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December 28, 2020 10:45 AM, EST

Trucking Industry's Great Work in 2020 Will Pay Dividends in 2021, ATA’s Spear Says

Chris SpearATA President Chris Spear testifies on Capitol Hill last February. In a recent interview with Transport Topics Radio, Spear said 2020 was a defining year for trucking. (Ways & Means Committee via YouTube)

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The trucking industry’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it a boost in public perception that will endure for years to come, and which could support its efforts to promote infrastructure policy on Capitol Hill, American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear told Transport Topics.

“What made this year unique was the conditions our industry was forced to work in,” Spear said in an exclusive interview with Transport Topics Radio that will air Jan. 2 at 1 p.m. ET. “Consumers have witnessed now firsthand what we do all the time. Unfortunately, it takes a worldwide pandemic for that to come to the surface, but the recognition is so well-earned and deserved.” He added, “2020 was a very defining year for trucking.”

Spear listed some of the challenges truckers overcame during the year, including the shutdown of state-run rest areas during the first days of the pandemic, and the overall adjustment of adapting to restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus, including limitations on where they could take rest breaks for meals and showers.

“Year-to-year, we’re accustomed to challenges, but I think the environment we had to perform in was so different — it was something we had to adjust to,” Spear said. “There’s been a mental toll that this has had on everyone, particularly for drivers being out on the road, away from their families. They can’t telecommute. This is their office. This is where they do their jobs.”

That toll was eased, he noted, by the outpouring of support drivers received.

“In every community across the country, there have been hot meals being made for our drivers, police escorting drivers to where they can get a shower, kids handing out cookies to drivers at truck stops,” Spear said. “You just can’t make it up. It’s just such a heartwarming story.”

He added, “It is so different than any other year. I believe we will be able to ride this crest into 2021, and it will pay forward. We need to ensure that the public recognizes the importance of our industry and what we do.”

Heading into 2021, that includes hauling the COVID-19 vaccine across the country.

“A number of our members, those particularly that are equipped with air logistics capabilities — UPS and FedEx are perhaps two of the most notable in terms of providing support globally — this is what they do, they do it day in and day out. It’s not just the ground; it’s also air,” Spear said. “Here we are again, not only making sure we survived the pandemic, but as we transition, we’re that bridge to recovery that stems from the vaccine. Our industry will play a key role so Americans have it as quickly as possible.”

Spear is optimistic that the industry’s hard work will help its case in Washington and state capitals when attention turns to legislation that can help the industry grow, regardless of the political party in power.

“Our message is not aligned solely with one political party over another,” he said. “Our message, our narrative, our story speaks to Americans. Our story should resonate with either party, no matter who is in charge. They should have an incentive to work with us. When you are 7.6 million strong, one in 16 jobs in the U.S., where the top job in 29 states is a truck driver, and you’re moving 71% of the economy — you need us. Now we’re transitioning to distribute the vaccine; they need us.”

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Spear said he and his team have already been on Capitol Hill meeting with leaders in Congress, and he is hopeful the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden will move forward with a major infrastructure bill once the pandemic ends.

“We will in April, May, June switch gears to an infrastructure bill,” Spear said. We’ve already been working with the Biden transition team and House Democratic leaders. I have a good understanding of what that bill will look like and the provisions we need to be aggressive to get a fully funded bill done. It will be good for the economy, the job loss we have experienced in 2020, putting people back to work, and I can’t think of a better way to do that than with an infrastructure bill. I am very optimistic about where we are heading.”

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