Freight Transportation Stakeholders Raise Inflation Concerns
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Citing inflation and supply chain bottlenecks, transportation stakeholders called on congressional policymakers to help remedy current economic conditions.
As Congress wraps up its legislative session before the August recess, stakeholders representing the trucking industry, manufacturing sector and state transportation agencies pressed for greater emphasis on programs meant to alleviate congestion and enhance the workforce.
Congestion, rising fuel prices and workforce shortages are among the trucking industry’s main economic concerns. “More than 80% of American communities rely exclusively on trucks for freight services, so capacity constraints on trucking supply chains caused by inflation and shortsighted policies directly impact the costs for those consumers,” American Trucking Associations Chairman Harold Sumerford told a House Republican Transportation & Infrastructure roundtable on July 14.
Sumerford is CEO of J&M Tank Lines.
Additionally, the ATA chairman advocated for an “all-of-the-above approach” meant to reduce rising fuel costs. To that point, he noted diesel prices stand at $2 per gallon higher from the previous year. According to the Energy Information Administration on July 11, the national average price of diesel was $5.568.
Per workplace concerns, Sumerford suggested lawmakers advance workforce policies that “prioritize skilled trades and protect the independent contractor model that empowers tens of thousands of owner-operators to enter the trucking industry and grow successful small businesses.”
He added: “The quickest way to ensure supply chains have access to affordable trucking capacity is to improve pathways for students and other workers to begin rewarding careers as truck drivers and owner operators.”
ATA indicated the industry faces a shortage of 80,000 commercial drivers.
Robyn Boerstling, vice president at the National Association of Manufacturers, shared the sense of urgency to address potential mobility disruptions in the months ahead. “Just a few of those major challenges that are facing manufacturers include increased raw materials costs, inflation, supply chain and the workforce,” Boerstling told GOP lawmakers. “These are really big challenges and they’re not independent forces but interrelated.”
Shawn Wilson, president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, also sounded the alarm over potential disruptions to infrastructure projects due to inflation. As he put it, “It is impactful. It is having an effect not just on [departments of transportation] across the country, but industry in general. And the most important thing for us to be able to do is to manage expectations.” Wilson is the head of Louisiana’s transportation agency.
Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), ranking member of the U.S. House transportation panel, hosted the roundtable with the freight stakeholders. For Graves, inflation, the price of fuel and supply chain bottlenecks contribute to inadequate conditions across the freight sector. He and fellow Republicans pressed the congressional Democratic leadership and the Biden White House to pursue programs designed to provide industries with economic relief. The Consumer Price Index for June determined that prices increased by 9.1% year-over-year.
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“Inflation is hitting the pocketbook of every American, and it’s hitting the transportation and construction industries particularly hard,” Graves said. “Inflation is eroding the value of the infrastructure law’s funding and causing states to delay or cancel projects. What’s worse, the president’s policies continue to fuel inflation and supply chain issues and create more red tape for infrastructure and energy projects.”
Democratic leaders announced efforts to pursue supply chain-centric legislation this summer. On the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue, President Joe Biden has directed agencies to continue to fund transportation projects that minimize congestion and supply chain woes. The president also called for temporarily suspending the federal fuel tax, a proposal not endorsed by key leaders within his caucus.
The $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act included provisions meant to address congestion and supply chain connectivity.