This Opinion piece appears in the Sept. 26 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.
By Pat Thomas
Chairman, American Trucking Associations
A year ago, I stood before you in Philadelphia and accepted the title of chairman of American Trucking Associations. It has been a tremendous honor to be your chairman at such a critical time for our industry.
The past year has been one of enormous change for our federation and industry as a whole — a change I’ve been privileged to see up close and take part in. For this opportunity, I thank you.
As chairman, I’ve been fortunate to represent ATA and our industry before many groups, across the country (and even in Europe), traveling the equivalent of four trips around the globe. I had the chance to meet with fellow trucking executives, talk to shippers and suppliers, business leaders and policymakers about the issues that matter to you. I listened to the concerns of our ATA members in this increasingly challenging environment.
And the environment has been challenging, but despite that, we’ve had significant accomplishments. We saw a highway bill — the FAST Act — passed late last year. That legislation directs new funding to freight projects, specifically to highways. It also incorporates a number of our industry’s priorities such as reforms to the CSA safety monitoring system, the ordering of the federal government to set hair testing standards for carriers to use in drug screenings and making it easier for veterans to return to civilian life and begin careers in the trucking industry.
This past year also has seen victories off Capitol Hill. Among them are our victory in federal courts over the New York State Thruway and the diversion of toll revenues, and securing a 50% reduction in the amount of random drug testing carriers must perform. We have made progress, but there is more to be done.
We continue to face the challenge of securing long-term, permanent relief from the onerous restrictions placed on the use of the hours-of-service restart, and ATA continues to work to prevent the spread of state laws that would aim to supersede federal law and impose their own regulations affecting rates, routes or services offered by trucking companies. Those two items are ATA’s top priorities — not No. 1 and No. 2, not Nos. 1A and 1B, both No. 1 — until we resolve them favorably.
The future is something that should be at the forefront of all of our minds, as it is for me as I prepare to complete my term as chairman. ATA’s future is very bright under the leadership of our new president and CEO, Chris Spear.
The people Chris has brought into ATA, along with the already impressive ATA staff, will serve the members of this organization well, providing an excellent return on the investment we make in our federation.
That future holds exciting prospects— such as automated vehicles — but it also holds real challenges, including how we address our need for improved infrastructure for those vehicles and our current trucks to drive over; and how new technologies and new regulations will affect our vehicles and the workforce. I am confident that ATA will be at the table and ready to meet those challenges as they arise.
I have that confidence because a united ATA is powerful. When we come together as an association and an industry, there is nothing we cannot accomplish on behalf of trucking and the business community. No matter the political environment or other headwinds we might face, I’m confident in our ability to move America forward.
Before ending my chairmanship, I want to express my gratitude to a number of people — our state executives, our members of the America’s Road Team, our LEAD ATA class members — all of whom are tremendous ambassadors for our industry and all of them should be commended for their efforts.
I want to thank Kevin Burch, not only for taking the baton from me, but for all his work over the years and especially this year as first vice chairman. He will be an outstanding chairman of ATA. I also would like to thank the entire ATA Leadership team.
And finally, I want to thank Gov. Bill Graves. Nearly 14 years ago, Gov. Graves came to us from Kansas and from the start, he has worked tirelessly for our industry. His efforts have made ATA what it is today and have been of great benefit to the trucking industry.
As I said a year ago, I was hoping that at the end of my term, we will have passed a highway bill (check); we will have focused on safety in all we do (check); and we will have done more to support our returning veterans through programs such as Hiring Our Heroes and our advocacy in Washington (check). All in all, despite some significant challenges, this has been a tremendous year for ATA and the industry.
Thank you, to all of you, for the opportunity to serve you and our industry. I look forward to continuing to support ATA’s work as we blaze the path into an even more successful future.
Thomas is senior vice president in charge of state government affairs for UPS Inc., which is the world’s largest package delivery company and a provider of supply chain management solutions. The company ranks No. 1 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest U.S. and Canadian for-hire carriers.