the prime cause.

The condition has persisted for a while now, as we’ve reported in stories on new truck sales and orders. Fleet executives are careful about managing their capacity.

There is a squeeze on fleets that have to spend more to comply with regulations while business volumes are stagnant at best and rates are eroding under competitive pressure.

While some fleets are leaving under duress, others are dedicated to staying in business by offering new business lines, expanding service territories, buying out competitors or all of those.

The churn and change of the past 12 months have been extremely noteworthy, and what we see in the next 12 probably won’t be any calmer.